Tuesday 30 October 2018
Hansard of the Legislative Council
Sarcoptic Mange - Coordinated Statewide Treatment Strategy
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, I move -
That the Legislative Council:
(1) Calls upon the Government to acknowledge and recognise that:
(a) sarcoptic mange is having an adverse effect on wombat populations around the state; and
(b) that the disease is not just an issue confined to Narawntapu National Park and the West Tamar region.
(2) Urges the Government to become more involved in the fight to save the wombat population and strongly encourages the implementation of a statewide strategy for controlling the mange epidemic through a coordinated treatment plan, thus reducing reliance on the efforts of community groups; and
(3) In recognition of the seriousness of species extinction in Australia calls upon the Government to give urgent consideration to the creation of a separate Wildlife Environment Department or something similar so that extinction issues are not submerged below competing interests of primary industries.
We recent Tasmanians - I mean those of us who settled here in the early 1800s - bear a burden of shame. We have destroyed thousands of hectares of ancient forest; we eliminated the giant wombat; and we are responsible for the demise of the wonderful Tasmanian tiger. Has anybody seen the Tasmanian emu recently? Or the giant black fish in a north-western river? I hear they were delicious. There are countless other acts of destruction that did not happen under Tasmania's original human inhabitants. We even came close to destroying those early human inhabitants who had been guardians of a unique range of growing and living things.
It is time to try to make amends. We brought to Tasmania the scabies, the sarcoptic mange that is now spreading through our wombat population, causing many of them to die a horrible death. I have talked about it here before, about how the mange appears first on the face, then works its way up the body; the wombat, scratching, opens the scab, then flies lay doover lungies - maggots - in the wound, and the wombat goes blind and cannot hear.
Mr PRESIDENT - That will test Hansard.
Mr FINCH - What was that, the doover lungies?
Mr Valentine - Do they know exactly how it first came here?
Mr FINCH - It came from Europe. It could come in on dogs, cattle et cetera. It is not specific to wombats. The incursion is throughout the mainland. So far we have done a pretty good job of saving the Tasmanian devils. Some of the lessons learned from the devil campaign could be applied to other threatened species. It is in our own interests. Imagine what a tourism drawcard tigers would be had we managed to leave them alive.
Among other things, my motion calls on the state Government to recognise the effect sarcoptic mange is having on Tasmania's wombat population, not just in my electorate, which includes the Narawntapu National Park. I have spoken here before about the fact Dr Scott Carver watched and recorded the mange taking its toll on wombats there. Last time I reported here they were down to a 96 per cent loss; I suspect that now they have probably all gone, with a 100 per cent loss.
I have mentioned too, that years ago when Harry Butler had the program In the Wild and came to Narawntapu National Park, he said, 'I have never seen so much wildlife anywhere in Australia'. Much of that would have been wombats.
This is recognised as a national issue. To that end I want to go to a report I read at 3 o'clock this morning. It came through to me late, but I was so impressed with the report by Jude O'Sullivan, I wanted to refer to it here. It is called National Report: Australia's Response to Sarcoptic Mange in Wombats, subheaded Current Picture, Concerns and Needs, Proposed Plan of Action. I appreciate the fact that Jude O'Sullivan has presented this in a form that is easy to read, easy to interpret and easy understand what he is driving at. I will give members his credentials a little bit later -
Ms Rattray - It must be if you read it at 3 o'clock in the morning.
Mr FINCH - That is right. Here, I have found it -
I am independent, self-funded and have no affiliations or motives beyond hoping to help the people who help the wombats. My professional sphere is IT and project management with postgraduate study in environmental and geospatial science. I have extensive non-profit experience in everything from domestic animal welfare to aged care, including two years' volunteer involvement with mange.
Those are his credentials. I will first read the overview, which is written primarily for the mange community. I suppose he means the volunteers and the scientists, researchers, the people who are concerned, DPIPWE and other government bodies, both nationally and here in Tasmania -
… this report provides a plain-language snapshot of the status of Australia's response to sarcoptic mange in wombats and proposes a plan for future work.
There are three parts.
Part 1. The current picture - a summary of policy, treatment practices, research and innovation.
Part 2. Review of stakeholder concerns, needs and ideas.
Part 3. Proposed plan of action.
The genesis of this report was an encounter with a mange-afflicted wombat named Winston on Boxing Day 2015. Further impetus came from several observations over the following year:
- A lack of verifiable data to support claims of mange prevalence, but no apparent moves to establish monitoring on a national scale.
- No obvious avenue for unifying the diverse responses to mange and no point of contact to initiate action on gaps and persistent hurdles.
- No clarity about safe and effective Cydectin dosage in spite of repeated calls over many years from researchers and wildlife carers for a clinical trial.
- Wide-spread exhaustion and frustration among many people who want to do their best for sick wombats but have little confidence in whether their efforts are helping or harming.
