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Monday, 21 November 2011
Page: 9054

Senator MILNE (TasmaniaDeputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (17:05): I rise to note the government's response to the inquiry report Science underpinning the inability to eradicate the Asian honey bee. While I acknowledge the $2 million which the government provided to support a national pilot program, the whole point of the Senate report was that senators from all political parties wanted to make sure that eradication was reviewed. We wanted a review of the decision not to eradicate the Asian honey bee. The $2 million has been put into facilitation of the transition from eradication to the ongoing management of the Asian honey bee. In other words, the money has gone into upholding the decision that you cannot eradicate the Asian honeybee. There is no evidence to say that you can eradicate it or that you cannot eradicate it. That is the problem. That is why, after taking a lot of evidence, we recognised that the big problem was the lack of data that was collected on the incursion of the Asian honey bee—where it had spread, how it had spread, what it was feeding on, what the impact of the cyclone was and so forth. We wanted data collection and the beekeepers wanted data collection, and they had indicated they were prepared to put in a big voluntary effort to go up there, collect the data and see what was going on. In fact, as Senator Colbeck just mentioned, data coming out of the effort of those volunteers has shown that the expectation that the bees would get lost in the rainforest and breed up there, making them impossible to eradicate, was in fact quite wrong. The evidence is showing that they go in but then come out of the rainforest.

The issue I have with all of this is that a decision made by the management group not to eradicate was not based on evidence but based on an assumption that the bee would not spread. Therefore it became a cost decision of state governments. The state government representatives on the management group voted not to go for eradication because of the additional costs, the Commonwealth did not want to take on the additional costs, and the upshot was: 'Pull up the ladder, Jack. We're all right. It will spread in the tropics but it won't spread further south than that.' My big concern has always been that not only is it going to be a major problem in tropical Australia but the fact that it has spread throughout the highlands in PNG suggests that it is only a matter of time before it spreads to more temperate regions in Australia.

One of the real concerns I had with all of this was that nobody but nobody had taken into account the impact on Australia's biodiversity of the Asian honey bee incur­sion, which is why one of the recom­mendations of the committee was that biodiversity be taken into account and written reports be made on the likely impact. There is a high expectation that it will displace native bees—and again I come back to the fact that evidence based research is just not there.

Throughout it was: yes, it is going to have a major adverse impact on the beekeepers; yes, it is going to have a major adverse impact on wiping out European honey bees, reducing their production levels; it will also have an impact on the cross-pollination services that the European honey bee makes in horticulture. But nobody was talking about what the impact would be on Australia's biodiversity—what the impact would be on native bees, nectar-feeding insects, bats et cetera. Nobody could say because the work had not been done. I was horrified when I found out that the representative of the department of the environment who appeared at these talks was there as an observer and did not speak. Whether they knew nothing, whether they chose not to speak or whether they had no questions directed to them really does not matter, because the upshot is that biodiversity was not taken into account.

The government, in its response, has said:

The Government notes that as part of the decision making process, National Management Group members already consider biodiversity conse­quences of the establishment and spread of a pest or disease.

Really? I think that is misleading the Senate and I am now very motivated to find out, under FOI, exactly what the management group took into account in relation to the spread of the Asian honey bee. I can tell you, Madam Acting Deputy President, they did not take into account the biodiversity consequences.

Subsequent to the decision to allow the Asian honey bee to spread and to manage it, the Wet Tropics Management Authority has said that the adverse consequences on the wet tropics are likely to be considerable as a result of the spread of this Asian honey bee. Where was that in the consideration? It was nowhere. It was not raised once by anybody in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. It was not raised once by anybody from Biosecurity Australia. I do not believe the impact on the wet tropics was considered at any point, nor do I believe that the Wet Tropics Management Authority was actually asked for its view, just as I do not believe CSIRO was asked for its view on biodiversity. But I intend to find out, since the government has said quite clearly, in black and white:

The Government notes that as part of the decision making process, National Management Group members already consider biodiversity consequences …

I do not think anybody could tell you right now what the biodiversity consequences of the Asian honey bee incursion are likely to be, because very few people are out there doing the research. The one officer at CSIRO who has done 20 years of research in this field was not asked for his views on the impact on biodiversity.

The government refuses to take into account the second recommendation that relevant scientific agencies be asked to provide written advice through the national management group or consultative com­mittees with regard to biodiversity. The excuse for not taking that up is that it 'may hinder action being taken in a timely manner'. I have never heard so much rubbish in my life. If you want to take action in a timely manner you need to find out quickly what the likely consequences are so that you can design the action to make sure you protect that which needs protecting from a pest incursion.

I believe the spread of the Asian honey bee is going to be an absolutely huge natural disaster for Australia's biodiversity. The Asian honey bee takes up small cavities. Small cavities are known to be the breeding places of birds and insects. We are going to see a major consequence in the loss of native bee populations and impacts on insects. I can assert that. I do not have an evidence base for that, but nor do these people have an evidence base to suggest that there will not be impacts on biodiversity. The impacts I am talking about have been put to me by experts in the field. The point that Senator Colbeck was making and that I am now making is that senators across all political parties asked that the money go into an evidence based campaign to get up there and find out exactly what is going on so as to make an informed judgment. After the senators asked that that happen, there was a meeting convened and we now get the answer that the group:

… reconvened on 12 May 2011 to consider the impact of the Consultative Committee delibera­tions on the original decision on eradicability. Although consensus was not reached, the Group determined that it is not technically feasible to achieve eradication.

They have no basis for that. Either it is or it is not, but there is no evidence to support either case. The point the experts were making ad infinitum was: we need to collect the data before we can make an informed decision about whether we can eradicate or whether we cannot. That is what the Senate was asking the government to do—not to put $2 million into switching from eradication to management, running up the white flag and saying that is it, the Asian honey bee is here so we will just have to live with it.

The consequences of this incursion of the Asian honey bee will be huge. Whilst I accept there will be a huge impact on honey bee production, on cross-pollination services across Australia and on amenity in the community—they nest all over the place—the main issue that has not been considered is biodiversity consequences. I am very unhappy with the government's response on that particular recommendation.