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Wednesday, 1 June 1988
Page: 3396

Senator MORRIS —I present the report of the Select Committee on Animal Welfare entitled Kangaroos.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator MORRIS —by leave-I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

I seek leave to incorporate my tabling statement in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The statement read as follows-

The report on kangaroos is the third report of the Select Committee on Animal Welfare. Earlier reports were on the export of live sheep from Australia and dolphins and whales in captivity.

The Committee had been inquiring into kangaroos for some time. The taking of evidence and field inspections were completed in the last Parliament. Although the Committee has been expanded in size from four to six members in this Parliament, three of the previous four members were reappointed to the Committee. The former Chairman, George Georges, was not returned to the Senate at the last election.

At this point, I want to give due recognition to the work of the Committee in the previous parliaments in this and other areas of inquiry, and particularly to the leadership of George Georges as Chairman of the Committee. It is obvious that the Committee has had a significant impact on animal welfare in many areas of animal use in Australia. In the course of its inquiry into matters which have been or will be reported on to the Senate, the Committee has stimulated a more informed public debate on many contentious and emotional animal welfare issues. Improvements to animal welfare have often flowed from the this debate even before the Committee has had a chance to report on those matters.

I turn now to the report and the Committee's conclusions and recommendations.

The size and continuing viability of kangaroo populations, particularly of red and grey kangaroos, was a contentious issue during the inquiry. After careful consideration of the evidence, the Committee concludes that none of the species subject to killing is presently threatened with extinction and there is no evidence to indicate that any will become extinct. However, the Committee sounds a note of caution: if there is a significant change in the habitat or the pattern or extent of killing of these species, further consideration will have to be given to their long term viability.

Despite the fact that most killing of kangaroos is done to protect property, little work had been done to assess the extent of the damage caused by kangaroos. Damage to property includes the consumption of pasture, crops and water and damage to fences. Competition with livestock for pasture and water is mainly a problem in dry periods when food is scarce. It was only during the course of the inquiry that any broad-scale estimates of kangaroo damage were published. There is now enough information available to come to the conclusion that the level of damage is not inconsiderable, even though the published estimates of damage must be treated with some caution.

Having come to the conclusion that species of kangaroos which are subjected to legal killing are not in danger of extinction and do cause damage to properties, the Committee then considered the status of kangaroos and their management.

The kangaroo is thought of in affectionate terms by most Australians. It is also a national symbol, as part of Australia's crest and in many other ways. It is also a native animal unique to this part of the world. The Committee therefore recommends that, as a fundamental principle, the kangaroo remain a protected animal.

However, the kangaroo does cause at times intolerable levels of damage to properties and other human land use. It is therefore necessary for the kangaroo to be managed to contain this damage.

As a protected animal, the kangaroo has the right to be left alone except in the case of the protection of property, within the requirements of the law. Leaving aside the use of kangaroos in research, which is being considered in the Committee's examination of animal experimentation, the Committee believes that the kangaroo should not be killed for any other purpose.

The management of kangaroos, with its welfare implications, is a national issue. As such, it should be treated in a national way. Although responsibility for kangaroo management resides with the States, that should not preclude cooperation among the Commonwealth and the States to pursue a national approach to kangaroo management.

There is a national plan of management for kangaroos approved by the Council of Nature Conservation Ministers. However, a more comprehensive plan is needed to cover all species and all aspects of kangaroo management. It should cover kangaroo population size and dynamics, ecology, protection of habitat, programs to curb kangaroo damage to properties and commercial and non-commercial kill quotas. The plan would reflect the different environments and circumstances occurring in the different regions of Australia and take into account local as well as national needs. There would be, however, one set of objectives and a uniform approach to kangaroo management even if there are different practices to reflect the diversity of species and environments.

Ideally, a comprehensive national kangaroo management plan should be administered federally rather than by the States and Territories individually. There are, of course, enormous constitutional and political problems associated with the transfer of State responsibilities to the Commonwealth. Although it has been suggested to the Committee that the Commonwealth should take over responsibility for wildlife, the Committee does not believe that such an approach is available. The Committee recommends a cooperative approach being taken over time whereby arrangements for national management of kangaroos would be worked out between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories.

The Committee believes that the killing of kangaroos should not be resorted to as a reflex action. More investigation should be undertaken by the fauna authorities to determine the most effective way of containing kangaroo damage. In some areas, especially new crop areas, the shooting of kangaroos has not been the answer to the farmers' kangaroo problem. The killing of kangaroos should be a last resort, not the first option, in containing kangaroo damage. This will inevitably need greater resources being placed at the disposal of the State fauna authorities.

