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Standing Committee on Environment and Energy
Management of flying foxes in the eastern states

ANDREWS, Mr Gregory, Threatened Species Commissioner, Department of the Environment and Energy

BRACKS, Mrs Jessica, Principal Wildlife Biologist, Ecosure Pty Ltd

EBY, Dr Peggy, Private capacity

FARRANT, Ms Kim, Assistant Secretary, Assessments (NSW and ACT) and Fuel Branch, Department of the Environment and Energy

INNES, Councillor Liz, Mayor, Eurobodalla Shire Council

LENSON, Ms Deborah, Divisional Manager Environmental Services, Eurobodalla Shire Council

LENTINI, Dr Pia, Secretary, Australasian Bat Society

OXLEY, Mr Stephen, First Assistant Secretary, Department of the Environment and Energy

RICHARDSON, Mr Geoff, Assistant Secretary, Department of the Environment and Energy

SHAW, Mr Phillip Patrick, Managing Director, Ecosure Pty Ltd

TREGURTHA, Mr James, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Environment Standards Division, Department of the Environment and Energy

USHER, Mr Lindsay, Director Planning and Sustainability Services, Eurobodalla Shire Council

WESTCOTT, Dr David, Senior Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO Land and Water

Committee met at 10:03

CHAIR ( Mr Broad ): Welcome. I am always mindful that people have come a long way to talk to members of parliament. It is a real privilege for us to get to hear what you have to say. We do a lot of talking but we do not always do a lot of listening, and I think the parliament works better when it is the other way around. We have a range of members here from different political parties and we are interested to hear how we can address the interaction between flying foxes and our human population.

This committee is keen to undertake inquiries that are outside of the political discussion and more inside the national discussion around our environment. I think it is the parliament at its best and is as it should be. We have a series of inquiries for the 45th Parliament and they will be announced as we roll those out. This inquiry has a short time frame—if you could forgive us for that. Some local members and the environment minister asked for something to be done in this area that was going to be fairly short, sharp and quick. That is the reason for the short submission time and we appreciate the effort you have all put in at such short notice.

I declare open the round table public hearing of the Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy in Canberra today, for the inquiry into flying fox management in the eastern states. In accordance with the committee's resolution of 13 October 2016, this hearing will be broadcast on the parliament's website, and the proof and official transcripts of proceedings will be published on the parliament's website. You are on TV, people. Lucky we are a good-looking crowd!

Those present here today are advised that filming and recording are permitted during the hearing. I remind members of the media who may be present or listening on the web of the need to fairly and accurately report the proceedings of the committee. I wish we could say that all the time to the media: 'Fairly and accurately report what we have to say.'

The Minister for the Environment and Energy first wrote to the committee about the issue of flying foxes in mid-October of this year, asking that the committee consider including the issue in its work program. The committee considered this request and received briefings on the issue, including from the member for Hunter. Recognising that the impact of flying foxes in the eastern states is an important issue for affected communities in particular, the committee decided to carry out a short inquiry.

Today, the committee looks forward to hearing from experts in flying fox ecology, distribution and management, as well as government agencies responsible for the protection and management of flying foxes. We will also hear from representatives of local councils and environmental consultancies, who seek to meet the needs of communities while also complying with Commonwealth, state and territory regulations. The committee has brought together all of these representatives in a round table format today, and is confident that all of these experts will share their experiences and views and that will help the committee identify a practical way forward for the management of nationally protected flying foxes in the eastern states of Australia. This is a round table discussion; it is not the Inquisition. This is not a Senate estimates hearing; it is a discussion, so we will let discussions flow in a good way.

Nevertheless, we have received some 63 submissions to date, which will be available from the committee's website from tomorrow morning. We have also received a range of correspondence outlining community concerns about localised flying fox issues. I want to take this opportunity to thank all the individuals who have taken the time to write to the committee to share their views and experiences, and to assure them that the committee will consider all of these materials carefully before reaching its conclusions and preparing its final report.

I welcome all the witnesses invited to give evidence today. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. The evidence given today will be recorded by Hansard and attracts parliamentary privilege. I am sure we are all honest and open, so I do not think that will be a problem.

I might just ask our members to introduce themselves.

Mr HOWARTH: I am Luke Howarth, the federal member for Petrie. Petrie is about 25 minutes north of Brisbane Airport. It includes Redcliffe, North Lakes and the Moreton Bay region, and part of Brisbane City Council—the Carseldine-Aspley area. I was elected in 2013 and again this year.

Mr EVANS: I am Trevor Evans. I am the federal member for Brisbane, which includes the CBD and the inner north suburbs. I was elected at the election in July.

Mr CONROY: I am Pat Conroy, the member for Shortland. I am the shadow assistant minister for climate change and energy, and I represent Lake Macquarie and the northern central coast of New South Wales, which obviously has some experience of significant flying fox camps in our particular community.

Ms STANLEY: I am Anne Stanley. I am the member for Werriwa, which is south-west Sydney, Liverpool and Campbelltown.

