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Science underpinning the inability to eradicate the Asian honey bee

ACTING CHAIR (Senator Colbeck) —I declare open this meeting of the Senate Rural Affairs and Transport References Committee. The committee is hearing evidence into the inquiry into the science underpinning the inability to eradicate the Asian honey bee. I welcome you all here today. This is a public hearing and a Hansard transcript of the proceedings is being made.

Before the committee starts taking evidence, I remind all witnesses that in giving evidence to the committee they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee, and such actions may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee. The committee prefers all evidence to be given in public, but under the Senate’s resolutions witnesses have the right to request to be heard in a private session. It is important that witnesses give the committee notice if they intend to ask to give evidence in camera. If a witness objects to answering a question, the witness should state the ground upon which the objection is taken and the committee will determine whether it will insist on an answer, having given regard to the ground which is claimed. If the committee determines to insist on an answer, a witness may request the answer be given in camera. Such a request may, of course, be also made at any other time. Finally, on behalf of the committee I would like to thank all those who have made submissions and sent representatives here today, and I thank them for their cooperation in the inquiry.

Welcome, Dr Anderson. I invite you to give a brief opening statement and then we will move to questions from the members of the committee.

Dr Anderson —I would like to thank the Senate Rural Affairs and Transport References Committee for inviting me to attend and to give evidence at this public hearing. The evidence I will provide to the committee today on the Asian honey bee, Apis cerana, is based on the results of scientific research that I have conducted on this bee as a CSIRO scientist over the past 22 years.

The Asian honey bee incursion at Cairns has its origins in New Guinea. Asian honey bees are not native to New Guinea, but were initially introduced into the western half of New Guinea—formerly called Irian Jaya—from Java during the 1970s by Indonesians, fundamentally for social reasons. The Java genotype of the Asian honey bee introduced to New Guinea is difficult to domesticate. It is a poor honey producer, it swarms frequently to produce new colonies and it can negatively impact on managed European bees when the two bees are present in the same environment.

Following their introduction into Irian Jaya, the Asian bees swarmed and became invasive. In the late 1980s they entered Papua New Guinea. By the mid-1990s they had become established throughout the whole island of New Guinea, including the offshore islands of Biak, Yeppin, New Britain, Bougainville, and Boigu, Saibai and Dauan, which are just off the south coast of Papua New Guinea but technically are in Australian territory. In 2003 the same genotype of Asian honey bee was discovered more than 1,000 kilometres east of Papua New Guinea in the Solomon Islands. Since 1995, 10 swarms of Asian honey bees, most originating from New Guinea, have been intercepted and destroyed on vessels at Australian seaports. A further two swarms from New Guinea have penetrated Australia’s quarantine barrier. The first was at Darwin in June 1998 and the second was at Cairns in May 2007. The Darwin incursion was eradicated, but an attempt to eradicate the Cairns incursion is still ongoing. To date, more than 350 colonies of the bee have been detected and destroyed at Cairns.

My research has followed the spread of the Java genotype of Asian honey bees since it first arrived in PNG in the late 1980s right through to its first detection in the Solomon Islands in 2003 and in Australia in 2007. Initially, my research focused on the bee’s spread and epidemiology and on the pathogens it was carrying, in particular, varroa mites. My most recent research on the bee has been conducted in the Solomon Islands and it has involved looking at ways in which farmers of European honey bees can manage their bees in the presence of the newly-arrived Asian bees. Hence my research on Asian honey bees has provided insights into their spread, into an adaptation to new environments, their impact, particularly on European honey bees, pollination and the environment, and their control once they have become established in new environments.

I am also currently carrying out research at CSIRO in Australia that is not specifically focused on Asian honey bees, but relates to them. This research is aimed at obtaining information on a new form of varroa mite that has shifted from the Asian bees to the managed European honey bees in Papua New Guinea in 2008. This new mite is lethal to the managed honey bees and has caused significant losses. The presence of this mite in PNG is a worrying new development for global beekeeping and a major threat to the Australian beekeeping industries and to industries that depend on managed honey bees for pollination. It could be carried into Australia on a swarm of Asian honey bees on a vessel arriving at a seaport that originated from the region. Fortunately for Australia the first Asian honey bee colony that arrived from the New Guinea region as part of the current incursion at Cairns was free of varroa mites. This may not be the case if another Cairns-like incursion is repeated in the future.