The killing of kangaroos to contain damage was not really in question during the inquiry. Most of the debate on killing centred on the level of killing and the use of the commercial kangaroo industry to carry out the killing.

Throughout the inquiry, the animal welfare organisations maintained an implacable opposition to the commercial shooting of kangaroos. They argued that the level of killing by the industry was determined by commercial factors and not by the need to protect property. This is largely true, although shooting is generally done within upper limits imposed by government.

From the results of the two studies done by RSPCA Australia into cruelty to kangaroos, and from other information, it is unquestionable that professional shooters kill kangaroos more humanely than other shooters. Where kangaroos have to be killed, there is a strong argument for the use of professional shooters.

Animal welfare organisations argued that where professional shooters are used to kill kangaroos, these shooters should be engaged by the government rather than by the industry. In this way, shooters would only shoot kangaroos which were causing a problem to landholders, and not simply for commercial reasons.

The former Minister for Home Affairs and Environment told the Parliament that the cost of replacing the kangaroo industry with a government shooters' scheme would be about $50 million. Although the Committee believes that such a scheme would not cost that amount of money, it would still require significant government funding.

Under the Constitution, management of fauna is a State responsibility and each State can manage kangaroos in its own way. However, because the industry depends on markets overseas, the Federal Government can impose conditions on the export of kangaroo products. Under the Kangaroo Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1982, export permits will only be given for kangaroo products derived from kangaroos killed under a kangaroo management program which has been approved by the relevant Federal Minister.

If the industry were disbanded, there would be no exports, and the moderating influence of the Federal Government would be gone. The slaughter of kangaroos in Queensland following the temporary export ban in 1986 is an example of the reaction of a State to the absence of the influence of the Federal Government, even for a short period.

The Committee therefore recommends the continuation of the commercial killing of kangaroos for damage mitigation purposes.

There is provision for non-commercial shooting of kangaroos by landholders or their agents in State legislation. It is clear from the evidence that these shooters have neither the marksmanship nor, in many cases, the firearms to kill kangaroos humanely.

The Committee modified a proposal put forward by RSPCA Australia for the engagement of professional shooters by the government in non-commercial shooting areas.

Adhering to the principle of keeping cruelty to a minimum, the Committee recommends a system whereby those landholders, who can demonstrate ownership of an appropriate firearm and who can satisfy fauna authorities of their marksmanship, may be issued with permits to kill kangaroos on their properties. However, for landholders who cannot meet these criteria, the government would pay travelling expenses to professional shooters to kill kangaroos on the landholders' properties. The landholders would pay a nominal fee to the shooters and the shooters would take the skins for sale to a fauna dealer or skin dealer. In this way, cruelty to kangaroos would be reduced and government would be faced with increased but still quite reasonable expenditure.

This scheme does not involve `government shooters'. It is extending the commercial operation to areas where there is presently no commercial shooting. However, the arrangements for the professional shooter would be made by the fauna authority after the authority has satisfied itself that a bona fide kangaroo problem existed. This arrangement would only apply where a landholder was not equipped to do the job himself.

Government must recognise that management of fauna cannot be relegated to the bottom of the list of priorities for funding. Native fauna are under the control of government and it is the responsibility of government to manage them properly and, where some need to be killed, for the killing to be done as humanely as possible.

The Committee is aware of the need for financial restraint. However, for too long, funding restraint has perpetrated a system in which the level of cruelty is unacceptably high. It is incumbent on this Committee to strive to reduce the level of suffering to kangaroos and other animals in Australia. Despite the calls for more radical changes to the kangaroo management program from some quarters of the community, the Committee believes it has put forward responsible proposals, balancing both animal welfare concerns and the need to keep the funding of kangaroo management within reasonable proportions. A reduction in suffering in kangaroo management leads inescapably to a greater level of funding, which government must embrace.

Finally, I want to thank the staff of the Committee for their work in relation to this report, particularly the Committee Secretary, Paul Barsdell; research officers, Bronwyn Winter, Jim Warner, Doug Hynd and Barbara Allan, and steno-secretaries, Lucinda Hunter, Doris Vidovic and Glenice Castles. I also want to thank all the witnesses and other people who contributed to this inquiry into kangaroos.

I commend the report to the Senate.