Wednesday, 13 September 2006
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conversation, Senator Eric Abetz. How is the Howard government acting to try and prevent foxes from becoming established in Tasmania? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies?
I thank Senator Barnett for his question and for his appreciation of the urgency that the fox problem is posing to Tasmania. The issue of foxes has materialised as a serious threat to the agricultural sector and to the biodiversity of the last stronghold against foxes in Australia, and that of course, Mr President, is our home state of Tasmania. There seems now to be no doubt that there is a fox population in Tasmania. On 1 August this year a warm fox carcass was found in Tasmania, the fourth since 2001 and the second within a year. As a result of analysing this carcass, biologists now estimate there to be a substantial number of foxes in Tasmania. We should not underestimate what it would mean if foxes became established. The cost of damage to the agricultural sector would be to the tune of millions of dollars each year and, of course, there would be unquantifiable damage to Tasmania’s natural environment.
The Howard government is committed to doing all it can to help eradicate foxes from Tasmania before they become fully established, but the Tasmanian government have prime responsibility in this area. In their budget this year the Tasmanian government cut funding to the Fox Free Tasmania Taskforce by half. Then they wrote to the Commonwealth government just a few weeks ago asking us to put in roughly the same amount that they had cut from the fox eradication budget. Talk about cost shifting at its absolute worst.
The Howard government is prepared to provide an additional $1.04 million over two years, in addition to the $472,000 set aside this financial year, to help fund the fox eradication program. But the Tasmanian Labor government must reinstate the funds that it has cut from the Fox Free Tasmania Taskforce. If it did that it would mean in excess of $3 million extra to fight the scourge of foxes in Tasmania by almost tripling the current budget. We have made a very generous offer to the government of Tasmania. We have put it on the table in an effort to address this issue.
I met recently with the Tasmanian Minister for Primary Industries and Water, Mr Llewellyn, and I was reassured by his attitude at that meeting, although I hasten to add that I have not had a formal response as yet. I am glad that in Tasmania the problem is still at a level where we can eradicate foxes for good. I look forward to hearing from Minister Llewellyn and the Tasmanian government on what can be done to fix this problem once and for all.
I might say in conclusion that the scourge of feral animals throughout Australia, particularly in Tasmania, poses a very real environmental problem, more so than any forestry or other activity that certain other parties get fixated about. If you want to look at the real environmental damage that can be occasioned, forestry is not the issue; feral animals is. I would be delighted if those who pretend to be concerned about the environment actually engaged themselves on the real issues that matter.