The Asian honey bee incursion at Cairns has had, and will continue to have if not eradicated, serious consequences for Australia. The presence of the bee at Cairns has already led to the suspension of trade in live bees between the US and Australia, valued at some $5 million annually. Canada is currently reviewing its trade in live bees with Australia and has indicated that it will be urging Australia to continue the eradication effort otherwise it too will suspend trade in live bees. Other countries are also likely to follow suit. If the bee is not eradicated it is likely that it will spread to most parts of the country that the European honey bee has inhabited. The subsequent wide spread of Asian honey bees is likely to have a number of impacts on Australia, such as, in order of the most to least importance: the environment and biodiversity, the beekeeping industry, human health and society, pollination and trade.

Finally, the CSIRO is providing relevant scientific information about Asian honey bees to all stakeholders, including beekeepers, all relevant levels of government and the Australian public. This includes information about the bees, their likely spread and their impact on Australia if they do spread.

ACTING CHAIR —Thank you.

Senator MILNE —What this committee is very keen to understand is how the decision was made not to continue with a process of eradication and how the science fed into that from CSIRO or anywhere else. We have had a discussion with the department. CSIRO gave us evidence in Senate estimates that said that they had not been consulted in relation to this. The department says differently. Can you take us through your involvement, if any, in the decision that was made about this—the timeline, if you like, as to your involvement.

Dr Anderson —I guess if you are talking about the decision that was just recently made at the end of January—

Senator MILNE —Yes, that is what I am talking about.

Dr Anderson —the seeds of that were set shortly after the arrival of the bee when committees were formed to discuss the bee.

Senator MILNE —What year was this?

Dr Anderson —The bee arrived in Cairns in May 2007. Initially the CCEAD handled committees that were associated with the bee. It was actually on the animal side of the policy spectrum. But in more recent times the bee has been moved across into the plant spectrum under the CCEPP. In those initial meetings that we had I basically provided technical data about the bee—because I had worked on it—about its spread, its biology, its likely effects, that sort of thing.

 As we have worked down the track and the eradication has continued, it began to really warm up towards the end of 2010—in October. The CCEPP had a meeting on 29 October, at which we were, as a committee, trying to decide whether the bee was eradicable. Again, at that meeting I produced evidence that I know about: the impact of the bee and its spread, its biology, the pathogens that it was carrying, that sort of thing. Evidence was presented at that meeting from Dr Evan Sergeant, who is from Queensland. He had done a scientific analysis on the presence of the bee in the Cairns region. He told the committee that he had looked at the data collected about the colonies that had been detected over the period from 2007 to 2010, but when he started to do the analysis he found that most of the data was not relevant because the amount of people involved with the effort on the ground in Cairns increased in about April 2010. It increased from just a handful of people when I think there were 36 additional people, or some number like that, put on the ground. It was after that that detections of colonies started to rise very steeply, which is not unsurprising. Then he said, ‘Okay, the data we had before that is not much use to us. We will have to look at the data from April through to October.’ In fact, I think it was a bit shorter than that because he had to prepare the report. He said in the report that it was about three months worth of data that he looked at. That data was indicating a sharp rise.

His conclusion that he gave to the committee was that it had looked like the bee was still eradicable, but it was not guaranteed that it would be eradicated. He indicated that there was not enough evidence to say for certain that there was any trend developing; whether the bee was actually on the increase or whether it was tapering off. He recommended—and he actually put in his report—that eradication be continued for another six months to collect data that would indicate some sort of trend.

Senator MILNE —He made that recommendation to that committee in October. Is that correct?

Dr Anderson —Yes, he made that. As far as I could gather, my impression from the meeting was that most people were happy with that conclusion; it looked like the science was good. I know that after I had looked at the data I was happy with it and I thought that was a reasonable conclusion.

Senator MILNE —That was in October. You left that meeting, as a CSIRO representative on that committee, feeling that there was a consensus in the room, or whatever, about it going on for at least another six months. What happened between then and the decision that was taken to say that it was not eradicable? We really need to understand who was informing who, where did the data come from, and was CSIRO involved between that October meeting and the January meeting at which the decision was taken. Can you take us through what happened next.

