Monday 22 June 2009
Estimates Committee B (O'Byrne) - Part 1

Mr FINCH - On the subject of Macquarie Island, with hindsight, there have been a lot of mistakes made, but hindsight is a pretty easy thing.

Ms O'BYRNE - I believe the first one was letting the first rat on.  

Mr FINCH - Can you enlighten us, Minister, how the eradication program is going, and can we hope for total success?

Ms O'BYRNE - We certainly hope for total success.  But I have to remind you, this is the largest ever eradication program of three species on a sub‑Antarctic island undertaken ever.

Mr FINCH - Is it the only one?

Ms O'BYRNE - No, it is the largest.  There have been single species eradications, many that were not successful.  I think the French one at St Paul's, they left their pregnant rat there, so that didn't work.

Mr GADD - It only takes one!

Ms O'BYRNE - That is the key, it only takes one pregnant one.  It is all very disturbing how quickly it can be undone. 

That is why we have spent so much time in the planning around this, because we have to eradicate three species, we have to do it in a way that has as minimal as possible impact on the native wildlife that are there. 

We are looking forward to beginning the aerial baiting in 2010.  It is a difficult project, primarily because of the logistics around such a remote and isolated environment.  There is also the conservation issue around the heritage-listed island as well.  We are going through detailed planning at the moment.

We will have helicopters flying in, in the first stage of the eradication, which will deliver around 300 tonnes of bait.  We are currently assessing the tender process for the helicopters, so we will be in a position, I hope soon, to announce who has been successful there. 

The training of the dogs is progressing pretty well.  We have three contractors, two in New Zealand and one in New South Wales, and they have been contracted to provide a total of 11 rabbit detection dogs.

CHAIR - Are there no dogs in Tasmania that can detect rabbits, Minister?

Ms O'BYRNE - It is the training that is required for this process.  They were the three that had, I understand, the best capacity and history in successful training of dogs.  New Zealand clearly has an interest in island eradication, which is why there are providers there.  The dogs are springer spaniels and labs, in case you are interested ‑ the photos are beautiful.  They will be on the island ready to go as soon as the aerial baiting is finished.  We understand all three contractors have passed their interim assessments, so they are on target. 

We are developing the tender to provide the shipping services, and we have a number of regulatory programs to go through in terms of the environmental impact assessment for the project.

There are 24 bird species that we think will benefit from the eradication project.  Many of the sea birds we are hoping will actually re-colonise and grow their numbers again, once the predatory rodents have been removed and habitat restoration progresses.

I have, if you are interested, some pictures.

CHAIR - Hansard struggles with pictures.

Ms O'BYRNE - I remember a cartoon being tabled in the Federal Parliament.

CHAIR - We are not on today.

Ms O'BYRNE - This one gives you an idea of the level.  This is a big ship's rat, Rattus Rattus.  This is one of the breeds on the island.  These are the cute puppies.  This is one of the pathways, and this is the vegetation damage.  This is what it used to look like and what it should like, and this is what it does look like.

We have started work.  We have a trial area fenced off, to see whether we can have vegetation re-growth and rehabilitation.  That is proving to be extremely successful.  We have shown that in areas where we can keep them out, we can really keep them out and we can make a difference.

Mr FINCH - Minister, which is the part ‑ 

Ms O'BYRNE - The bit with the growing stuff is good, the bit with the non-growing stuff is not good.  This is an evil bunny.

CHAIR - Minister, I appreciate the picture show, but we are mindful of the time.

Ms O'BYRNE - This is the re-vegetation project.  This is an area where we fenced off.  You can see the difference.  The land will come back when we make this commitment. 

The risks however, are really high.  This is a remote program on a sub-Antarctic island; we have a very small window; and if we leave a single live thing out of the three species there, the risk of it being pregnant already means that ‑

Mr FINCH - You start again?

Ms O'BYRNE - Well, how would you start again?  This is a $26 million project overall, so this is a massive investment.

Mr FINCH - Can I ask about the thing you mentioned earlier, $6.8 million for this project.

Ms O'BYRNE - That is within this year.  The whole program over the six financial years, from the Tasmanian Government, from 2009-10 to 2014-15 is $12 284 694, the balance being supported by the Federal Government.  I do not have their figures here.

Mr GADD - It is the same amount.

Ms O'BYRNE - We did get $100 000 from the World Wide Fund for Nature and Peregrine Expeditions, so we have that.

Mr FINCH - Is it dollar for dollar with the Federal Government?

Ms O'BYRNE - Yes, it is matching.

Mr GADD - Yes, it is matching.  It is just under $25 million all up.

Mr FINCH - That money was quarantined or was set to one side, so that program will go ahead, irrespective of budget concerns?

Ms O'BYRNE - The program, yes.  Because of their commitment and relationship with the Federal Government, that is quarantined money.  That is money for this project.

Mr WING - Is that reasonable funding, that a small State like Tasmania is paying the same amount as the Australian Government?

Ms O'BYRNE - I think Tasmania actually shoulders a huge burden for its World Heritage areas.  I think the Commonwealth Government has consistently ‑ I just hope the media are paying attention to this ‑

CHAIR - They are always paying attention to this committee, Minister.