That is the background. The objectives of the report are -
- To be a catalyst for establishing national coordination of the response to mange in wombats
- To give all stakeholders a common understanding of the status of mange work in Australia as a starting point for defining future work
- To propose a plan that will lead directly to action on the most important issues and help move past some stubborn sticking points
- To provide a hopeful and realistic vision to everyone, particularly the many people who feel disheartened.
I am experiencing that with some people I am dealing with -
This report was originally written for the mange community - anyone involved in treatment, research, policy, education and advocacy relating to mange in wombats. It may also be of interest to people and organisations with a broader interest in Australian wildlife welfare and conservation.
This report focusses solely on Australia's response to mange in the two species of wombat known to succumb to it - … (bare-nosed wombat) and … (southern hairy‑nosed wombat) - and their combined home ranges covering ACT, NSW, SA, TAS and VIC.
Data collection from 78 contributors … Contributors include government environment departments, researchers, academics, veterinarians, wildlife groups/carers, peak bodies and landowners; … This consultation process collected extensive input and gave people in all sectors the opportunity to be heard.
The Current Picture
Sarcoptic mange in wombats is a voracious infestation by the mite Sarcoptes scabiei that, unless treated, progresses until the animal is so severely compromised that it dies with immense suffering. Mange can spread rapidly through populations, particularly those of high density.
It affects all three sub-species of Vombatus ursinus … and … (southern hairy‑nosed wombat) -
I mentioned those combined ranges -
Mange is addressed by a range of committed volunteers and professionals but with no leadership or coordination of their efforts. Mange-affected wild wombats are treated by volunteer wildlife groups/carers with the support of veterinarians and landowners. Research is conducted by several academics who take a particular interest in the subject.
Witness Scott Carver here in Tasmania -
- Analysis of stakeholder inputs to this report found a number of key needs and concerns:
- The need for a coordinated approach to managing mange across all regions
- The need for credible data about wombat populations and mange prevalence
- The need for a greater understanding of mange and better treatment options
- Concern about the efficacy of the current treatment regimen and difficulties executing it
- Concern about a lack of clear information and a strong sense of 'I just don't know what to do'.
- These needs and concerns represent fundamental hurdles to responding to mange effectively, but there is currently no framework to address them. In short, sarcoptic mange appears to fall between the cracks of Australia's wildlife management system.
- Establish national coordination of the response to mange and prepare a plan of action.
- Determine whether any management strategy should focus solely on wombats or address mange on a multi-species basis.
- Establish national surveillance of wombat populations and the prevalence of mange.
- Draft a comprehensive research agenda - a prioritised list of the most pressing research needs - and actively promote that agenda in the scientific and philanthropic communities.
- Assess mange treatments and application methods in current use and, as appropriate, initiate further study to determine their safety, efficacy and optimal dose range. Start with topically applied Cydectin, as this is the only APVMA-approved treatment.
- Determine whether any other threats to wombats require greater focus than they currently receive - for example, road deaths, toxoplasmosis, habitat loss, climate change.
Given the overwhelmingly positive response to the discussion draft of this report - and in the absence of any specific body to assess and implement the report's recommendations - the author will liaise with a range of stakeholders in November 2018 to determine the best way forward.
Mr Valentine - Is that on a statewide basis?
Mrs Hiscutt - It is a national report.
Mr FINCH - It is completely applicable to Tasmania, but the thrust of this was Australia's response to sarcoptic mange in wombats. He is looking at it on a national basis.
Mr Valentine - I wanted to be sure the south of the state would be looked at.
Mr FINCH - Yes. In Tasmania, we are perfectly positioned to be leaders in this field because of our island status. Reports say this sarcoptic mange is throughout the state. There are some areas where it is not - for example, in the south-west.
The reports on WomSAT and reports from observers and volunteers who report to Wombat Warriors show it is prevalent throughout the state. When I say 'throughout the state', I am using the term loosely.
Mr FINCH - I am not fearmongering. I am not saying 'Every wombat is under threat and getting it.'
Ms Rattray - It obviously does not affect their growth because they are still growing significantly. They are a large animal.
Mr FINCH - Yes, and heavy.
Mr Gaffney - It does impact if it is a young one.
Mr FINCH - This is back to the report by Jude -
Mange: Why Does it Matter?
Why should Australia take notice of sarcoptic mange in wombats and direct resources to it? Why does it matter?
It's a matter of welfare - mange inflicts a slow and painful death
The latest research suggests that the sarcoptic mange mite was introduced to the wombats' habitat by humans who brought mite-carrying species to Australia - and by that measure alone, if not for reasons of compassion, we may consider that humans bear some responsibility for putting right what humans have put wrong.
It may be a matter of wombat conservation - but nobody knows for sure
- There is no data on wombat populations in many regions.
- The spread and long-term impact of mange is not well understood.
- The resilience of affected populations is variable and not well understood.
- The capacity of other pathogens to do harm could be greater in mange-weakened populations
- The only wombat species unaffected to date, the northern hairy-nose, is critically endangered and could be further threatened if it were to succumb to mange.