Dr Anderson —There was a little bit of technical hiccup that went on. Because the meetings were shifted from CCEAD to CCEPP, somehow my email address got dropped off the mailing list, so I was not invited to the first meeting of the CCEPP. In fact, I was informed by one of the members about this, who then sent me the email and I attended the meeting from the advice in that email. But after the meeting I did not receive any minutes of it. Then I found out that they had actually put my email address on the list, but spelt it wrongly so it must have bounced back to them. When they found out, they sent me the minutes but my name was still not added onto the list and so I did not get informed about the January meeting. I did not know it was on so I did not attend. So after the October meeting I basically had no further input into this whole decision-making process.

Senator MILNE —Since you were the only representative of CSIRO at that point, CSIRO was not consulted between October and when the decision was taken in January. Is that correct?

Dr Anderson —Yes, that is correct. Except for the minutes that arrived from the October meeting, that was the only time. But as I say, I think it was just a pure mistake.

Senator MILNE —I understand that. What we are trying to get to though is: where was the science that intervened between the October meeting and the January meeting? We have had evidence from the department to say that the Commonwealth had formed a view, which they took to the meeting, to say that it was not eradicable. They also said that they did not consult CSIRO because they had their own in-house experts. Can you tell me what scientific advice you are aware of that the Commonwealth may have relied on in order to reach their conclusion?

Dr Anderson —I was not at the national management group meeting so I cannot comment on that—

ACTING CHAIR —As there is a division in the chamber, we will have to suspend the hearing for a few minutes.

Proceedings suspended from 4.49 pm to 4.57 pm

ACTING CHAIR —We will resume our meeting.

Senator MILNE —I was asking you about your only contact in that time, but also therefore asking you: on what scientific evidence are you aware of that that decision was made? Our understanding is that as of the October meeting there was a view that you could not make a decision as to whether the honey bee was eradicable or not until more work was done. Sometime between October and January a decision was formed by the Commonwealth that it was not eradicable and this decision was taken to the January meeting. They said that it was in-house evidence from DAFF—or from inside the government. I am trying to understand what the scientific evidence is, that you are aware of, that was presented in that time that would have changed people’s view from: there is not enough evidence and therefore more time is required to saying that it is not eradicable.

Dr Anderson —For a start, I was not at the meeting and I did not see the evidence that was presented. However, after the meeting I was given a report that was actually produced by another vet, I think in Victoria. It was from a Dr Paskin. He had looked at the data that Dr Sergeant had looked at, but he then just looked at the number of colonies detected. From that, he did a short report—it was about four pages long—and his conclusion was that the bee was not eradicable.

Senator MILNE —Do you know if Dr Paskin is an expert in bees?

Dr Anderson —I do not know Dr Paskin very well, but I have been associated with the bee world a lot—and very closely—and I have not heard of his name before I saw that report. But he is a veterinarian and a scientist, and I looked at the report in a scientific light. After I read the report I then said, ‘Well, okay, there’s a view.’ His view, looking at one part of the data, was that it was not eradicable. He only looked at one part of that data. There was another scientist from the October meeting who said that it still is eradicable, but it is not certain. Also at the October meeting, we had a report from people who were on the ground in Cairns doing the actual incursion. These were government people and they informed the committee that they believed that it was eradicable. So you had these varying opinions: one saying that was definitely, no, you could not eradicate it; one saying that it was still a possibility; and the other ones saying that it was eradicable. With the two scientific reports and the fact that the people on the ground were saying that they felt like they were on top of it, when I weighed that up in my mind against the possible impacts of this bee, it did not really sway my mind from the position I took from that first October meeting.

ACTING CHAIR —I want to clarify the point you have just made: the decision you had at the October meeting was that it was still eradicable?

Dr Anderson —It was a position I took.

ACTING CHAIR —But it was not certain?

Dr Anderson —It was not certain, that is right. It was a possibility, but it was not certain, and that further data was needed for you to make a certain decision.

Senator MILNE —Did DAFF ever contact you and ask you whether you would change your mind in relation to your view that you could not make a decision and needed more evidence? Did anyone ever contact you and say, ‘Will you change your mind?’

