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Monday, 22 April 1985
Page: 1625

Mr REITH(10.25) —I rise tonight to bring to the attention of honourable members the plight of Phillip Island's fairy penguins. My interest is not recent. My family has given land to the penguin parade. I have served as chairman of the committee of management of the penguin parade and during that time I initiated a research program into penguins that is unique in Australia. The penguin is the third largest international tourist attraction in Australia, attracting 80,000 international tourists per annum out of a total of 300,000 visitors. The future of the parade is now in doubt. There is a severe food shortage, the causes of which are largely unknown. The mortality rate of chicks has increased to 80 per cent and so bad is the situation that the management of the parade has had to institute hand feeding of chicks. The research work to date has been land-based and certainly an excellent program has been in place. I pay tribute to the work of Peter Dann, the research biologist, and Professor Mike Cullen of Monash University. But what is needed now is research into food sources, food chains and the localities of such sources of food.

This is a national issue for four reasons. Firstly, the fisheries are within Commonwealth waters and are an important primary industry. Secondly, the tourist industry is a major export earner in this country and we need every dollar that we can earn in terms of exports in view of the fate of the Australian dollar under the socialist Government that is currently in power. Thirdly, the national parks have an involvement in the management of the parade and, fourthly, over $1m of Commonwealth and State money is being provided for the improvement of visitor facilities. This Government is so faction ridden that its members of parliament spend their weekends throwing tomatoes at each other, so I suppose it is little wonder that so far it has taken very little interest in this matter.

I must say that the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment (Mr Cohen) to his credit has been to see the parade. Because there is no Joh Bjelke-Petersen in Victoria to inhibit the Minister in assessing his political response to this problem, I suppose we can expect him to take a greater interest that he has to date. As for the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism (Mr John Brown), he has yet to visit the island. He has visited everywhere else at massive expense to the taxpayers, but he has not bothered to worry about one of the major international tourist attractions in his own back yard. I say to the Minister, given his flair for the fleas and ticks of Australia's wildlife, that the penguin parade has much to offer and to commend itself to him. I warn him in advance that penguins peck as well.

What is needed is the political will to provide funds for research to preserve the penguins and to maintain one of Australia's great tourist attractions. I support the provision of funds for visitor facilities, but would be ashamed, when the facilities are finally completed, if there were few penguins left. At a time when technology can put a man on the moon and communications are so advanced that a Prime Minister can count factions numbers from a hotel in Brussels, surely the time has come when we as a community can allocate sufficient funds to research and ultimately to protect one of Australia's great natural phenomena, the fairy penguin.