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Environment and Communications References Committee
23/02/2017
Construction of the Perth Freight Link

BAIRSTOW, Dr Felicity, Private capacity

CROSBIE, Ms Denise Kathleen, Wetlands Officer, Cockburn Wetlands Education Centre Inc.

DUNN, Mr Robert, Chairman, Native ARC Inc.

HUXLEY, Mr Dean, Manager, Native ARC Inc.

MUNROWD, Ms Diane, Manager, Native ARC Inc.

CHAIR: Welcome. Information relating to parliamentary privilege in the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. Could you each please state the capacity in which you appear today.

Mr Dunn : I am here to comment on trapping procedures.

Ms Munrowd : I am here to comment on compliance of rehabilitation of injured wildlife.

Mr Huxley : I am here to comment on the compliance of injured wildlife.

Ms Crosbie : I am here to comment on some breaches I have observed.

Dr Bairstow : I am here representing the wider conservation values of the Beeliar Wetlands.

CHAIR: I will invite you to make a brief opening statement and then the committee will ask you questions. But I will say that, obviously, if you all make brief opening statements please keep them very brief, otherwise we will not have a chance to ask too many questions. So I will limit you to a maximum of five minutes, but if you could keep them under that it would be greatly appreciated.

Mr Dunn : I have been the chairman of Native ARC for about 10 years. I have been involved in trapping activities probably over a 10-year period under the supervision of the warden of the Harry Waring Marsupial Reserve, which is local to Jandakot. I hold a Regulation 17 reptile removalist’s licence. I have been involved in volunteering for DPaW to pick up poison snakes and reptiles in the community for, again, about a decade. I would like to comment on my observations participating in watching the trapping that has been going on in the wetlands and in the woodlands, and the breaches and essentially the poor trapping management.

CHAIR: We will contact you [inaudible].

Mr Dunn : Sure.

Ms Munrowd : I would like to comment, first of all, to provide you with an overview of Native ARC for those of you who are not familiar with our activities and to provide a bit of background as to why we are here talking about compliance with rehabilitation of injured wildlife from Roe 8.

Native ARC is a not-for-profit organisation incorporated in 1998. We are registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. We are included on the Register of Environmental Organisations, we are registered for the charitable collections licence through the Department of Commerce and we are a registered wildlife centre with the Department of Parks and Wildlife. We are open 365 days a year and on average have approximately 250 active volunteers at any one time.

Native ARC provides care and rehabilitation services to more than 3,000 animals per year including birds, reptiles, marsupials and amphibians. We have close ties with the veterinary clinics, including Murdoch veterinary teaching hospital, and we have a registered veterinary surgeon on site. Our mission identifies the importance of preserving Australian wildlife; care, rehabilitation and release of sick, injured and orphaned wildlife; and environmental education regarding ongoing conservation.

Native ARC is concerned about the welfare of wildlife affected by the Roe 8 project. Native ARC is located along Hope Road, Bibra Lake, directly opposite to the Roe 8 wetlands clearing site. Our concerns relate to the welfare of fauna affected by land clearing. This includes the protocols and standard operating procedures around trapping, relocating and compliance with the protocols for the treatment, rehabilitation and release of wildlife injured during this process.

Native ARC originally contacted the office of the EPA and were advised to forward correspondence to the Roe 8 project team at Main Roads. This was done on 17th and 27th of January in 2017, requesting information on the fauna survey undertaken, the protocols around the trapping processes and the guidelines for trapping and completion of trapping, the relocation site for wildlife, the number of animals trapped to date and percentage compared to the total identified in the fauna survey, procedures in place to rescue injured animals, where injured animals were taken for treatment and rehabilitation, and the ethics committee report on trapping and relocation. Certain information we were able to access from the Main Roads website; however, we were unable to access compliance information, comparison data and information on the treatment and rehabilitation of injured wildlife. We did not receive a response acknowledging our request for information relating to our questions.

Due to our proximity to the clearing site and on-site veterinary expertise, injured wildlife requiring assistance could have been treated immediately. Main Roads did not request this assistance. We are fully aware and comply with DPaW standards for wildlife rehabilitation in Western Australia. However, we have not been able to access information on the compliance with these requirements by the Roe 8 contractors involved.

Mr Huxley : My background is that I have been a volunteer wildlife rehabilitator with Native ARC since 2007 and a registered wildlife rehabilitator with the Department of Parks and Wildlife since 2011. I am registered with the Department of Parks and Wildlife as a Regulation 16 licence holder and also as a Regulation 17 licence holder. I am registered with the Veterinary Surgeons Board to conduct two-step euthanasia for wildlife. I am also a lecturer at South Metropolitan TAFE, focusing on captive bird management and wildlife first aid and a lecturer at DPaW presenting on captive reptile management.

