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Impact of pests on agriculture: speech for the launch of report by Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre.

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The Hon. Tony Burke MP

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Tony Burke - Launch of report by Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre

19 August


SUBJECT: Impact of pests on agriculture

TONY BURKE: Thank you very much and I acknowledge both Helen Cathles [Chair Invasive Animals CRC], Parliamentary colleagues and distinguished guests, all.

I think what says it all, when Helen was making her remarks just a few minutes ago, when she looked for a word to describe utter destruction she used the term ‘white ants’. When Helen was making reference to something that can cause extraordinary damage she went straight for an invasive pest. While we’re dealing with other pests in this report, it does say something very real about the sort of costs that we’re looking at when they find their way into the colloquial language.

The pests that are dealt with in this report, and the extraordinary work that the CRC has done really needs to be acknowledged. This sort of information has always been understood by anecdote. What happens in this report is the anecdotes are transformed into real data - real data where anyone who wants to argue the toss on the figures would only end up with higher figures.

To think, in the order of the pests that are dealt with here, that the quantum per year that we’re looking at in damage is $620 million. When you then look at how much is expended by Government to try to fight them, you add $122 million to that. You end up with an annual figure of three quarters of a billion dollars - three quarters of a billion dollars in terms of the economic hit taken by Australia.

It’s in no way a static field and it’s something where the challenges change day-to-day. Had Caring for our Country been in place, say five years ago, it’s unlikely that the focus that we have on feral camels would have been the focus that was chosen five years ago. In the same way the fantastic work that was done some time ago with calicivirus, as new levels of resistance come through we now have to look at developing a new strain and that investment is something that is being done quite appropriately through the CRC that is here with us today.

The timing could not be more powerful either. It is 150 years since the rabbit was introduced to Australia, this year. For anyone who wants a reason to be angry with Geelong beyond their current position on the AFL table you can find it very easily. It was in Geelong in 1859 where, for the sake of hunting - what they thought would be a whole lot of fun - they released 24 rabbits into the wild. As you know, two rabbits can turn their numbers into 200 in the course of 18 months without the benefit of the baby bonus. The proliferation and the damage and the economic hit, before you even get to the environmental hit or the social damage, is just extraordinary.

To take you through some of the findings that you’ll find in the report - these are annual figures: rabbits at the worst of the introduced pests, $206 million a year; wild dogs, $48 million; foxes, $21 [million]; feral pigs, $9 [million]. And birds: interestingly - this is where you cross the line between introduced species and the fact that native species can also be pests - although understandably we don’t embark on eradication programs on them. But the hit on horticulture from birds being in the order of $313 million a year. These are real economic costs and to have Federal Government involvement in trying to see, at the very least management, and wherever

possible serious eradication programs is something that is part of the economic story as much as it is part of any environmental story.

I want to congratulate everyone who has been involved with this. The challenges, if left alone, would simply be disastrous for our nation. The better we manage our pests, then the better we invest in the future of our agricultural industries.

In so many ways we like to look at the size of our continent as being our greatest asset. When it comes to feral pests, the enormity of our landmass is our biggest challenge. It means that in so many ways eradication remains out of reach but everything we can do in terms of control, in terms of minimising the problem, is a breath of fresh air for our farmers, is a real opportunity for our environment and is a direct investment in the future of our national economy.

It is with great pleasure then, on behalf of the CRC - the Invasive Animals CRC - I have great pleasure in launching the report.