Mr CRAIG KELLY: Good morning. I am Craig Kelly. I am the federal member for Hughes, which covers parts of the Sutherland Shire and Liverpool. I have had some experience with this subject, with the flying foxes down at the Bates Drive area in my electorate.

CHAIR: I am the federal member for Mallee, which is the best part of Australia! It is the north-west corner of Victoria. It produces wonderful red wine and good food, so make sure you come and visit. And there are no flying foxes in my electorate that I know of—not yet, unless you move them from your parts of the world to mine.

The inquiry has five key terms of reference, which are organised in four broad topics for discussion today. I believe each of you has been given a copy of these. We will proceed through each topic in turn—so roughly 30 minutes. Each witness will have an opportunity to speak on each topic, although given the various areas of expertise, you may wish to contribute more or less on a given topic. Discussion will then be guided by questions from the committee.

As you would appreciate, we have several witnesses here today, a great deal to discuss and our time is limited. Before we proceed to opening statements, do you have any comments to make on the capacity in which you appear?

Dr Lentini : I am also a research fellow with the University of Melbourne. I work on the National Environmental Science Program. We do research on flying foxes.

Dr Eby : I have been involved with research on the ecology and conservation of flying foxes in south-eastern Australia for many years. I have a long involvement with management issues and engagement with a range of stakeholders.

Dr Westcott : I have conducted research for about 20 years now on the ecology of flying foxes. I have worked on all five Australian species of Pteropus and, in the last five or so years, I have been working with the Commonwealth government and state governments designing, implementing, analysing and interpreting data from the National Flying-Fox Monitoring Program.

Ms Farrant : I am responsible for assessing matters that come to us under the EPBC Act for New South Wales and the ACT.

Mr Tregurtha : The Environment Standards Division is the division of the department which undertakes the regulation of protected matters under the EPBC Act.

Mr Oxley : My division has the responsibility for all of the assessment and listing of threatened species and then the development of recovery plans and referral guidelines and all the statutory policy documents that support the assessment and approval work that is done in Environmental Standards Division.

Mr Richardson : I am the Assistant Secretary of the Protected Species and Communities Branch in Stephen's Wildlife Heritage and Marine Division. Our branch is responsible for doing those assessments and providing them to the Threatened Species Scientific Committee for them to then provide advice to the minister around listing and delisting of threatened species.

Mr Andrews : It is my job to lead the fight against extinction on behalf of the Australian government by raising awareness, mobilising resources and advising the minister, in partnership with colleagues here, on threatened species policy and implementing Australia's first threatened species strategy. Chair, if Ouyen is in your electorate, you definitely have the best lamb cutlets in the world at the Ouyen pub; you also have the cutest threatened species in Australia, the endangered Mallee emu-wren in Hattah-Kulkyne National Park.

CHAIR: Very good, and good to see someone is vouching for the good food and wine there.

Mr Usher : My experience with flying foxes started in about 2012 when we had flying foxes set up camp in the Batemans Bay urban area. Since then, we have had a number of population explosions, I might say, peaking this year in April when we had between 50 and 70 per cent of the population of flying foxes located in our urban area.

Councillor Innes : I am the Mayor of Eurobodalla Shire Council. We have just gone through a dispersal, with a fairly hefty impact on our local community, with the flying fox colony that set up camp in Batemans Bay.

Mr Shaw : Thank you for inviting us. I am the managing director of a consultancy business called Ecosure. We do a lot of wildlife management and have been involved in appraising wildlife, particularly flying fox camps, for over 20 years. We have been involved in the assessments and then in recommending management practices of many hundreds of camps. I have been involved with about 14 camps that have had dispersal activities. I will mention again further into the discussion that we think only five of those really needed dispersals to occur. We are here to help guide the balance between the requirement to protect this set of threatened species and, on the other hand, accept that the communities are often deeply affected by flying foxes when they move into urban areas. We need to find that balance.

Our business has, in the past five years, gained from the deregulation of dispersal. We have added about $2 million-plus worth of turnover to our business as a result of flying fox management, but we are here to say, contrary to our commercial imperative, that we need to make tighter regulation around dispersal and that dispersal really needs to be an absolute last resort. We need to keep the gunpowder dry, so to speak, so that we use it in very select—

CHAIR: Phil, sorry to cut you off, but we will not hear opening statements yet. There will be an opportunity for that. This is just to introduce yourself.

Mrs Bracks : As a wildlife biologist, I have been working with flying foxes for more than five years with around 20 or so councils from Queensland and New South Wales and also state governments. We have guided management of over 100 camps. I have seen firsthand the impacts on communities and also the risks associated with different management. I am here to try and come up with and discuss some alternative options to dispersal.

CHAIR: We have a short opportunity for opening statements before we go into the roundtable. Who would like to start?