In my capacity at Native ARC, I am overseeing the care of the wildlife that are admitted to the centre, and, to date, we have received photographs of injured and/or deceased wildlife from the public. It should be noted, with regard to DPaW standards for wildlife rehabilitation, that Native ARC was part of a small team in 2014 which reviewed the standards which were implemented in late 2014. We have received injured or deceased animals found by the public adjacent to and on the fence line of the Roe 8 clearing. We have received written and verbal information from the public detailing displaced wildlife sightings in many suburbs surrounding the Roe 8 clearing site. We have received only one injured quenda, which was admitted via the Murdoch Pet Emergency Centre, which came via a Roe 8 contractor.

We understand that the animals targeted for capture and relocation are quendas, jewelled ctenotus, lined skink, black-striped snake and the south-west carpet python. Our concern is for all wildlife within the clearing zone and the outcomes of those animals not captured or relocated. We suspect there is a large number. These include, but are not limited to, obviously, possums, lizards, snakes, frogs, turtles and internationally protected rainbow bee-eaters. We are not aware of any wildlife rehabilitation centre in the metropolitan area that was involved in treating wildlife injured through the Roe 8 process, nor were they consulted. In addition, most veterinary clinics do not have the experience in wildlife treatment or rehabilitation or the capacity to care for them.

Ms Crosbie : The Cockburn Wetlands Education Centre is located some 300 metres from the clearing works where at least four wetlands are on the doorstep, and we are the only dedicated wetlands centre in Perth. The centre is a not-for-profit organisation. It has been in operation for 24 years. I coordinate the facility and have been doing this for 21 years. Along with the coordination of volunteers, we deliver Landcare programs, incorporating sustainable seed production areas, native plant nurseries, and landcare demonstration trails showcasing 24 years of dryland and wetland revegetation sites. We also deliver environmental education programs, including school programs, family holiday programs, adult education programs and major events, including the WA Wetland Management Conference and World Environment Day school fests.

I am concerned that the centre was never consulted prior to the release of the Roe Highway extension public environmental review in 2011 and any information provided in the report was not supplied by the centre. Our previous revegetation sites, reserve access and education routes have not been considered despite there only being two buildings on our road.

Because of my past involvement with seed collection, tree planting, weed control and education programs, I have been a bit too emotionally attached to be in attendance on site, so I have only seen a few breaches. I am concerned about the balgas and the zamias, which we have successfully transplanted, as they take a long time to grow. We have not witnessed any salvage operations for these plants. I have seen mature plants amongst the piles awaiting mulching activities and my general assistant, Mr Rex Sallur, has witnessed continuous bulldozing of balgas and zamias.

On 30 January I was on site and saw the intention for clearing works to proceed. However, they were at a standstill due to lock-ons. There were police forces moving across the site and a bogged police vehicle attempting to be dug out by officers in stage 6 of the wetlands, which is a designated uninterpretable dieback area. There were rainy conditions and there should not have been any clearing works proceeding. I have also seen clearing works being undertaken during windy conditions with no dust suppression on Malvolio Road on 20 December. I have also seen contractors picking up escaped, injured or dead wildlife with a type of rake implement and placing them in hip bags post-clearing while a bulldozer was working in the adjacent area. I am just wondering when that type of documentation will be available.

Dr Bairstow : I am a veterinarian by trade and I have undertaken postgraduate studies in conservation and wildlife medicine and I have worked in conservation of wetlands and bushlands for a bit over 20 years. My particular concerns relate to the fauna and to the dieback protocol that has been observed—or, not observed.

We have heard quite a bit about the fauna trapping already, but it is enough to say that on a 36 degree day, I became distressed enough—from a professional perspective—at the thought of animals being out there in traps that I called to made a report to the RSPCA. I also spoke to the chief wildlife officer of DPaW with regard to the translocation of the southern brown bandicoots and the futility of transplanting them to adjacent areas. The southern brown bandicoots are very territorial. If you put bandicoots into an area where there are already bandicoots, which there will be if it is a good habitat for bandicoots, they will get beaten up, kicked out onto the road and run over—and that is what happened. The reply from the chief wildlife officer was that it was not his department. We have heard that an awful lot in the last few months.

This is no ordinary piece of bushland, and now I am referring particularly to the dieback. This is the heart of the Beeliar Regional Park. This is an area that has been set aside, in perpetuity, for our future generations to access for their physical and mental wellbeing. The spread of dieback through this area is a really critical issue. Dieback is a fungal infection of certain species of vegetation and, once introduced to an area, it cannot be eradicated. There are standard protocols to be followed, and they have not been followed in this case. In particular, repeated movements of vehicles from uninterpretable dieback areas to uninfested dieback areas of native vegetation have been observed. On two separate days, I made reports directly to the OEPA regarding the lapse in protocols. On the second day, I rang back after several hours to find out what was happening. I was told that the auditors had reported back and there was no clearing taking place, to which I replied, 'I am watching a live stream of a video of clearing taking place across the road right now.' I was told, 'We will send him back in.'