Without the warning that evidential data can provide, might Australia discover too late that mange is a bigger problem than anyone thought possible?
It is a matter for others too, not just wombats.
Mange affects many domestic and wild animals globally. In Australia, mange has been reported in domestic dogs and foxes -
I thought I would get your attention, member for Windermere.
Mr Dean - We have a problem; a big problem.
Mr FINCH - The foxes might have scratched themselves to death -
… and in several native species - but nobody can predict how mange will impact them in future or how many more native species may be affected. Knowledge gained through researching and treating mange in wombats has the potential to help in the broader context.
On all of these counts, some combination of human compassion, human responsibility and the precautionary principle points to the importance of this work - and, in particular, to adequate surveillance to ensure that Australia becomes and remains aware of the impact of sarcoptic mange.
How is Australia Responding to Mange?
Australia's response to mange in wombats is largely led by volunteer wildlife groups/carers who advocate on behalf of wombats and run treatment programs, often supported by veterinarians and land owners, and by individual university researchers who pursue their interest in the issue. Some of these parties communicate with each other, but none of them holds responsibility for setting the course and coordinating the wide range of activities that comprise a full response.
While commendable work is being done in many pockets, the combined lack of coordination, paucity of data on wombat populations and mange prevalence, and divergent approaches in different jurisdictions result in a piece-meal response.
I have spoken here about the group at Kelso in my electorate who are doing a wonderful job in supporting others around the state who need help with the treatment program they have promoted -
The federal government plays no role in coordinating mange efforts.
Tasmania is the only jurisdictional government with a specific focus on mange. In response to the effect of mange in Narawntapu National Park (NP) and the ensuing public outcry, the government established the Wombat Mange Working Group in 2016 to assess the status of the State's wombat populations, assess the distribution and severity of mange across the State, and provide advice to the community about treating wombats. This working group includes biologists, veterinarians and other members from government and the University of Tasmania.
There is unanimous agreement among jurisdictional government environment departments - and among all participants in this report - that mange is an animal welfare issue.
Whether it's also a conservation issue is less clear. There are isolated incidents of local population declines and anecdotal reports of areas that once teemed with wombats but no longer do. However, little is known about the resilience of affected populations, and any long-term impact is unknown in the absence of population and prevalence data.
There are reports from each of the states but I will only read the one from Tasmania, from the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment -
Mange is viewed as a localised conservation issue in region/s of decline; more broadly as an animal welfare issue for affected individuals.
As in any State, Tasmania has a range of pressing wildlife issues, including a range of threatened and endangered species and wildlife disease issues (including Devil Facial Tumour Disease, beak and feather disease, sarcoptic mange). Even though common wombats are not listed as a threatened species in Tasmania (except the Flinders Island subspecies listed on EPBC due to limited distribution), they are clearly a priority for the Government, amongst other priorities.
The current data on wombat population trends and mange prevalence does not support the view that mange is a threat to the long term survival of wombats in Tasmania. DPIPWE however recognises that mange has been attributed to be the cause of a significant decline at Narawntapu National Park and acknowledges that the disease can cause localised declines.
That is right, if they get mange, there is no stopping it unless they are treated or they are shot, and that is what is done. They are euthanised, so do we keep doing that?
Under Government Activity - and I might point out here the former attorney‑general Vanessa Goodwin, then as leader, came with me to Kelso and talked to our volunteers there. Being a great lover of animals, she was very taken with the issue we are experiencing with wombats and the work being done by our volunteers. I am sure she had some input into what occurred from a government perspective -
- In 2017, DPIPWE provided $100K of government funding for UTAS research into new treatments, for new mange-prevalence surveys and for small grants to treatment groups.
- DPIPWE also collaborates on publishing scientific peer-reviewed papers on wombats and is currently drafting a discussion paper on the state-wide approach to managing mange in wombats in Tasmania.
I mention from the report that -
Public awareness of mange in wombats varies markedly between regions. In Tasmania, awareness is very high due to the high-profile decline of the wombat population in Narawntapu National Park in 2015.
Narawntapu is on the northern end of my electorate near Bass Strait.
Mr Gaffney - Not all of it.
Mr FINCH - Not all of it, no. It is probably your bit where the mange has come from.
Mr Dean - You have the good part.
Mr FINCH - To continue -
In other jurisdictions, mange in wombats remains unknown to much of the wider community, particularly in urban areas.
Members of the public sometimes get involved in hands-on treatment of mange, particularly on their own property, and usually in conjunction with a wildlife group or carer.
Population and Prevalence
Data on wombat populations and the prevalence of mange is essential to understanding its impacts. There is currently no national surveillance program specific to sarcoptic mange in wombats or any other species. This represents a significant knowledge gap. The lack of data means that Australia is unaware of wombat population numbers, population trends, and the proportion of wombats affected by mange nationally.