Dr Anderson —I did get a phone call from DAFF, but I do not think they were trying to get me to change my mind. I did let it be known in the October meeting when we went around the table—there were a lot of people at that table—and they asked for my opinion. I said, ‘I do not really have an opinion because, as we have just heard, there is not enough data.’ I did get a phone call from DAFF a couple of weeks after that first meeting and they said something along the lines of—I cannot remember exactly—‘Would you be prepared to take on the federal position that the bee is not eradicable?’ I responded simply by saying, ‘I can’t take on that position because I do not have an opinion on whether it is or is not eradicable because there is not enough data to support that decision.’ That was my response.

Senator MILNE —About when did DAFF contact you to ask you if you would, or could, take on the Commonwealth position? Do you remember when that might have been?

Dr Anderson —I am not certain because it was not an email, it was a telephone conversation. But shortly after that meeting I went to Switzerland and I am pretty sure it was the week after I had come back, so it would have been two weeks after the meeting.

Senator MILNE —After the October meeting?

Dr Anderson —Yes. It would have been two weeks into November.

ACTING CHAIR —So the department had a position in October that the bee was not eradicable?

Dr Anderson —I am not saying that. I do not know what the department’s position was at that stage.

ACTING CHAIR —I am just trying to clarify the evidence you have just given us, which is: were you prepared to accept their position? You said that you could not, and that is fine.

Dr Anderson —I am not sure whether it was ‘their’ position or whether it was ‘the’ position.

ACTING CHAIR —Okay, ‘the’ position. That is fine.

Senator MILNE —It was clear that the department had made up its mind at that stage—well, certainly before the January meeting sometime—that it was not eradicable. As far as you know from what you have heard from that meeting, it was Dr Paskin’s report that formed the basis of the scientific evidence and, in your view, that was only one aspect of the science. Can we now go on—

Dr Anderson —Hang on, can I respond to that?

Senator O’BRIEN —That was not what the witness said. We have just heard from the witness as to what the department’s view was at that time. He just said that it was ‘the’ view, not necessarily ‘their’ view.

Senator MILNE —Sorry.

Dr Anderson —I am not saying that the decision was made on Dr Paskin’s paper because I was not at the meeting and I was not privy to what they made their decision on. All I can say is that there was another report involved in the decision-making process that I did not see and that was Dr Paskin’s report.

Senator MILNE —Thank you. I want to ask what you think the likely spread of the Asian honey bee will be and can you explain the basis of the different views that are out there about that. Let us start with what you think the spread will be.

ACTING CHAIR —Before we move off the sequence stuff, I do have a couple of questions. At the October meeting it was agreed that there be further research undertaken, further study on the ground?

Dr Anderson —No, there was not. It was a sort of funny meeting. The technical report from Dr Sergeant was given in the morning. By the time the meeting ended—it was an all-day meeting—in my opinion, the whole meeting had shifted and it was disappointing for me. It was sort of getting off the technical thing and getting more into a personal decision thing amongst the members that were there.

ACTING CHAIR —You said to us earlier that the meeting suggested that there be further data collected for six months. That is what I wanted to get to—those six months of data collection. I would be interested to know what that involved. Is that the data that was presented in the Paskin report or, to your knowledge, was all of the additional data collected over that six months ever presented in a reported format to the committee at the January meeting? I presume that meeting would have been the only other meeting for it to be discussed at?

Dr Anderson —I cannot comment on what happened at the January meeting, I am sorry, because I was not there.

ACTING CHAIR —So you are not aware that that extra six months of data was presented to the committee?

Dr Anderson —There was no six more months of data. The recommendation was made at the October meeting by Dr Sergeant in his report that in order to get a trend on what was happening up there with the eradication you would need probably another six months worth of monitoring of the situation, but with the additional 40 or so people on the ground. He gave that in October. I think it was only two weeks after he gave that report that they put off those additional people.

ACTING CHAIR —So that work was never done?

Dr Anderson —It was never done, no.

ACTING CHAIR —So there was no data to present despite the fact that that was what—

Dr Anderson —There was no further collection of data from the ground in Cairns to present at the next meeting because the extra staff were put off in November.

ACTING CHAIR —It was indicated to us yesterday that part of the reasoning for that was that it was a seasonal thing and it was coming into the wet season. Do you have any understanding why all the staff were put off?

Dr Anderson —No, I do not, I am sorry.

ACTING CHAIR —That is fine.

Senator O’BRIEN —Did you present some findings to the initial meeting in writing?

Dr Anderson —To the initial meeting?

Senator O’BRIEN —Yes.

Dr Anderson —No, I was purely there as an adviser.

