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Thursday, 24 February 1977
Page: 527

Mr Hodges asked the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, upon notice:

(1)   Has his attention been drawn to an article in the National Times of 10-15 January 1977, regarding the widespread existence of the destructive dieback fungus disease amongst Victorian and West Australian forests.

(2)   If so, has the CSIRO been asked to investigate this disease.

(3)   Did his Department make any submissions on this matter to the Senate Standing Committee Inquiry on the Environmental Impact of the Woodchip Industry.

(4)   What action does he propose to take to ameliorate this problem.

Mr Newman - The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1)   Yes.

(2)   I am advised that the CSIRO has been undertaking research on these matters over a number of years.

(3)   I refer the honourable member to pages 26-27 in my Department's submission to the Inquiry of the Senate Standing Committee on Science and the Environment into the Impact on the Australian Environment of the current Woodship Industry program.

(4)   I am advised that the fungus referred to in the articlePhytophthora cinnamomi- and the dieback condition with which it can be associated are two entirely different things. The fungus is associated with some occurrences of dieback in some forest species and types. However, dieback can result from a number of causes, singly or in combination, which can include fungal pathogens, insect attack, fire, drought, prolonged flooding and nutritional disorders. Dieback associated with fungal attack of course is not new to the Australian scene, and Phytophthora cinnamomi has been recognised for some time as a serious threat to some of our more valuable eucalypt forests.

There is no doubt that this pathogen has the potential for becoming a serious problem in all southern states; as such, I believe the problem deserves even wider recognition. The pathogen has been identified in every Australian state and, contrary to the impression given by the National Times article, the weight of scientific evidence supports a view that the disease is indigenous and not recently introduced to this country.

Dieback has been a subject for research by many organisations in Australia, including all forest authorities, most agriculture departments, CSIRO and many universities. In addition there is considerable research being undertaken overseas. I am concerned about the environmental implications of widespread attack not only on our forests, but on other agricultural and horticultural crops susceptible to this disease. I believe that research expenditure on the problem must be intensified if we are to achieve any major breakthrough on control in the foreseeable future.

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