Earlier I mentioned WomSAT -
WomSAT was developed at the Western Sydney University (WSU) to map mange and other wombat threats across Australia. It stores wombat sightings, burrow locations, mange status and road deaths. Data can be entered by anyone via the WomSAT app or computer interface. Of the 16 contributors who provided input about WomSAT to this report, only two people report entering data regularly into WomSAT; four use it on an ad hoc basis and ten never use it. Further work is required to understand WomSAT's potential role in monitoring populations.
State- and Territory-based Monitoring
While Tasmania is the only jurisdiction that regularly monitors wombat populations and mange prevalence, all jurisdictions have some form of wildlife monitoring and/or sources of related data ...
For that data for Tasmania, we have a 30-year history of annual mammal surveys, including counts of wombats along more than 132, 10-kilometre transects in eastern, northern and central Tasmania where mange occurs. Since 2017, twice-yearly surveys in summer and winter, of mange prevalence have been conducted at key locations across the state using observational counts and cameras. Results are available on DPIPWE's website. I am digressing. I have had a lot of criticism of the situation because it is done at night with a torch from a vehicle driving through these various areas and trying to spot wombats. That is how it is done and how numbers are kept. I think the driver is holding the torch and then relaying the spottings to somebody else.
The Natural Values Atlas contains more than 1500 wombat records from Tasmania. DPIPWE's Tasmania roadkill app was launched in 2018 and collects data on a range of species, including mammals and birds. Wombats are frequently reported. I have something from Bruce Englefield on that in a moment.
Treatment - there is the development of new, longer lasting treatment for mange in wombats funded by DPIPWE grant. The researcher is Scott Carver at UTAS and trials will continue on through 2019. Under Recent Findings - which might all be from Tasmania -
The animals can't cope with the energetic pressure of disease. Food supplementation may be a mitigating factor, and is a possible research direction.
That was from Alynn Martin -
Mange causes substantial behavioural and thermal changes in wombats.
from the work of Scott Carver and Kellie Lovell -
A mange outbreak can cause substantial declines in numbers.
Transmission is consistent with burrow sharing.
From Scott Carver -
The presence of mange does not drive declines in all populations. Mange is widespread in Tasmania, generally at low prevalence and overall the State-wide population is increasing.
There would probably be a big question mark around that final statement; that work is by Rosemary Gales. I might get some response to that from the Leader in her response -
Real-World Application of Recent Findings
Tasmanian Wombat Working Group established with DPIPWE. (2016)
Increased public awareness and community engagement including extensive information on wombats and mange available on the DPIPWE website.
Substantial conservation changes at government level in Tasmania including assessing state-wide population levels of wombats.
That work was by the Wombat Working Group.
I have details here of the work being done and the treatments being used. I will mention the one on the Kelso sanctuary proposal. There is a proposal to purchase land in Kelso and preserve it as conservation land, a place for wild wombats to live freely and be treated. An educational display is also planned. That is at the fundraising stage and is being conducted by Wombat Rescue Tasmania.
To the concluding remarks from Jude O'Sullivan -
People describe the issue of sarcoptic mange in wombats differently depending on their vantage point and lens. To some, it's a wicked problem that's rapidly driving the species towards extinction. To others, it's a non-event or a sad‑but‑true part of the natural cycle of life.
It's not surprising that the problem is perceived differently across such a wide range of terrain, weather patterns, habitat modification and human interaction - so these divergent views are probably fair descriptions of what people actually see in front of them.
To accurately understand how mange is impacting wombats across their entire range, we need to apply clear thinking and scientific rigour - and that means obtaining credible data for indicators such as population distribution, mange prevalence, resilience and treatment outcomes. (On a personal note, I believe it's also helpful to stay genuinely curious, at least initially, about why other people have different views. They may not be wrong; they may be facing a different view of the situation or have novel ideas worth a second look).
The plan proposed in this report suggests an approach for working together across jurisdictional boundaries to systematically identify and acquire the data and knowledge needed to better understand the problem and respond appropriately.
Although Australia currently has no national framework for responding to the threat that mange poses to the welfare and conservation of wombats, the overwhelmingly positive response to the discussion draft of this report suggests that the mange community is more than ready to take the initiative and establish a new model for getting this work done.
Let's get organised and stop the guesswork.
That is a selective choice from this report by Jude O'Sullivan. What I have presented to this House covers the issue we are dealing with from a national perspective, but I have also extracted the Tasmanian references. For all intents and purposes, it looks pretty good that Tasmania is doing something.
At this stage I will go to the recent report by a leading Swiss banking group that says that Australia is the richest society in the world. That is interesting, and yet our government seems too mean to properly conserve our threatened species. That might be what it is coming down to, particularly that Australian national basis.
My motion calls on the Government to give urgent consideration to the creation of a separate wildlife environment department or something similar so extinction issues are not submerged below competing interests of primary industries, because they need to be also considered with the damage wombats can do.