Dr Lentini : On behalf of the Australasian Bat Society, and as a researcher at the University of Melbourne, we would really like to emphasise that flying foxes are essential to the function of forest ecosystems across Australia. The threats that led to the listing of the two threatened species on the east coast in the first place very much persist and are likely to get worse in the future, particularly habitat loss and climate change driven extreme-heat events. We would really like to emphasise that we recognise the impact that these camps can have on communities, but delisting and deregulation are likely to worsen the impacts, not improve them. We would really like to see the implementation of a national approach to flying foxes and not hand over their management to poorly resourced and overstretched councils, who are struggling with this issue.

CHAIR: Just to mix it up, I might throw to the mayor, since we have had a reference to councils. Does the council have an opening statement?

Councillor Innes : I am probably going to have a bit of a divergence of views from some expressed here, because I am ultimately representing my community. The impacts that this has had on my community cannot be understated.

I think there is an absolute recognition within my community that we do have a threatened species. It has been expressed time and again that people recognise and acknowledge the vital role that flying foxes provide in our ecosystem. Most people living in the environment where I am from are intimate with the environment themselves. In Eurobodalla we have probably 75 per cent—I would say more—forested areas. When habitat loss and those types of things are expressed, in my community it does tend to raise the ire of some people in that environment, because we are seeing an area where there is an abundance of habitat. When experts in their field come and express those views to our community, they rightfully get challenged on those views. I know that nationally it certainly is the case, but when you are talking about an individual community that is seeing things firsthand and has that intimate knowledge then it adds further to the distress, and mistrust then starts to get created around the information that your community is given.

The issue, and it has been raised time and again, then comes back to: why are the flying foxes so attracted to town centres, as was the case in Batemans Bay? Clearly, there were other areas of very similar habitat types. We were being told things like: 'They like the casuarinas. They like the low wetlands. They like that humidity. They like those types of environments. That is why they are probably attracted to your water gardens.' But I know of many other areas that the flying foxes were not taking up. That in itself is kind of confusing, because the flying foxes themselves in that environment were being harassed and harangued, and it was an awful situation not only for the community but for the flying foxes.

Without going into too much more detail, I would express that I am probably going to have a bit of a different attitude about the flying foxes, and that is coming from the place of the community. That may also differ from the staff here as well. I will try to temper it with that. I do understand both sides, but ultimately I am here to represent the views of the people who were really impacted.

CHAIR: Well, we are here to be open and frank and we welcome a divergence of views. I welcome another parliamentary colleague. Can you just introduce yourself?

Mr ENTSCH: I am Warren Entsch. I am the member for Leichhardt, which is from Cairns up to the mainland of Papua New Guinea.

Mr ENTSCH: I have to say I share your views. We have a major issue in the centre of our CBD. We have tens of thousands of square kilometres of World Heritage listed rainforest stretching from north of Townsville to Cooktown, and every evening the bats leave the half-a-dozen trees that are still surviving in the CBD and fly into the World Heritage area to feed. Then, early in the morning, they come back and camp in the middle of the CBD. I share your frustration.

CHAIR: We will continue with opening statements. Chip in if you want.

Dr Eby : First of all I want to say that in my 25 years of involvement with flying foxes I have repeatedly addressed communities like yours about these issues, and my view is that we all want the same thing: we all want to find a way to resolve this. I want you to understand that that is my perspective. I come to this with a long-term perspective from dealing with a number of communities on these issues over a long period of time. I also am interested in how the spaces for ecology, conservation and management intersect to see if we can find spaces in there to deal with this better. I have prepared an opening statement and I will read it, if you do not mind.

I would like to make three observations in this statement. First of all, there has been an exponential increase in the number of flying fox camps in urban areas of south-eastern Australia over the past 10 to 15 years. I should say that my area of expertise is grey-headed flying foxes in the south-east, so I am going to contain my statements to that area. Land managers are currently ill-equipped to deal with the conflict that is associated with this change. In south-eastern Australia there is evidence that the rate of establishment of new urban camps is accelerated during periods of food shortage, and we are experiencing one of those right now—the camp at Macquarie Fields established in 2010 during the food shortage, just by way of example.

There is strong and consistent evidence that the approach favoured for managing contentious sites—which is camp dispersals—fails to provide long-lasting solutions for affected communities under most conditions, and there is very limited understanding of the impact of these actions on the animals. In my view, the process of devolving responsibilities for camp management has fragmented approaches to management, and disadvantaged local government. There is a case for the processes to support these decisions to devolve to be reviewed. Insufficient or no structure for supporting local government was put in place around the changes, in my understanding, and in many locations the environment and planning staff of individual councils are expected to manage and resolve often intractable, highly controversial problems, having very limited personal experience with flying foxes, very little guidance from state and federal agencies, poor access to information, and limited financial and human resources.

My third general point is that strategies to better address flying fox camp management issues need to be developed. They need to be rigorously tested and resourced as a matter of priority to improve the outcomes for both flying foxes and local communities. These strategies need to include proactive as well as reactive approaches, and I believe a fresh range of people with diverse expertise should be involved.