Senator O’BRIEN —So there is nothing in writing that you presented to any of the meetings?

Dr Anderson —No.

Senator O’BRIEN —Has there been an exchange of emails of any sort between you and the department or any other participant in the meeting?

Dr Anderson —No, not that I am aware of. As I said, for some strange reason, my name got dropped off the mailing list when the committee was shifted.

Senator O’BRIEN —You were on the mailing list before. There was a collection of addresses at the meeting, was there?

Dr Anderson —Members of the committee were always informed when meetings were on and they were then sent the minutes. In regard to the October meeting I did not get any information that the meeting was on. It was actually passed to me by a member of the committee.

Senator O’BRIEN —Were you at a previous meeting?

Dr Anderson —Yes.

Senator O’BRIEN —And you got minutes of the previous meeting and you got notice of the previous meeting?

Dr Anderson —Yes. But that was then when—

Senator O’BRIEN —How long ago was that?

Dr Anderson —I cannot remember. We had a few meetings under the CCEAD, under the animal side of things, but I cannot remember the exact dates. I can get them for you if you like.

Senator O’BRIEN —Do you remember roughly which year? Was it 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007? We are going a long way back.

Dr Anderson —It would have been later than from May 2007 because the committees were formed after that point.

Senator O’BRIEN —So you were appointed to the committee by CSIRO?

Dr Anderson —No, I was invited on to the committee.

Senator O’BRIEN —Okay.

Dr Anderson —I have been on previous—

Senator O’BRIEN —That will be in writing somewhere. Can you supply us with copies of the correspondence which makes you the person from the CSIRO on that committee?

Dr Anderson —I will see if I can find the emails.

Senator O’BRIEN —I would appreciate that. I just think that we, for caution, ought to have before us the details of your official position there—if we are going to take this matter further—and any correspondence, emails or snail mail correspondence, that assist us to understand your role with the committee.

Dr Anderson —Right. I have always been on the CCEAD before. I actually got a certificate. We had to go to some training and I was always regarded as the CSIRO person that would represent CSIRO in bee related pathogen issues. We had a previous example of this with the small hive beetle when it arrived in Australia in 2002. I was on the CCEAD in that case.

Senator O’BRIEN —I just want us to have some absolute clarity about this so we can be absolutely sure there has been no misunderstanding or some reason why you were not invited to the meeting because someone thought it was someone else or something like that.

Dr Anderson —I think I was not invited because my name slipped off the mailing list—accidentally.

Senator O’BRIEN —That is why I want to get that to show that you were on the mailing list and whose mailing list you were on. That is what I want to see.

Dr Anderson —Sure.

ACTING CHAIR —And this all happened around the change from the CCEAD to the CCEPP?

Dr Anderson —Yes.

ACTING CHAIR —Can you give us a sense of when that transfer happened?

Dr Anderson —I think it was shortly before the meeting, because the October meeting was the first meeting of the CCEPP. It would have been just shortly before that I would imagine.

ACTING CHAIR —So the first meeting of the CCEPP was the October meeting.

Dr Anderson —That is right.

ACTING CHAIR —Can you recall when you attended the previous meeting in relation to this?

Dr Anderson —No, I cannot recall, sorry.

ACTING CHAIR —If you have any records of that, it would be helpful.

Dr Anderson —I would have records of that.

Senator MILNE —Can you tell me what your opinion is about the likely spread of the Asian honey bee throughout Australia and whether you informed the committee at the October meeting that that was your view. And how pertinent is that information to a decision on whether the bee is eradicable or not?

Dr Anderson —I would have to think about the October meeting and whether the actual spread had been brought up at that stage. It is really hard to remember if I did bring it up. It is the sort of thing I would have talked about and I would have been asked about because I do have opinions on that and I have let them be known.

Senator MILNE —Maybe we will try to get the minutes of the meeting through our committee process. Perhaps you can now tell us what is your view about the likely spread of the bee.

Dr Anderson —My views about the spread, as I say, are based around my research on the bee over a long period of time, as I pointed out in my opening comments. I have watched this bee spread in a new environment, from shortly after its introduction into that new environment. It is basically a tropical bee; it was introduced from Java. From DNA analysis we were able to finger type the bee to prove that it did come from Java. That bee, once it arrived in New Guinea, spread to nearly all the environments in New Guinea, from the highlands area—and in some of those regions it is more than 16,000 feet high and there is a permanent glacier up there in Irian Jaya—right down to the coastal regions. But this same genotype of bee has also been introduced into Timor. Some parts of the middle of Timor are quite dry, so it is indicated that this bee can really go into a large range of environments.