This is strongly supported by a leading light in the fight to save the Tasmanian devil, someone we have had here before as my guest and with whom I work as chairman of the Save the Devil situation.
Ms Rattray - The Devil Island Project.
Mr FINCH - Yes, thank you. I am trying to forget those 10 years. We put a lot of energy and effort in and we raised $2.6 million, so we did well.
Ms Rattray - You reminded us about the program and encouraged us to attend events so often, to your credit.
Mr FINCH - Our patron and board member, Shane Gould, won Survivor, so she can tell us a thing or two about surviving species. I will quote from an email Bruce Englefield sent me. He says in regards to terms of reference -
My observations are that your motions are right on the mark, particularly the idea of a separate ministry for wildlife. … I see the crux of the wombat mange issue one of getting unbiased, scientifically based research conducted to quantify how bad the problem is in Tasmania, how widespread it is and to access and capitalize on the experience of other States. We need a professional, properly funded, dedicated czar for wombats to head up a team.
He gave an example but I will not name the person -
Ms Forrest - A job for you when you retire.
Mr FINCH - The chap he mentioned was on the board at one stage and would be perfect, but is probably enjoying other things at this stage. To continue with Bruce -
The way to monitor wombats in the wild is not to go looking for wombats per se, and flashing lights from cars!! Look for their scats or burrows. To do this one would use dogs, specially trained to use their heightened olfactory acuity to locate these. This is a highly skilled training process but is not original.
Indeed, two months ago, [two Tasmanians, I will not mention their names] went to Western Australia with dogs trained in Tasmania to locate feral cat scats. Dogs on the mainland detect koala scats, quolls, cane toads etc. This could be done with wombats, particularly as they are nocturnal, so dogs working during daytime would not disturb them. Once located and mapped, cameras can be set up to monitor the wombats for mange and Cydectin flaps set up for every wombat.
Evidence of wombat decline.
A paper, Distribution and abundance of roadkill on Tasmanian highways by Dr Alistair Hobday and Melinda Minstrell written in 2008 gave numbers of roadkill over a four year period. The ratio of pademelons and Bennet's wallabies killed on the road (roadkill) compared with wombats was 11:1 and 6:1 respectively. Compared with Tasmanian devils 8.5:1 and 4.75:1. On my recent research on roadkill in Tasmania, I found a total of 81 pademelons and 83 Bennet's wallabies as roadkill in the 18 weeks of monitoring every day. I should, therefore, using these ratios, have expected to find approximately 10 Tasmanian Devils roadkilled and 8 wombats roadkilled. I found two Devils, but no wombats. The devil number would be lower because of the decline in devil numbers since 2004-2007, due to DFTD, when the surveying for the paper was carried out. The fact that I recorded no wombats could indicate a decline due to a factor such as mange.
So to summarize I believe we need verifiable data and then need to act on it. What we don't need is to follow the path of the fox task force …
Mr Dean - Right.
Mr FINCH - Are you still listening?
Mr Dean - I am.
Mr FINCH -
… which didn't get verification of the presence of foxes BEFORE acting, but spent millions of dollars putting down Sodium fluoroacetate -
Mr Dean - Never at any other time did they get verification of the fact that foxes exist, not only at the beginning, never at any stage.
Mr FINCH - They put 1080 poison everywhere -
Or like the Save the Tasmanian devil programme that gathered verifiable evidence on the way the DFTD was spreading but DIDN'T act on it.
The fox task force could have brought in all the packs of foxhounds sitting doing nothing in the UK after fox hunting was banned. These hounds would have found foxes if they were here in Tasmania. Scenting dogs could also have been used.
The STTD program could have built fences at Dunalley and at Woolnorth as well as some huge Devil Islands before the DFTD got there.
Eventually, after much public backlash, they finally stopped putting Devils back into the wild to face almost certain death, as in the Narawntapu and Forestier peninsula releases. They threw resources at the Mount William release and were highly successful with no deaths, providing a blue print that Tassie can be proud of for future rewilding programs. However, 20 eastern quolls reared in Tasmania were recently sent to a rewilding program on the mainland. None of the blue print protocols were used and sixteen of the twenty were dead within a very short time. The Tasmanian minister must have signed for them to be allowed to leave Tasmania, where was a duty of care exercised? This is just the kind of matter that a ministry for wildlife would have had the resources to fully investigate. Another 30 eastern quolls are due to be sent over next year. There is scientific evidence that the eastern quoll is in serious decline in Tasmania, we should be using the eastern quolls to be rewilding here.
Those observations are from Bruce Englefield of the Devil Island Project.
There are some reasons for optimism. I mentioned Dr Scott Carver of the University of Tasmania previously. He is working on inoculation. I made contact with him some time ago and said I would call him again. I tried on Friday to let him know to leave a message for me; to contact me over the weekend. I phoned him again yesterday. I just got his voicemail but I tried to have a discussion with Dr Carver.