In my view, a program of intervention should set at least three goals: firstly, to improve and expand the range of mitigation options available for assisting neighbours of contentious flying fox camps; to standardise the monitoring and reporting around that and to provide a repository for information and a framework for interpretation and information sharing. Secondly, I think that it should include a goal to develop and implement programs to assist communities in accommodating flying fox camps and to address the social issues around this. Not all communities deal with influxes of hundreds of thousands; some of them are much smaller. Education is important, but, in my experience, a deeper intervention is also needed.

Finally, a goal would be to develop and implement a program to intervene at the main ecological cause of the rapid rate of increase in urban flying fox camps. There is a growing body of evidence that points to ongoing loss of winter-spring habitat as the main root cause, and we need to resource research to test that proposition and the proposed interventions around it, recognising that this would also address other management concerns such as disease risk and crop damage, as well as the main threat to grey-headed flying foxes and other threatened nectar-dependent species.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Mr ENTSCH: You were talking about the habitat destruction et cetera being a reason for it. We are finding that our problem is going to go away shortly, because we have a limited number of beautiful big trees in our CBD, and the flying foxes are systematically killing them, through sheer numbers. We are in the process of removing another two that they have just killed. Eventually, they will kill all of the big trees in the CBD and we will not have a problem anymore.

Dr Eby : I will just clarify. I think of habitat for these animals in two different categories: roosting habitat and feeding habitat. The habitat I am talking about that is being removed in an ongoing way is the feeding habitat. My contention is that the main reason animals are coming into the city is that they do not have sufficient food in the bush. In the seventies, we started planting native trees in Sydney and other areas. We have created an artificial, and an artificially diverse, woodland for flying foxes in cities at the same time as we have removed food elsewhere. I am only talking about the south-east.

Mr HOWARTH: I was going to ask you the same thing but maybe, Dr Lentini, because what Mayor Innes said here and what the member for Leichardt said was that they are surrounded by bushland and native habitat that would suit flying foxes both for roosting and feeding, particularly up in Cairns, where the member for Leichardt is. Do you know why they do roost or feed in the city? If you do not, it is all right. I would just like to know why given that there would be a suitable habitat up in the member for Leichardt's area for roosting and feeding nearby. Even up in my area in North Brisbane in the seat of Lilley, there is a flying fox colony that is in a mangrove swamp but it is right next to all the houses when there is a whole acreage of Boondall wetlands close by where there are no houses. If you do not know, it is okay. I would like a direct answer on that because I have not heard an answer on that, not today but in general.

Dr Eby : The issue is that we do not know how they select where they will roost, and that is one of the main problems with dispersals. If we could predict where they would go, it would be a more viable option. But one of the problems that many communities find is that we know how to exclude flying foxes from a place where they are roosting and our capacity to do that and the efficiency with which we do that has increased dramatically in the last few years but we do not know where they will go. We look at a spot and say, 'This is perfect flying fox habitat; they should roost there.' But we do not know what extra criteria they use other than the ones we perceive to select where they roost.

Mr HOWARTH: Is it anything to do with light in a built-up area?

Dr Eby : I do not think there is evidence of that.

CHAIR: I believe the department has got an opening statement. It might be able to add some value to that. Is that right, David?

Dr Westcott : I am not from the department.


Dr Westcott : I was going to address that point but we can come back to that. I think we need to come back to that point and have a fuller discussion. I am happy to give an opening statement now.

CHAIR: Does everyone have an opening statement or do we want to progress forward?

Dr Westcott : I do have an opening statement.

CHAIR: Let's get the opening statements done and dusted. I think there is going to be a free conversation after that.

Dr Westcott : Unfortunately I was on leave until very late last week and so I could not get a submission in to you on time. I have, however, distributed some notes. By way of an opening statement, I want to highlight the fact that this is a real problem. Communities are really affected by flying foxes in urban areas. It is something that we have to deal with but it is not a simple problem. There is not going to be a single answer and a single approach that can be applied to every community in every instance. Whatever sorts of conclusions we come to, we have to recognise that this needs to be flexible and that not everyone is going to end up being happy. Sometimes communities are just going to have to endure; sometimes communities will have the response that they are looking for.

Generally speaking, flying foxes are listed in much the same way that the other species are, and I think that is appropriate. But one of the things that people often get confused about when talking about the status of flying fox species is that they really do not understand the basic ecology of flying foxes. So they look at a camp in their particular area that could be the camp in Cairns or in Bairnsdale or in any one of dozens of communities and they see flying foxes increasing dramatically and they think that that means that the population is exploding. It may mean that there are a lot more flying foxes in their local community but it tells you absolutely nothing about what is going on in the total population. To say anything about that, you have to look at the entire population. The reason for this is that these animals, as individuals and as a population, move huge distances. We have had transmitters on animals that have moved 1,800 kilometres over three nights from Brisbane to the centre of Cape York. We know that the local population can increase by tens of thousands of animals literally in a matter of days, in some cases, hours, from one day to the next. This is because they are following resources over large areas. Communities fail to understand that, and, as a result, they fail to understand just how big a problem, how serious a problem, they are actually dealing with. Communicating that information is going to be absolutely critical to finding any solution that is going to be lasting and sustainable.