 The other thing about the bee is that it is very closely related in a lot of ways, genetically, to our European honey bee and it can control its internal nest temperature. That has even allowed a bee like the European honey bee, which is a temperate bee, to go into tropical regions. Based on that evidence—and there has been no modelling done on this, but that modelling would have to take into account that sort of information—you would have to say that this bee will spread throughout most of Australia.

Senator MILNE —You mentioned a hierarchy of impacts in your opening statement. Can you give us an indication of what you think the impact might be on biodiversity, on native bees, on nectar-feeding birds and that sort of thing, if it spreads throughout most of Australia? Can you indicate whether any evidence was given at the October meeting from anyone about the likely impact on the natural environment?

—At the October meeting I do recall that an inquiry did pop up about whether there had been economic analyses done about the impact of this bee. It was pointed out that there had been one done on the human social aspect side of things. There had been none done on the pollination side or the impact on the bee industry or on the environment. Again, from what we have seen of this bee during its 20-year spread up in New Guinea and into the Solomon Islands, it does have a very serious impact on the environment. It is a smaller bee than the European honey bee. It forms smaller swarms to make new colonies. Those colonies inhabit smaller cavities. We know from the natural environment that there are more smaller sized cavities than larger cavities. You would expect from that that the density of the bee per unit area will be much higher of wild colonies in the bush here in Australia than the density of European honey bees, which require a larger cavity. For that reason, you would expect it to be taking up the nesting holes of possums, small parrots and those sorts of things. The higher density in the bush means that you would expect the bee to be consuming more of the nectar when the nectar flows come on. In fact, we have some evidence from New Guinea where the honey yields from European honey bees in New Guinea dropped in the highlands once the Asian bee arrived—and there was no effect from mites at that stage. That was just saying, ‘Yes, this bee does take a lot of nectar out of the environment.’ If that additional nectar is taken out higher than what it is now just from feral European bees, then you would expect that to impact on native bees and on insects that rely on nectar for travel through the environment.

Senator MILNE —Are you aware that any reports have ever been done by the department of the environment or anyone else in relation to that matter?

Dr Anderson —No, I am not aware of any.

Senator MILNE —Finally, I would like to ask what you think should happen. Clearly, there has been a decision made not to pursue eradication and to say that it is now endemic. What is your view about what should happen now, given the serious consequences just for the natural environment alone, let alone pollination, bees, trade, the industry and so on? What do you think would be the best thing to happen, given that you were uncertain previously about whether or not it can be eradicated?

Dr Anderson —It comes back to the decision and the decision has been made. I am not going to question the decision because there is a process that it goes through and that decision was made through that process. Now that the decision has been made through that process I will move down the track of where that is moving to now. The national management group has now moved into a phase of looking at managing the bees. I am involved with a committee there.

Senator MILNE —I absolutely accept what you are saying about where you are in relation to process, so maybe I can put the question to you in another way: if this committee were to find that the decision should be reviewed, and should the government decide that that was to be the case, what do you think would be the most appropriate thing to say in terms of what should happen?

Dr Anderson —I would like that we go back and analyse a bit more closely and get a lot more people to have a look at the data that is on the table now and decide whether we need to collect more data. That was the general consensus first off. I would like to see that happen.

Senator O’BRIEN —Are there any special eradication methods that are required for this species?

Dr Anderson —No. This is the first attempt, ever, anywhere of somebody trying to eradicate this bee. In New Guinea it was impossible to start. In the Solomon Islands, it was well established on a lot of islands before it was detected and declared endemic. This is the first example. Talking to the people on the ground in Cairns, they learnt as they went. They were a terrific team and they were learning as they were going along. Their detection time between isolating a bee in the field and finding that nest shortened dramatically, so their detection techniques have improved. That probably did have something to play on when the team on the ground was increased. Those people were privy to some of this experience that they had already learnt on the ground up there and that is probably why it helped the number of detections go up rather rapidly.

Senator O’BRIEN —Is it fair to say that the more people you have there the more likely you are to discover the nests? Is that a reasonable proposition?