It should also be noted that in a recent article from the Dieback Working Group, which is the agency which coordinates dieback control in WA, they highlighted that, of all the times, this particular period has created a very, very favourable situation where we are still in summer, we have warm soil, the fungus is flourishing and we have summer rain. That could lead to a catastrophic transfer of dieback. If we were ever, anywhere, going to be careful about something like dieback protocol—and I am not saying that all the other bits of bush do not deserve to be looked after too, but if we cannot do it here, where can we do it? That is my question to the authorities.

Senator PRATT: We have heard evidence from the Commonwealth departments today in relation to specifically listed species under the EPBC Act, which include a number of orchids, Carnaby's—does anyone else have the actual list of species that they tabled?

CHAIR: We will get them for you.

Senator PRATT: I am interested with respect to the impact of poor dieback management on some of those species. If you have a decline in the banksia habitat, for example, what is the extent to which it might impact on orchids, et cetera, in the surrounding area?

Dr Bairstow : There would definitely be a direct relationship between the occurrence of dieback and the availability of foraging trees for, say, the Carnaby's cockatoo and the red-tailed cockatoo. That would be a start.

Senator PRATT: And possibly also the habitat for orchids et cetera because of erosion and the like?

Dr Bairstow : The thing about the banksia woodlands and the wetlands through that area is that they are incredibly complex, integrated systems. So, when you start killing off a whole suite of plants, you are going to have a knock-on effect on many other plant and animal species.

Senator PRATT: So black and the red-tailed cockatoos, the glossy-leafed hammer orchid, the grand spider orchid and the beaked—

Senator BACK: Lepidosperma.

Senator PRATT: Thank you, Senator Back. I think the department said that, in their assessment, they did not think any of those spider orchids or glossy-leafed hammer orchids were going to be impacted by this clearing. I visited the site probably a decade or so ago and I certainly saw those orchids then in that area. Do you have any evidence in relation to having seen those species in the area?

Dr Bairstow : The thing with a lot of those species, especially the orchids, is that they are very sporadic when they are coming out. One of the issues we have had with this project is that the flora studies were done at inappropriate times and not sufficiently well, and so it is not surprising that they may not have found some of those orchids.

Senator PRATT: When would those orchids normally appear?

Dr Bairstow : My botany is a bit scratchy but most orchids are late winter through to spring.

Senator PRATT: I guess we should ask the department for the time scale for those particular surveys.

Dr Bairstow : They tend to be quite specific with the different species of orchids.

Senator PRATT: We will have to make a note that we will ask on notice for the details of those surveys, including when they were conducted. Other than the area currently impacted by the clearing, you are also arguing that the habitat for those cockatoos could potentially be impacted by poor dieback management practice as well.

Dr Bairstow : Definitely.

Senator LINES: What we have heard repeatedly today from the Commonwealth—the state has not chosen to appear—and from groups who are concerned about the destruction of the wetlands is almost polar opposite. Thinking about the Commonwealth's responsibilities—and they are quite narrow—why do you think they have dismissed all of the alleged breaches that have been submitted to that department?

Dr Bairstow : I could not possibly answer that question.

Senator LINES: Do you have a view?

Dr Bairstow : Why wouldn't they take them seriously? I don't know.

Senator LINES: My question is: they tell us on evidence that they have investigated them; the groups we have heard from today are very determined that breaches have occurred; yet the Commonwealth in its area of responsibility is saying that, apart from one minor breach, all the other breaches have been dismissed. I am wondering if any of you had a view, because the breaches go to issues of air quality and clearing not being in line with the permits et cetera. I just wondered if you had a view; if you do not, that is fine.

Mr Dunn : No. I am completely baffled why there would not be. I do not understand the chain of command. I am not sure about the state's role or the federal role, but quite clearly there is some big chasm.

Senator LINES: I think designed to baffle us would be one thing—

Mr Dunn : Yes, exactly.

Senator LUDLAM: Thanks all for bringing your expertise to the table. You obviously have a very close eye on that particular part of the world. We thought it would be valuable to have you here because you have really intimate knowledge of that area. One of the things that the Commonwealth has some conditions over is this concept of offsets, where we say, 'If we are going to flatten 100 hectares here, we will buy up some land somewhere else and presumably the critters will make their way there and realise that this land is there.' We have not traversed the offsets, which is condition 7, that much today. From an ecological perspective—not from a bureaucracy perspective but from the functional ecosystem perspective—what do you think of the concept of offsets and the way the conditions have been drawn up?