We have been running a national flying fox monitoring program for coming up for five years. The results from that work suggest that in the case of the two EPBC listed species—the grey headed, down here in the south-east, and the spectacled, which is what Warren Entsch has been talking about—the grey headed population is stable at best. It is likely that it is declining slightly. In the case of the spectacled flying fox there is no doubt that it is declining and has declined quite dramatically over the last 10 to 15 years. Based on the work that we have been doing in that program we have recommended that the spectacled flying fox be upgraded to 'endangered'. It meets the thresholds identified under the EPBC Act. We have also recommended that the grey headed not have its status changed, that it be left as vulnerable. We have done that for a variety of reasons we can talk about in more detail later on.

There are a number of points and figures that I have included in that document to support those arguments, but one of things that I want to point out in there is that both of these flying fox species have become far more urbanised in the last 10 or 15 years. There is no doubt about that. We do not understand why. We have lots of hypotheses—it is all good fun if you are a scientist—but so far we cannot be very helpful in providing a direct and conclusive answer.

I am anticipating that some of the other people will talk in more detail about recent experience with dispersing flying foxes, so one of the things I wanted to do is highlight at the beginning of this discussion that this is not a new problem. We have been dealing with this problem for well over a hundred years now. Basically, you could say that where we are at now, the guidelines for managing flying fox populations were published in 1890, when the New South Wales government after having funded the destruction of flying foxes—the number they give is in the order of 100,000—at great expense at the time concluded that dispersal of flying fox camps did not work. I can quote that 'all it achieved was driving animals to pastures fresh and new'. We have not been very smart about this. We keep coming back to the same simple solutions, the same obvious, simple solutions: disperse them, kill them, get rid of them. It has not worked. We do need to achieve something, but there are a lot of options in between doing nothing and dispersing these animals. The task for us is to find that point in between.

CHAIR: 1890!

Dr Westcott : 1890.

CHAIR: Wow. Do we have further opening statements?

Mr Oxley : Chair, I might make one on behalf of the department. I will make a somewhat abridged statement to what I was originally going to do. The first thing I wish to do is acknowledge the distress experienced by those communities that have flying fox camps established on their doorstep. As a department, we do not for a minute imagine that living with a flying fox camp is an easy thing to do, and the impacts are obvious and serious. We have already heard testimony to that effect.

As we have seen in many places in the eastern states of Australia, minimising the impact of nationally protected flying foxes on communities is a challenging endeavour. These species are highly mobile and widely distributed and, because of that particular characteristic, it requires a collective endeavour of local, state and federal governments working together to reduce the effects on local communities while conserving the species. These species the spectacled flying fox and the grey headed flying fox are protected as threatened species under the national Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and, as Dr Westcott has already outlined, there are very good reasons why the populations have been in decline. They meet the criteria for listing. Both of them at the moment are vulnerable under the EPBC Act, but in the case of the spectacled flying fox the species is being assessed at the moment by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee for possible uplisting to a higher threat category. The species have been impacted by sanctioned and illegal shooting, roost disturbance and ongoing loss of habitat, which act as an impediment to their protection and recovery. Protection and recovery are the two statutory objectives set for these species once they are listed under the EPBC Act.

The species are highly susceptible to population decline because of this low reproductive rate of one young per year, the relatively long time for males to become sexually mature and the high rates of infant mortality when there are food shortages or extreme heat events. As we have already heard, the protection and vulnerability of flying foxes is questioned most when these animals gather in large numbers, often in response to significant flowering events, in what are known as 'camps'. All four species of flying fox on the east coast roost in these camps, so there are two other species that are not protected under the EPBC Act.

We made a written submission to the committee. The principal theme of that submission was to explain the statutory framework within which this issue plays out at the Commonwealth level, and to give an indication of the sort of activity that the department has been engaged in in recent years to serve this dual objective of assisting communities to deal with the challenge that they face and to ensure that we do conserve and recover the population of these two species.

We are very pleased to be here to assist the House of Representatives with this inquiry, just as we are as a department to assist the communities that are dealing with this issue. At the outset for us today—in the same vein as you, Chair—there is very much an important role, which is to listen, learn and hear the diverse perspectives, issues and concerns so that we are better informed as a department in fulfilling our statutory obligations on behalf of the minister.

Mr Shaw : I concur with a lot that has already been stated. The situation we find ourselves in with the relaxation of opportunity for councils—in particular in Queensland and increasingly in New South Wales—to be able to manage problems in their own communities has developed, I suppose, an expectation amongst the community to be able to find a resolution. What they are looking for is a quick fix. In their minds, the only quick fix that is acceptable is removal of those camps from their neighbourhood. This leads to a requirement for council to fund, support and engage whatever resources are necessary to disperse the camp.