Dr Anderson —Yes, that is a reasonable proposition. Given the restricted area that you are looking at—it is about a 55-kilometre area—obviously the more people you have there, the better off you are going to be. I think the whole thing about the data collection is trying to determine if this effort that you are trying to put into eradication is working or not and if there is a trend. What the data was showing there initially was that that three months worth of data was just not long enough to determine whether it would go. That is why Dr Sergeant actually said that. After another six months if the detections are going through the roof then forget it, you have probably lost it. But if you see that there is a tapering off, or even a slowing off, in detection, from there you can start doing predictions: with the same amount of effort, how long would it take us to actually find the last colony?

Senator O’BRIEN —I am presuming that there is no way you can differentiate this species from other bee species in terms of targeting, if you wanted to do something like trapping or—

Dr Anderson —Yes, there are. There has been some recent work done since the decision was made and that is the use of fipronil poisoning. We used fipronil in the Solomon Islands as a way of getting the bees out of the environment to allow people that keep managed European honey bees to survive. It worked very well—it was extremely good—and they have done two trials, I believe, recently on the ground in Cairns and they have found that it looks very promising.

Senator O’BRIEN — Okay, thank you.

ACTING CHAIR — It appears that we are at a situation where what we are looking at at the moment is potentially containment. Can you give us your perspective on potential success of that as a strategy at this point in time? Is this containable to a district, to a region?

Dr Anderson —Given the data that we have looked at so far it was obvious that when you had a lot of people on the ground you got a lot of detections. Once you take those people off the ground and you knock the team back to only half-a-dozen people, it is quite obvious that you are going to miss a lot of colonies. So your containment is not going to be very good. I would suggest as well that, if there is any extension given to this eradication in its present form, it is not given on the basis of just a few people on the ground; it is that it is actually done on the basis of when you had 40-odd people on the ground. What is the point of doing it with six people on the ground? You are not going to get anything from it. But if you had a full team on the ground there, then at least you are going to get data coming in, from which you will be able to predict that the effort you are putting in is actually working. But extending it with just a few people on the ground, I cannot see the point of it.

ACTING CHAIR — So you have got a data set that had been in place for a period of time in the lead-up from April, say, to about October when you had your meeting, there was about 40 people on the ground in that time frame?

Dr Anderson —That is right.

ACTING CHAIR —There is a data set that is there. The general discussion was that that should be continued for a further six months to provide a longer series of data so that you had some more reliable information upon which to make a decision. That work has not been done. But, if something is going to continue, in your view it should continue on that scale as it was from April to October last year?

Dr Anderson —Yes.

ACTING CHAIR —I suppose in one context you have it at a similar time frame during the year that you have early in the year for a time to provide you with even a comparable data set. Even if something has been missed out of the middle, at least you have got something to compare it to, on a seasonal basis anyway.

Dr Anderson —Yes—

ACTING CHAIR —I am making an assumption that that is something that you can look at to make the comparison. I do not know; if I am wrong tell me.

Dr Anderson —That recommendation was given in October and then the effort was cut back in November. We are now into March and the bees have had four months up there. They have got a bit of a march on the team, so to speak. It might require longer than six months now, because we have had that break in between. But that is only talking about if we were to extend the eradication period—that is where I am coming from. With containment, it is a completely different kettle of fish. There you have made the decision, ‘Look, it is not eradicable; what we are just going to do here is try to stop the movement of this thing out of the Cairns region.’ So you put all your effort into things like assisted movement, on trucks and trains and that sort of thing, because the bee can swarm.

ACTING CHAIR — And in that circumstance, if you are focusing on those particular vectors you are effectively accepting that there is going to be a natural growth in its radius through native conditions. So you are not effectively containing it in that context; you are stopping leaps through assisted passage.

Dr Anderson —Yes.

ACTING CHAIR —But accepting the fact that it is going to over time grow its range?

Dr Anderson —Yes. As part of the national management group and the way that it is moving into these new committees, I believe that these are the issues that we are going to bring up and discuss in detail— good and proper containment or something that can slow down the movement of the Asian honey bees.

ACTING CHAIR — We are going to have to wind up there. I thank you, Dr Anderson, for your evidence. I am not sure if there is anything else that the committee requires, but if you are amenable to any requests we would certainly appreciate that.

[5.31 pm]