Even if a cure for wombat mange is found, we still need to locate the remaining wombats to treat them.
Scott is a lecturer in wildlife ecology. Scott surveyed the Narawntapu National Park from 2009 assisted by two PhD students, Alynn Martin and Tamieka Fraser. The results, as I have mentioned, were alarming; 94 per cent of the wombat population in the national park had died. That is in Narawntapu alone. Scott says that it would be hard to provide scientific answers on whether Tasmanian wombats overall are in population decline without a statewide survey.
Madam Deputy President, it is absolutely urgent. We cannot wait for a survey; we have to act immediately.
This cannot be done by volunteers alone. We need government intervention perhaps through, as suggested, a wildlife ministry.
As my motion says, the Government must become more involved in the fight to save the wombat population and needs to implement a statewide strategy for controlling the mange epidemic through a coordinated treatment plan, thus reducing reliance on the efforts of community groups. Self-interest alone dictates this. I do not know if there are any figures showing the importance of the wombats near Ronny Creek near Cradle Mountain in attracting visitors. Many tourists get off the Dove Lake bus towards evening to see them. How attractive are they to our tourists? What if there were none left? How good are they? Imagine our Asian tourists coming and seeing those wombats in the wild - it is just a fantastic sight to see. As I mentioned before, it is a pity we destroyed the Tasmanian tiger. People would have come from around the world to see one of those. But apart from self-interest, is it not time we corrected the harm that European settlers have done to Tasmania's flora and fauna in little more than 200 years? I will leave it to others to make a comment.
Mr VALENTINE (Hobart) - Madam Deputy President, I have quite a small offering on this. I want to commend the member for continually bringing this to our attention. It is obviously a great concern to him as an individual. The fact that he is are out there championing it in the community and urging the parliament to get involved in this is really important. Congratulations on bringing it forward.
Mr Finch - And to salute the volunteers.
Mr VALENTINE - There would be very little being done if it were not for the volunteers; we can appreciate that and you are right - they certainly need commending. Sadly, I have to say that in an area where I spend a fair bit of time - I have a shack down Dunalley way - I have seen two wombats with mange, one of which I know died and possibly the other did as well over the last probably six or seven years. It is a terrible circumstance. In fact I think it is three that I have seen. They must suffer terribly with that. It is something that definitely needs to have attention paid to.
I was looking at the structure of the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, and I noticed that it has a biosecurity section, which everybody is aware of, and within that there is the Invasive Species Branch. I know that invasive species are generally thought about as fruit fly and those sorts of things, but in a sense this mange is an invasive species. It is an invasive bug that causes significant damage to our wildlife.
The member mentioned in the closing components of his speech that people come here to see our wildlife. They come here to experience it. To think that wombats could eventually disappear the way the Tasmanian tiger did and indeed the way the devil has been impacted by that terrible facial tumour disease - we cannot let that happen. We really cannot, as a community. I appreciate the statements in your motion:
(3) In recognition of the seriousness of species extinction in Australia calls upon the Government to give urgent consideration to the creation of a separate Wildlife Environment Department or something similar so that extinction issues are not submerged below competing interests of primary industries.
No-one denies primary industries attention when it comes to things that impact on them, but we have to understand that this has the potential to impact in a very big way on our various native species that people see as an attraction to our island. When it comes to our various natural species that exist here on this island, there is a fascinating set of animals. You only have to read some of the historic accounts of when Europeans first came here and looked at things like the platypus. What is this creature? It has a bill like a duck and spurs on its feet. We really do have some fascinating animals. Wombats probably are not quite as curious an object, but they are important to our environment.
I see 'invasive species' under Biosecurity. I look down further and see 'animal biosecurity' and 'animal welfare'. This is an area that could become involved. There is also another area, 'wildlife management' under 'natural and cultural heritage' so various parts of the department pay attention to animal welfare and to threatened species and the like. It would be good to see that come together in a more well-rounded section of the department that really concentrates on trying to protect our species. I do not only mean threatened species like the wombat could become.
As a small island we have quite a significant opportunity to be able to put effort in and see some good results. You can imagine on the mainland tackling the problem like the sarcoptic mange is a far greater issue over time. We can have some good gains by putting some effort in, and I congratulate the member for bringing it forward.
This motion calls upon the Government to acknowledge and recognise sarcoptic mange is having an adverse effect on wombat populations around the state. Fact - that is a fact.
Mr Finch - As I did highlight, they have taken action.
Mr VALENTINE - Yes, you are not saying they are not doing anything.
Mr Finch - No.
Mr VALENTINE - You are highlighting it here, but the fact is the disease is not only an issue confined to Narawntapu National Park in the West Tamar region. I have seen what is happening in the south. I have noticed only two or three, but the fact is if it exists down in the south, it can spread. If it has spread in Narawntapu, there is nothing stopping it spreading in the south of the state to the same extent if we do not deal with this more effectively -
… urges the Government to become more involved in the fight to save the wombat population and strongly encourages the implementation of a statewide strategy...