It is very rare that dispersal actually works. It can work, and we have been involved in several dispersals have that have worked, but we have also been involved in several that have not. We are starting to understand the circumstances in which they are appropriate and they can work, and we understand the circumstances in which they do not.

Where they do not, and even where they do, often we are playing tennis with these guys. We are simply dispersing them for one community, splintering them, often placing them into other communities and causing exactly the same problem for another set of communities. I understand, Mayor Innes, that your community needs a resolution and I fully support the fact that something needs to be done to help your community—

Counciller Innes : My comment on just that very subject of dispersing and them impacting another—

CHAIR: We will just try and direct things through the committee, not to individuals.

Mr Shaw : Okay, sorry. In one community resolving their problem or apparently resolving their problem—and it may be just a temporary solution anyway—we may end up on a treadmill of getting back to having to disperse annually or regularly to keep that population at bay. If we look at the Sydney Botanic Garden example, five to six years after initial dispersal, they now have an ongoing program of someone being on site every morning to check and, if there are any new flying foxes coming in, to disperse. It is a never-ending treadmill that absorbs resources and does not always solve the problem. We need a national, coordinated strategy with nationally coordinated monitoring so that we understand exactly what is happening at each of the sites and each of the camps and we can assess, at that global level, specific plans for each particular site. The detail needs to be at the site level, but there needs to be coordination at a national level.

CHAIR: Lindsay, you have a final opening statement?

Mr Usher : I just want to make a quick comment. There has been a lot of discussion already around dispersal and whether it works or does not work. I think we need to be very mindful of what the objective is and what the measure of success is. We have done dispersal in Eurobodalla. We did not initially propose to do it, but our population of flying foxes went from a few thousand to 300,000 or 400,000. People could not even leave their homes; people could not open windows. We had mums in tears who could not let their children play in the backyard or leave their house. We were forced into a situation where we had to look at dispersal. I am often asked whether that was successful. I think that as to the longer term I cannot answer that question, but I can say it was very successful in the shorter term. We were able to move the flying foxes out of people's backyards, we were able to give those people some relief, we were able to give those people their lives back and we were able to go in and establish some buffers which will hopefully mitigate impacts in the future. Overall, it is too early to say whether the dispersal has been successful for us, but certainly in terms of our short-term objectives and the will of the community, I can say it was successful. I think we just need to be mindful of the actual measure we are looking at when we consider whether dispersal is successful or not.

CHAIR: Very good. There are four key topics I want to discuss in the roundtable. One of those is background, which we will go to in a second. The others are: regulation, management actions and possible solutions. I want to allow time for some of those things. On the issue of background, is there anything that we have missed in the opening statements on the ecological behaviour or distribution of flying foxes, as we gain a greater understanding of the particular flying foxes themselves? Is there anything that people feel should be brought up?

Mr Usher : I have a couple of quick points. I have to concur very strongly with some of the earlier comments by Peggy around not understanding their ecology and why they are living in urban areas. I think we need to gain a much better understanding of that—what the triggers are and what attracts them to certain locations. We are seeing an increasing trend for flying foxes to roost in urban areas; we need to understand why.

CHAIR: It is Netflix. They want access to Netflix! They want to get close to the city.

Mr Usher : Possibly.

CHAIR: Why do people want to live in all the cities when they can live in the country areas?

Mr Usher : Unfortunately, when they moved into Batemans Bay they took out the power and the internet. We lost our Netflix, and that was one of the problems.

CHAIR: There you go!

Mr Usher : I think the other issue is we need a greater coordination and understanding of where they are moving and why they are moving. We already know that apiarists follow the blossoms and blooms in order to generate bees. We need to work with that industry as well to understand what is happening with the ecology more broadly—where flying foxes are moving to and from—so we can be prepared and give our communities some warning that flying foxes may be moving for a particular reason. At the moment, we do not know until they are on our doorstep. From an ecological point of view, it would be good to have a better network of understanding of where the flying foxes are arriving and leaving from at different times of the year.

Mr EVANS: Can I ask a leading question following on from some of the comments that Dr Westcott made about the ecology. Dr Westcott mentioned some pretty staggering distances that individual bats, if not colonies, were travelling. It strikes me that that is very similar to some problems that humankind has on other continents where they are dealing with megafauna which are nomadic or migratory. I guess the difference is that megafauna generally need land corridors and so on to make that happen, whereas our bat species presumably do not. Are there any parallels or lessons that we can take from residents in North America or Africa who are dealing with that?

Dr Eby : I suggest that there is connectivity required; it is just that we would define it differently. Instead of it being continuous habitats—continuous forest in this case—it is primarily a continuity of nectar that grey-headed flying foxes need. The scale at which that connectivity happens is essentially the range of the animals. The capacity of the animals to locate resources across that scale is phenomenal. I think we would all agree with that. They have the most remarkable way of being able to find resources. So, in short, I think that there are parallels; it is just that we would define connectivity differently.