Dr Bairstow : The concept of offsets in general has developed into a system of nothing much better than smoke and mirrors. We are not creating new habitat. We are destroying habitat and trying to convince people that somehow by putting an area into a conservation reserve it becomes new habitat. The animals were there all along. It is not really a sound plan in an ecological sense at all, from my point of view.

Senator LUDLAM: What is your understanding of how the cockatoos, for example, will make their way down to this block 80 or 100 kilometres from Beeliar?

Dr Bairstow : The fact is that if that area is at all suitable for cockatoos they will be there already. Unfortunately, with animal species, like the bandicoots, a lot of them are territorial and they are not necessarily going to say, 'Sorry you lost your home, mate. Move in with me.' That is not going to happen. We are seeing it all the time. Every day we have reports of people with flocks of cockatoos in their backyards that are hungry. They are looking for food and they are looking for somewhere to roost. It is quite tragic. That offset, which is in Lake Clifton, is not going to provide any food or roosting habitat for those cockatoos.

Senator LUDLAM: What about the terrestrial species—turtles, bandicoots—do they put a newsletter out announcing that there is a block of land? I probably should not joke about this stuff because it is bloody deadly seriously. In what practical sense is an offset of any use to the work that you guys do or to those ecosystems?

Dr Bairstow : There is so little of the vegetation types and the wetlands. In fact, the North Lake reserve is a one-off as far as wetlands are concerned. That is the most complex suite of wetlands on the Swan Coastal Plain. There is no other area anywhere that is like that, so it cannot be offset. Because there is so little land that is anything near the quality and type of vegetation and wetlands, what has been happening with offsets is that they have been putting them further and further away from the original site. For instance, the Roe 7 offsets are in Clackline, so, obviously, the people are battling to find the offsets. let alone the animals trying to find their offsets, which is an absurdity. It is not a good system.

Ms Munrowd : I think one of the additional issues is the quality of the offset and the number of animals that already inhabit that offset. When you are looking at putting in a new group of animals—and with that new group they are usually not a family unit; they are ones picked from here, trapped here or trapped there—they need to re-establish a colony in an area where there are already territorial spots marked out. You would suggest that the relocation is not going to be that successful, because of that.

Senator LUDLAM: That was my assumption. Senator Lines put a couple of questions to you before around the very narrow drafting of what is Commonwealth responsibility compared to what is state responsibility. In your opening statements, you all mentioned breaches that you had observed. Just quoting again from this piece that was on the ABC this morning 'the WA government says all allegations of environmental breaches have been examined and there have been no incidences of noncompliance to date'. How does that statement compare to your direct experience of what is happening?

Mr Dunn : That is an out and out lie.

Ms Munrowd : I would like to make a comment before we get into the breaches. We need to understand what the compliance is with the treatment and rehabilitation of animals that are actually injured as part of this clearing, and we have no idea about that at all. There are protocols for treatment, there are protocols for rehabilitation and there are none available. I have no idea where those animals go. I understand the ones that are not injured are put in a holding site and then they will go to the offset areas. But you cannot expect that there will be no animal that is injured in this process. So if they do not get killed on the site, where are those animals taken? What are the protocols? Because there are protocols that are required in terms of their treatment and rehabilitation.

Senator LUDLAM: I must have missed something because I would have assumed that Native ARC was precisely where they would end up.

CHAIR: Mr Dunn, you had a comment to make in relation to Senator Ludlam's question?

Mr Dunn : I am part of that watchers group that goes out every morning. We see breaches regularly around trapping. If you want to look at the actual protocols that they are supposed to be following, they are the DPaW protocols around trapping. Apart from the obvious ones where they are not having two clear trapping nights and they are going through and clearing, there are all the protocols around how to set traps up to be effective—the use of pit traps; keeping them away from noise, human contact, light et cetera. There is a plethora of them. It continues until the point that the scrutiny becomes too much and the EPA are sent obviously the documents and the visual proof through the photographs that are time stamped and then we notice a change in behaviour. There is a modification in behaviour.

Senator LUDLAM: To me, if there is a modification of behaviour, I would say that is good news.

Mr Dunn : Some practices are changing but they are not necessarily the outcomes that we want for maximum catches and relocation of animals.

Senator LUDLAM: I guess what caught my attention in that was if there have been no incidences of noncompliance to date, which is the state government's statement, then you would not have noticed changed practices. They were compliant before; they remain compliant today. I just wonder how that sits.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for appearing before us today. We appreciate it.

Ms Munrowd : Is the committee able to ask a question about who has responsibility and what happens to wildlife that is injured in the process? Where are they kept? Who looks after them? What is the rehabilitation process?

CHAIR: We will take this off-line and the committee considered correspondence.