There is no point in being piecemeal about these sorts of things. Obviously, there is a big benefit in having a coordinated approach and you brought that out during your offering.
I support this motion. I really do support this motion. I have a wombat burrow on my property down south, currently uninhabited.
Ms Rattray - How do you know it is uninhabited?
Mr VALENTINE - You can see it is not disturbed. The last time I looked it might have been disturbed. There might have been another one moved in there. The fact is they are around. It is sandy soil near where our shack is and burrows are easier to dig, so the wombats would be attracted.
Mr Finch - I will check around to see if there is a wombat that needs a home.
Mr VALENTINE - You could do that and then you can dig up all my plants. That is a side issue on how to live with these animals, rather than move them on.
I have noticed over six years that the mange is moving further south. It certainly needs to be considered seriously, otherwise we will end up with wombats in the same situation as the Tasmanian devil. Congratulations.
Mrs HISCUTT (Montgomery - Leader of the Government in the Legislative Council) - Madam Deputy President, I notice the shift change in the member for Murchison's seat.
I thank the member for Rosevears for bringing forward this very important matter for debate and I also thank the other members for their contributions today.
The Government acknowledges the significant interest regarding the issue in the wider community and the value of the wombat population to the state. They are indeed an iconic native animal. That is why last year the Government announced a $100 000 program of activities to address the wombat mange, including monitoring, researching new mange treatment options and providing financial support for community groups and individuals to treat mange-affected wombats.
Sarcoptic mange, a condition caused by a parasitic bite, has been present in wombat populations across Tasmania and south-eastern Australia for over a hundred years; it is known to occur throughout most of the range of common wombats.
It is acknowledged sarcoptic mange is having an adverse effect on the localised wombat population in the West Tamar area, including the Narawntapu National Park. However, long-term monitoring data from DPIPWE's annual spotlight survey has shown notwithstanding the localised decline of wombat numbers in the West Tamar area, wombat populations are not declining on a statewide level. In fact, Tasmania-wide wombat population trends have generally increased between 1985, when annual spotlight surveys commenced, and the present day.
Numbers in Tasmania have been stable or increasing over the past eight years in particular, with the exception of the West Tamar region. This data demonstrates Tasmania's statewide wombat population is not endangered and is not at risk of extinction. Of course wombat population trends across the state will continue to be a focus of ongoing monitoring.
Mange prevalence monitoring data has also recently been collected by DPIPWE and other stakeholders, including Conservation Volunteers Australia and the Tasmanian Land Conservancy. This work detected a generally low prevalence of mange. Based on night-time surveys of various locations across the state, overall the prevalence of mange in wombats is in the order of only 1 per cent. This data is consistent with results from mainland Australia, where mange has generally no rates of prevalence, and demonstrates sarcoptic mange is not an epidemic driving population declines across the state. This is the key point in relation to your motion, member for Rosevears.
The Government appreciates and acknowledges the very genuine intent of this motion; however, the Government is not in a position to support the motion as it is currently worded because summary evidence shows sarcoptic mange is not having an adverse effect on statewide wombat populations.
Numbers are generally increasing statewide and the Tasmanian wombat population is not endangered or at risk of extinction. As we have currently talked today, it is increasing.
Mr Valentine - I am saying today it is not, it might be later.
Mrs HISCUTT - It has been increasing in the last few years.
With reference to the second part of today's motion, the Government recognises mange is an animal welfare issue for affected wombats.
We are committed to supporting further monitoring and research to address this, combined with a coordinated approach to monitoring populations and the prevalence of mange across the state.
I can advise that the Government is indeed implementing a statewide approach to wombats recognising ongoing collaboration between government, researchers and community groups will continue to maintain a healthy and viable statewide population well into the future.
Tasmania is in fact the only jurisdictional government with a specific focus on wombat mange and is the only jurisdiction that regularly monitors the statewide wombat population and mange prevalence. This is noted in the National report: Australia's response to sarcoptic mange in wombats, which you quoted from.
This report was released earlier this month by Jude O'Sullivan following consultation with contributors, including government agencies, university researchers, veterinarians and wildlife groups.
Last year a wombat mange working group was established comprising officers from DPIPWE and the University of Tasmania to work collaboratively in the areas of -
(1) Development of information resources.
(2) Collection and analysis of information.
(3) Provision of advice.
(4) Consideration of management options and responses.
DPIPWE is currently drafting a wombat monitoring program document to guide ongoing monitoring of wombats and mange in Tasmania. In addition, with funding support from the Government, the University of Tasmania is currently investigating new mange treatment options for wombats.
The goal of this important research is to develop a single-dose treatment for mange in wombats, eliminating the need for multiple treatments, which is a challenge when treating affected wombats in the wild.
