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Monday, 7 November 2011
Page: 8433

Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (21:55): During a recent trip to Roxby Downs to open a new school hall under the BER program in the electorate of Grey, I had some free time and visited the Arid Recovery reserve. This is a wonderful initiative that started in 1997 to restore the Arid Lands back to conditions witnessed before the introduction of non-native animals. The reserve is 123 kilometres square, and the natural beauty of the Arid Recovery reserve is quite extraordinary, with many contrasting views that show what was once there before European settlement. It is a truly amazing place with an annual rainfall of only 80mm.

The Arid Recovery reserve is situated near the Olympic Dam mine site, and it is very important to mention that without BHP this conservation project would not exist. This is conservation and mining working together to achieve positive outcomes. An Arid Recovery publication states:

The Arid Recovery restoration initiative is a unique demonstration of how mining, tourism, pastoralism, community and conservation can provide mutually beneficial conservation outcomes.

It goes on to say:

The development of a world class conservation program adjacent to the huge Olympic Dam mine and processing plant shows that contemporary mining operations can benefit, rather than threaten, regional environmental values.

It is clear that you can have conservation and mining working together harmoniously. While they are often seen as adversarial interests competing for community support, I think this is a real lesson to those that take one side that it does not need to be that way and that these interests can work together. I hope that in other mining communities there is proactive support from the major industries for conservation that otherwise, without them, might not occur.

The objective of Arid Recovery is simple, and that is to restore the arid zone to the very ecosystem that the first European settlers saw. The work will hopefully continue to restore populations of locally extinct mammals outside the reserve. It may sound very simple to build a fence, remove feral animals within that fenced area, breed native species and reintroduce others. However, it is through endless hard work and extreme dedication that this is achieved.

What has struck me about Arid Recovery is that without the expertise of the staff and the help of the volunteers, the outcome might have been very different. For example, through their ingenuity they were able to build, test and implement a unique flop-top fence, which has now been used in other reserves and has even been adopted in Hawaii. This unique fence is a very effective barrier that stops feral cats, foxes and rabbits.

Today, through the work of Arid Recovery, we are seeing native animals and vegetation protected from foreign predators with great success. Arid Recovery has also been able to reintroduce locally extinct mammals into the reserve. These mammals are the western barred bandicoot, the iconic greater bilby, the burrowing bettong and the greater stick-nest rat—not exactly household names, but this is an exciting achievement. Arid Recovery is an essential program because it restores some of the balance to the ecosystem. At least 27 native species once occupied the area around Roxby Downs. However, it is hard to comprehend that with European settlement 60 per cent of these native mammals have become locally or completely extinct. It is rather unfortunate that we have lost animals such as the pig-footed bandicoot, the Gould's mouse, the lesser stick-nest rat, the short-tailed hopping mouse and the long-tailed hopping mouse, which are all globally extinct.

Today, the native animals and the reintroduced native animals live in a controlled area away from their non-native predators. This does not mean the native animals live in a harmonious utopia for flora and fauna; it simply restores the natural playing field and subsequent natural selection. That is why Arid Recovery has reintroduced native predators such as the woma python into the reserve so that there is balance. There is also a clear difference in the vegetation within the reserve compared to the vegetation outside. There are satellite images of the significant increase in plant cover inside the reserve over a 13-year period due to pastoral animals and rabbits being excluded.

The reserve allows the bilbies, bettongs, western barred bandicoots, greater stick-nest rats, spinifex hopping mice, native reptiles, echidnas, native birds and even frogs to live in their native habitat. Arid Recovery are also heavily involved in research, which allows them to further understand the ecosystem inside and outside the reserve. The constant monitoring and tracking of the animals and native vegetation provide the ability to measure and test implemented strategies. This work is extremely important for the internal and wider external research, because there are not many controlled areas like the arid recovery zone. Using applied research to investigate the restoration pro­cess, they remain committed to completing their objectives.

I would also like to take this opportunity to talk about the staff of Arid Recovery. Often these hardworking Australians, who are extremely passionate about their work, do not get the recognition they deserve—not that they are asking for personal recognition. But I do believe they should be praised, especially considering it is a very small team for such a huge task. I was fortunate enough to be shown around by Hannah Spronk and Helen Crisp from Arid Recovery. These women were greatly informative and welcoming to their work area. I found them to be extremely intelligent and, above all, passionate about their work.

Upon arrival back in Adelaide I found some time to visit their website and was not at all surprised to see the multiple awards the organisation has received. I know that awards sometimes never really judge the blood, sweat and tears that people go through. However, in this case the sheer amount of awards year by year really tells you that the workers and volunteers of Arid Recovery put everything they have into this worthwhile reserve. With success there are always opportunities to continue the trajectory they are on and, speaking to the team, I found there is room to grow, especially in staff. There is also a desire to export their expertise through consultancy. This is a very good idea and I hope they achieve this.

As well as the workers, I would like to take the opportunity to mention the work of the volunteers. They are the ones who promptly come to the rescue when a problem arises. They are the ones who do whatever they can to assist the operations of the reserve—no questions asked. They provide an extra pair of hands to be utilised without additional cost. They are often the most powerful of marketers for Arid Recovery and some of their strongest lobbyists. Some volunteers travel hundreds of kilometres to simply give their time to the cause because they believe in the work of the reserve and can see the positive outcomes for this native habitat. I hope to return in the future and have an overnight stay and experience the park coming to life, as it does in the evenings. I believe everyone who has an interest in conservation should go and have a look at this reserve.

Support is necessary. The cost of simply maintaining the fence is over $10,000 a year in materials, and I was told that it took thousands of hours of staff and volunteers' time. However, this is very worth while when considering the materials for the optimum fence design cost around $12,432 per kilometre. The Arid Recovery reserve is a great example of co-existence of mining and conservation. The team at Arid Recovery are excited about the expansion of Olympic Dam and hope the new airport and increase in population will bring more visitors and hopefully more sponsors to this extremely worthwhile endeavour.

In closing, I would like to put on the record that these young Australians working at the coalface of this conservation endeav­our are performing unique work in replicating the environment which has been under siege for many years throughout Central Australia. On behalf of many thousands of South Australians interested in conservation, I say thank you to them and give recognition to their efforts.