In fact, at the moment I am working with some people in the United States who deal with large-range connectivity, talking about how these two different ways of considering the issue relate to each other. It is an interesting concept, but it is true.

CHAIR: The deputy chair has a question, but I will just ask a question that supplements that. Do agricultural plantings of particular crops feed into that?

Dr Eby : In the same way that human plantings do in urban areas, yes. Would you like to speak, David?

Dr Westcott : Yes, I would. One of the things that you hear repeatedly in terms of agricultural plantings is that flying foxes are not very interested in them when there are good resources nearby. They become interested in them when local natural resources end. So, on the Atherton Tablelands, where I live, you talk to fruit growers: 'Are flying foxes going to be a problem?' And they say, 'As soon as the gums in the creek line stop flowering, they'll be into the crops.'

Dr Eby : I suppose the issue is that they have a range of preferences, and their top preference is nectar and pollen from eucalypts.

Mr CONROY: I have a question that is perhaps directed mainly to Dr Westcott around the flying fox numbers, particularly the grey-headed flying foxes. I have looked through the summary tables from the department that establish the listing and confirm the listing. There seems to be huge uncertainty about the numbers. Even in your submission, you quote 672,000 plus or minus 230,000. I do not have a particular agenda on this issue, but I am worried that either the species is much more endangered because there are 300,000 instead of 600,000 or it is quite healthy and it is 900,000. How reliable is the historical data on flying fox populations?

Dr Westcott : I think that essentially the historical data is not that reliable, and that is not because of any poor performance or anything. We have really only just, literally in the last five or so years, started to have the technology available that allows us to adequately study these animals—almost all aspects of the ecology of these animals—including the monitoring. There was monitoring conducted in 1989 and then again in the period 2003 through to 2005. Flying foxes in all of the camps that were known about were counted in those surveys. If you look in my submission, you will see figure 7. I have a plot there which shows the number of camps that were surveyed and the number of those camps that were found to be occupied during those surveys. You can see 1998 through to 2005 there on the left. Roughly half as many camps were counted in that period as have been counted in the last few years as part of the national program. That was because we did not know where all of those other camps were, so we could not count those animals, and we have no idea what proportion of their population was actually in uncounted camps in that period. So that is a major source of error for us, and it means that we cannot with any confidence compare back to those previous numbers.

As part of the national program, we have tried to assess those kinds of errors. We have used GPS telemetry to track animals. We have referred to data from other studies. And we are confident that we are counting the lion's share of the population now. It is still possible that there are some others out there that we need to count. So I think we have reduced that major error quite a bit. There are still lots of methodological and other errors that are associated with the work. This is why we should not focus on absolute numbers. Instead, what we need to be doing is focusing on long-term trends in the numbers.

Mr CONROY: On that matter: do you have funding to continue to measure this, or are we just going to come back, and it will be in 10 years time that we might do another population count?

Dr Westcott : At the moment, the national monitoring program is operating on a year-to-year basis, so functionally we have funding until the end of this financial year.

Mr CONROY: So we could be in the exact same situation?

Dr Westcott : As we will be without support from the Queensland, New South Wales and Commonwealth governments—the program will then functionally cease, yes.

Mr CONROY: I just have one final question that goes to your figure 6, which shows an incredibly dramatic change in where the camps are located in less than 10 years. In 2003-05, 50 per cent were rural, just under 30 per cent were periurban and under 20 per cent were urban, and those proportions seem to have changed. We have seen some growth in urban areas, but it is not as if there has been an explosion of new cities. We have had a couple of droughts but not dramatic changes in that cycle. What explanations are there for why?

Dr Westcott : Why that has happened?


Dr Westcott : I have not presented the results in this submission, but there is a similar pattern that has occurred for the spectacled flying fox since 2004. In the case of the spectacled flying fox, we tested hypotheses like: have camps been destroyed? Has camp habitat been engulfed by urban areas? None of those things added up. Our conclusion was that flying foxes have actually, in that period, shifted into urban areas. We do not know if that is a permanent shift, and we do see fluctuations in the number of camps and the proportion of the population in urban camps from year to year.

Mr CONROY: But we have no idea why?

Dr Westcott : We have lots of hypotheses and no really good explanation yet.

CHAIR: Mr Andrews would like to add something on this, and then, if we can, we will move on to regulation after that.

Mr Andrews : Mr Conroy, just to respond to your question about the numbers: the Australian government has put $1 million into this program, the National Hendra Virus Research Program, to monitor the grey-headed flying foxes. In total, I think $1.4 million of Australian government funding is going into that. I think it is important, though, just to be clear about the estimate of the number of flying foxes. We will never know. When I was appointed as the Threatened Species Commissioner I said, 'Well, how many bilbies are there?' and no-one could tell me. I asked, 'What is the most threatened species in Australia?' and nobody could tell me. Some of these questions are frustrating because as a mainstream Australian, for example, I wanted to know how many bilbies there are.

