December 2010 Campaign Updates

Brushtail possum export plan

On 15 October 2010 the Australian Government Minister for the Environment Tony Burke announced the approval of the ‘Management Plan for the Commercial Harvest and Export of Brushtail Possums in Tasmania 2010–2015’ (Possum Export Plan).

The minister decided that he was not fully satisfied with the animal welfare provisions of the plan. Accordingly, the plan was conditionally approved for the shooting of possums in the field (either free-ranging or in traps) but not for the trapping of possums in the field for live transport to abattoirs for slaughter. This is essentially a ban on the export of possums that are trapped and transported live to abattoirs for slaughter. This is perhaps the most horrific aspect of the possum industry and the minister’s decision is an important but minor victory for the TCT, Against Animal Cruelty Tasmania, Wildlife Tasmania and other groups that campaigned against it.

The minister also required that the Tasmanian Government develop a code of practice for shooting of brushtail possums and required that this be completed within 12 months of the plan being approved. While we support the minister’s decision, the state government process is critically flawed in that the animal code of practice will be developed solely by the Animal Welfare Adisory Council, which has only one non-government representative, and without any public consultation.

The TCT will continue to lobby the Tasmanian and Australian governments to ensure that the brushtail and all other animal codes of practice are developed through a thorough and open community consultation process.

Swift parrot

It is more than 12 months since we reported on the urgent need for better protection of swfit parrot habitat (Tasmanian Conservationist No. 318, ‘D-Day approaches for swift parrot’) and not a lot has changed in that time. The ‘Interim species guidelines for the conservation management of Lathamus discolor (swift parrot) in areas regulated by the Tasmanian forest practices system’ (Interim Guidelines) is likely to go to the Forest Practices Advisory Committee (FPAC) early next year for adoption. Little will change practically after finalisation of the guidelines because the Forest Practices Authority (FPA) has been using the Interim Guidelines in an informal capacity for more than 12 months. However, adoption by the FPAC will ensure that decisions by the FPA will have stronger standing if challanged through the Forest Practices Tribunal.

We will need to wait another twelve months or more for the finalisation of a broader strategic plan for the conservation of swift parrot habitat, which will guide the assessment of all developments and land use changes (including forestry, urban development, infrastructure development etc) which could impact upon habitat.

Walker’s Ralphs Bay marina officially dead

Thanks to the tenacious work of the Environmental Defenders Officer, we can categorically state that Walker Corporation’s Ralphs Bay marina is officially dead. What few others bothered to check was whether Walker was seeking compensation or whether they had extended the statutory period for lodging an application for compensation by seeking a statement of reasons from Premier David Bartlett for refusing the development. The EDO recently obtained a letter from the Premier confirming Walker had not sought a statement of reasons in the time period provided. The Supreme Court confirmed to the EDO that no application for compensation was made by Walker. Walker now has no other legal recourse available to it in regard to its original Ralphs Bay marina proposal.

State government fails to take responsibility for 1080 alternatives

Last year the Minister for Primary Industries, Water and Environment, David Llewellyn, ignored our calls to pre-empt the outcomes of the final report on the three-year Alternatives to 1080 Program, due by June 2010 but still apparently not complete, and seek funding from the 2010–11 State Budget to continue a program to develop and implement more humane methods of control for browsing native animals. Since July this year the program has been unfunded and has effectively ceased to operate. It now looks as if the new minister will repeat Llewellyn’s mistake.

The report on the Alternatives to 1080 Program is now six months overdue and the new minister (currently David O’Byrne but soon to be Brian Wightman) is rapidly running out of time in which to prepare a submission to the 2011–12 State Budget. It seems that both ministers are using the delays in preparing this report to put off making a decision on this vital issue for Tasmania’s wildlife and for farming and forestry interests.

The state government appears to want to absolve itself of responsibility for providing assistance to land managers to use more humane methods of controlling browsing native animals while continuing to issue permits for use of 1080 poison.

The good news in regard to the Alternatives to 1080 Program is that it now seems that the state government was unable to provide funding for trials of the proposed alternative poison, Feratox. Without funding for further extensive field trials in Tasmania, it is highly unlikely any attempt will be made to have the poison licensed for use in Australia.

Progress on the CLAC proposed reserves

At our first meeting with the Minister for Environment, Parks and Heritage, David O’Byrne, we were shocked to be informed by the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment that proclamation of the hundreds of proposed Crown Land Assessment and Classification Program (CLAC) reserves would take ‘several years’. After seeking a full explanation for this we have been told by the minister’s office that an efficient means of processing bulk proclamations has been developed that should result in the first batch (the largest and most urgent reserves) being proclaimed by autumn 2011.

The TCT will be making a submission to the minister regarding particular proposed reserves which it believes are important and deserve reservation urgently.

In the meantime, we understand that some Parks and Wildlife Service regions have appointed or are in the process of appointing new staff whose responsibilities include management of the proposed new CLAC reserves. Many of these proposed reserves have not been actively managed for many years and PWS will have a big backlog to catch up on.

Arthur Pieman: state government inaction on off-road vehicles

More than two years have passed since the Parks and Wildlife Service initiated a process to review and improve management of off-road vehicle use in the Arthur Pieman Conservation Area (APCA), and not one track has been closed.

Despite the PWS releasing a report in April 2010 recommending closure of numerous tracks and conservation groups recommending many more, Minister David O’Byrne has not acted on any of these recommendations.

The new annual off-road vehicle licensing system commenced on 1 December with the only change from the previous year being the introduction of a new special APCA off-road fee. The fee will not go near to covering the expected cost of managing and enforcing restrictions on off-road users in the APCA but it is a positive move. Other positive actions by the state government include the promise of substantially more staff time dedicated to enforcement and the provision of more funding in the last state budget for much-needed additional Aboriginal heritage surveys (which are nearing completion).

However, without tracks being closed the PWS is continuing to issue off-road vehicle users with permits to destroy natural and cultural values. Contrary to claims by off-road vehicle users and the PWS, it is not the illegal users who have the greatest impact. Thousands of vehicles will still be given authority by the PWS to drive along beaches and disturb nesting birds, to drive over scores of middens and other Aboriginal sites, endanger threatened vegetation communities and threatened flora species directly and indirectly through spreading Phytophthora and disrupting other users’ wilderness experience.

Fundamental to PWS’s incapacity to make any progress in managing off-road vehicles in the APCA is its insistence that its management goal is to manage the APCA for competing uses. The PWS must give up this false goal and admit that its true management goal, as stated in legislation and the APCA management plan, is to ensure no significant impact on natural and cultural values.

The TCT holds out some hope that the Australian Government may be able to intervene in a limited capacity and insist on higher standards of assessment and management of off-road vehicle use. The response from the previous Minister, Peter Garrett, was that the EPBC Act would only apply if an individual vehicle could be shown to have a significant impact as a matter of national environmental significance. While this is possible, it may only succeed in restricting vehicles in a few small areas. The minister did not address our concerns that the proposed management actions of the PWS are controlled actions and must be referred for assessment. We will pursue the new minister on both these matters.

Peter McGlone