Further, I note the concerns in some areas about crop protection permits for those wombats that on occasions cause demonstrable problems for landholders. The process of assessing crop protection permits involving wombats has been significantly tightened, with fewer wombats allowed to be taken per permit, property inspections held prior to the issuing of a permit and, importantly, the consideration of alternative options such as wombat gates in the first instance.
In the West Tamar area, where the local wombat population has declined, crop protection permits for wombats are no longer issued.
Based on the evidence from long-term monitoring of wombat populations that demonstrates the statewide population is not declining, together with advice from the Chief Veterinarian Officer that there is no justification to impose a blanket moratorium on crop protection permits for wombats in other areas with stable or increasing wombat populations, I reiterate that the permit process has been significantly tightened.
I note that between 2010 and 2016, DPIPWE issued an average of 34 crop protection permits for wombats per year, whereas to date only five new permits have been issued in 2018.
DPIPWE also maintains an up-to-date portal on its website where detailed information regarding the trends of the wombat population in Tasmania, the prevalence of mange and the management initiatives implemented by the Government are publicly available.
With reference to the third part of today's motion, it is important to note that the Government takes the responsibility and conservation of threatened species seriously and accordingly provides DPIPWE with significant resourcing for wildlife and threatened species matters. This includes a specific threatened species section, wildlife operations, marine conservation program and conservation assessment section, for example, within the Natural and Cultural Heritage Division of the department.
The Parks and Wildlife Service and Inland Fisheries Service also address threatened species matters. Staff in all areas are highly qualified and skilled professionals. The Threatened Species Protection Act 1995 falls under the responsibility of the Environment minister.
In short, the Tasmanian Government's commitment to threatened species and other wildlife protection is significant, ongoing and integrated, and the creation of a separate wildlife environmental department is not warranted.
The Government will continue to take an evidence-based and collaborative approach to the issue of wombat mange and the management of wildlife populations generally.
I thank the member for Rosevears for his continued and genuine interest in this important issue.
For the reasons I have outlined, the Government appreciates and acknowledges the intent of the motion, but is not able to support the motion as it is currently worded.
Finally, I note that the Government, through the minister's office, has offered to arrange a departmental briefing for the member for Rosevears on the information provided and the issues raised, and is also happy to extend this invitation to other Council members if they desire.
Mr DEAN (Windermere) - Mr President, I am not sure where to go with this motion right now. I was convinced at the end of the contribution by the member for Rosevears that I would be supporting it. The Government's position significantly contrasts with his position.
I too have had approaches about the mange and what is perceived as the devastation being caused to the wombat. Those people have had some fairly constant conversations with me. In fact, I was considering going down a similar path to that of the member for Rosevears.
I am not sure how the member for Rosevears would see this, but I would like some opportunity to look at the information provided by the Government and that provided by the member for Rosevears. I am not sure whether other members want to speak on this motion but I was going to test the Floor by seeking that the matter be deferred and seek leave that the debate be further adjourned for me to look at some of that further information and evidence.
The Leader has made it clear to the member for Rosevears that the Government cannot support the motion as it is currently written. I think that means that they may well be able to support it if it is put forward in another form. That would allow the member for Rosevears to consider this matter as well. I would not like to see it lost. It is an important matter in my view and that of many Tasmanians.
If it does not offend anybody, Mr President, I seek leave to request that this matter be further adjourned.
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, having listened to what the Government has said, I am satisfied with making my contribution to the House and making people aware of the way this is developing in the Tasmanian community - the arguments being put forward, the way people are feeling and expressing what the Government has said. I am not trying to cover up what the Government is doing, what Scott Carver is doing, what is happening here and the $100 000 grant that came from the Government. What the Leader said in her response is probably what I would expect from the Government at this stage. I feel this is a bit like a Chinese water torture, but this is a process we are going through. I have made two special interest speeches on mange.
Ms Forrest - We remember.
Mr FINCH - Now I have put forward a motion.
Member for Windermere, I am not concerned about losing the motion at this stage because it has been presented. You have heard the evidence I put forward. You have heard the Government's response. One of the Government's advisors offered me a briefing beforehand, but I did not take up that offer because I wanted to see what happened on the Floor and then see where this needs to go.
I am happy to let the Government know I have a watching brief on this circumstance. I am interested to hear what people say to me now. There are people who are very passionate and involved in this discussion and in what is happening here today. They are watching and they will read Hansard. I am sure they will let me know how they feel. I am happy to bring that back to parliament, if the member for Murchison can stand it, in another special interest speech -
Ms Forrest - Will it be five minutes?
Mr FINCH - Maybe not.
Or in questions without notice, and I am happy to pursue that over time. I am not looking for a quick fix. I am not looking for success with these motions. I am looking for the debate to occur and then the signal to the Government I am happy to play the long game on this.
Thanks very much to the member for Windermere for offering that proposition but, personally, I am happy to let the boat go. I have made my point and on behalf of the volunteers and people who are involved, in a negative way, with what is occurring in Tasmania, let us see the information that comes through to me and how I might progress the debate and the argument into the future.