Thursday, 5 March 2015
This evening I wish to draw the attention of the Senate to a matter of increasing seriousness for many pastoralists across Western Australia and one that should be of growing concern for everyone living across Western Australia. Growing numbers of wild dogs are causing havoc for producers in many parts of Western Australia, most notably in the Southern Rangelands, located within the federal electorate of Durack. Stock losses due to wild dog attacks are estimated to cost the Western Australia pastoral industry around $7 million annually, and have forced many small stock pastoral stations—sheep and goat stations—to destock.
All told, there are an estimated 60,000 wild dogs in Western Australia, located primarily in the Rangelands across the areas of the Gascoyne, the Pilbara, the Murchison, the Goldfields, and on the fringes of the eastern and northern wheat belt. The term 'wild dogs' encompasses a range of breeds that include pure bred dingoes, hybrids and domestic dogs running wild. Wild dogs kill and eat mainly according to need in unstocked areas, primarily across reserves. However, once that food supply has been exhausted, they move into paddocks and begin to harass, bite and kill sheep, goats, cattle and horses.
Wild dogs usually attack stock from the rear, and will generally cause such severe trauma to the animal that even if it survives, its injuries will be such that it requires euthanasia. Most attacks are on sheep and goats; however, packs of wild dogs also attack and kill young cattle, and often cause severe damage to the shanks and hindquarters of older cattle, making them unsuitable for live export or slaughter.
In addition to attacks on livestock, wild dogs attack local fauna, significantly reducing native animal populations, especially kangaroos and emus. They are also responsible for attacks on domestic animals, including pets and ponies on rural properties as close to Perth as Mandurah. Wild dog attacks are responsible for significant losses amongst WA's pastoral community. In 2012, the WA Pastoral Lands Board reported 42,258 stock losses due to wild dogs across the Rangelands—a total loss of over $7.7million to the pastoral industry. Further, wild dogs act as vectors for dog diseases such as distemper and mange, and they have been identified as the prime vectors for the rabies virus should it ever enter Australia.
The impacts of the wild dog problem are no longer limited to WA's pastoralist community. As I mentioned a moment ago, there have been attacks on domestic animals and fauna around Perth's urban fringes. In addition, wild dogs are becoming a major issue for mining companies in the Pilbara, with sightings occurring closer to mine sites and camps, raising significant occupational health and safety concerns. Some mining companies have even begun employing their own doggers to reduce population levels.
The WA department of agriculture has to devote increasing resource levels to tackling this significant and growing problem, and it says that wild dog numbers in WA have been steadily growing over the past six years. Wild dogs and dingoes are declared pests under the WA Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Act and, under the law, control of wild dogs near grazing areas is the responsibility of the landowner.
Techniques for the control of wild dogs include baiting with poisoned meat and, to a lesser extent, trapping and shooting. Safe and humane wild dog control measures are supported by the RSPCA of WA. They are also supportive of a program of forced sterilisation of dogs in remote communities to assist in reducing the hybrid population. Of course, this is not a problem limited to the borders of Western Australia, as recognised last year when the Minister for Agriculture released the National Wild Dog Action Plan and announced Commonwealth funding of $280,000 towards wild dog management under the plan, to be managed by the cooperative research centre. The plan is designed to provide a nationally coordinated approach to wild dog management, controlled by an implementation steering committee made up of representatives from peak industry bodies, including Wool Producers Australia, and the Department of Agriculture.
Additionally, Australian Wool International currently provides funding for 48 groups to conduct on-ground activities to control wild dogs This includes funding representatives from Western Australia to attend the National Wild Dog Advisory Group. However, this does not include any funding for what I would call 'on the ground' control activities. The main reason for this is that Australian Wool International is a levy body for wool producers and can only fund activities related to wool-producing sheep, such as merinos.
In Western Australia wool production is limited primarily to the Great Southern Region; in the pastoral areas, where wild dogs are most prolific, the prime grazing activities are goats or non-wool sheep varieties. There have been attempts to secure funding through Meat and Livestock Australia; however, this has not been successful thus far. The WA state government funds a series of programs to control wild dogs, including a trial bounty, the construction of the Murchison Region Vermin Cell—which aims to construct 480 kilometres of new dog-proof fencing connecting with existing vermin fencing—the refurbishment and extensions of fences at Esperance and Yilgarn, and funding professional doggers.
The construction of the new fencing will require a total investment of $4.5 million, which is being sought though the Mid West Development Commission's Royalties for Regions funding, with pastoralists agreeing to contribute half of the $4.5million through a levy. Recently, the Sunday Times in Perth featured the story of the owner of Challa Station, Ashley Dowden. He also serves as the Mount Magnet Shire President, and chairs the Meekatharra Rangelands Biosecurity Council, which covers 92 pastoral leases and 13 million hectares. Ashley and his wife Debbie destocked entirely in 2008, unable to contend any longer with their flocks being decimated by wild dog attacks. Ashley remembers:
We were mustering for shearing and putting them in holding paddocks and going in the next morning and there were dead sheep everywhere from dog attacks.
Debbie recalled that over a two-week period in 2008, their goat stock was entirely destroyed. She said:
The goats disappeared, followed by the sheep ... and they paid the bills. If we were lucky, there was a bit left over to put in the bank to cover the hard times. The pastoralists themselves were the next to go and next, of course, will be the sustainability of the land, because no one will be left to manage it.
The flow-on impacts are significant. With pastoralists destocking, there is no work for shearers, no work for wool pressers, no work for fencers, no work for caterers and no work for shed hands—many of whom are local Indigenous people.
With work drying up, people move on to other locations, destroying the viability of local businesses and sporting and service organisations, adding to the pressure of regional towns across Western Australia. Many, including the Dowdens, are convinced that construction of the Murchison Region Vermin Cell, the 480-kilometre fence line, is the one thing that is needed to again make the wild dog problem manageable. The project has the support of WA's Liberal minister for agriculture, Mr Ken Baston. However, a proposal supporting the construction of the fence was sent to the Department of Regional Development in February 2014 but has apparently been stalled there. We need to know where it is up to.
It is clear that the wild dog problem is having a devastating impact on regional communities across Western Australia, particularly in those areas of Durack, and is threatening their very viability. This is far too big an issue for bureaucratic pettiness. I urge WA's Minister for Regional Development, Terry Redman, to give this project his urgent attention and provide some hope and assistance in a part of WA where it is desperately needed.