If we try to count these dispersive species we can get estimates, but what the scientists tell me is more reliable than the total number is the change. They can monitor whether there are more or fewer, and that is actually why these species are listed. It is on the basis of the change—I think about a 50 per cent reduction in the grey-headed flying fox over the last 10 years. The change is more useful.

The frustrating thing is for people in communities and for me as the commissioner when I was first appointed. It is much easier to explain and empathise if, for example, there are only 3,000 mountain pygmy possums, which means they are rarer than Africa's white rhinoceros. With species which have a high level of location fidelity, which do not move around, which hang out in the one spot, we can count them, but with the flying fox this will be an ongoing challenge. That is why communities will be frustrated too, because in their eyes there are many flying foxes in their local communities, and we cannot actually tell communities how many flying foxes there are nationally. It is like a social science challenge that we have as well.

CHAIR: I want to go to the mayor and then across to Stephen, and then we want to move on to regulation. Then I want to come back to the mayor or the council to get a feel for how the process of being able to disperse was. I am sure it was difficult. We are not going to move on yet; we are going to hear a comment here and a clarification, then we will move on.

Dr Westcott : A clarification, thank you.

Councillor Innes : Just on the population figures, when I throw my mind to and listen to the comments made, I keep going back to the fact that we are here because we have conflict between flying foxes and communities. Ultimately—I will say it again—I am here to represent the community's viewpoint on that. My observation is from the frustration that ended up coming out of our community over figures. The message that I am hearing is: 'Well, we can't put figures on. We can have estimates.' That is all well and good, but that was not my experience from my community. They were being told figures. They were being told, 'You have 80,000,' or, 'You have 120,000,' or, 'You have 20 per cent of the national population.' As soon as we go into that type of territory with the community, we have this conflict again with the messages that we are sending our community. When they are looking at that and going, 'There is no way we've got just 120,000 flying foxes in Batemans Bay,' the community are then feeling that they are being misled. They are feeling that people are being untruthful. They are feeling that no-one can really tell them. So that is adding to the frustration. It is adding to the conflict.

For me, about the population, it is: okay, we cannot get a handle on exact figures, obviously, but we really need to be very mindful about the messages that we put out to our community around that. We need to be very clear, because that is causing more and more conflict over this issue.

CHAIR: They are very good points.

Mr Oxley : Dr Westcott mentioned the year-to-year funding foundation for the National Flying-fox Monitoring Program. That is funded in equal thirds by the Commonwealth, the New South Wales and the Queensland governments. From my perspective, the Commonwealth contribution is paid out of the funds of my division in the Department of the Environment and Energy, and I am absolutely happy to indicate right now that it is important funding and that the department will continue to fund the activity.

CHAIR: Very good. David, do you want to make one last point?

Dr Westcott : I just want to clarify something Mr Andrews said. The funding under the National Hendra Virus Research Program is past funding. We are actually now operating on this—it sounds like it will be—somewhat longer term funding for the program.

The other thing is that we have published work which shows that, because of the noisiness of the data, the time required to be confident about estimates of flying fox populations is in the order of 10 to 13 years. Monitoring has to be a long-term program to know what our current baseline is. We cannot compare back.

Dr Eby : There is something that I would like to add to the discussion about numbers of counts and cities. Can I make a separate submission if we cannot discuss it today?


Dr Eby : Thank you.

CHAIR: I am just mindful that, if we do not move along through our agenda, we will find that we do not land somewhere. I am sure we all want to achieve something out of our morning's discussion.

Regulation is what politicians do best. We regulate things; we make rules and then, in the real world, people have to deal with them. The terms of reference require us to look at the issue of nationally protected flying foxes. We would like to hear about how species are listed and delisted, how management activities are regulated and the interaction between Commonwealth, state and territory regulatory frameworks.

Liz, because your council has had a problem, it has probably had to jump through a whole lot of hoops, I would imagine. I am interested to hear a little bit of the journey around what it was like to actually deal with it from a regulation point of view, if you or your council would like to present.

Councillor Innes : I will just start, but I think it is really worthwhile hearing from Mr Usher. I have heard comments that dispersal does not work, and it is by and large unsuccessful. I have a community down there at the moment that are absolutely breathing one huge sigh of relief that we have been able to provide them, even if it is temporary, an amount of respite from what they were having to endure.

Listening to the comments around the table, I would like to know just how many of the people sitting at this table have actually had to live closely with a flying fox colony, because I have, firsthand. I can tell you that, if you had to endure it for any length of time, you may well be starting to say, 'Okay, dispersal may not work all of the time.' But I would challenge the fact that it does not work, because, by and large, in my experience as a councillor who was advocating for dispersal, we were going up against a position of: 'Dispersal doesn't work. Therefore, don't try it;' 'It's so expensive. You'll just fragment it.' For years we were told all the reasons why we should not undertake dispersal, until it got to the point with our community where it was simply unbearable.

CHAIR: Because we are talking about regulation, were there regulation frameworks that you had to go through before you were allowed to disperse?

Councillor Innes : Absolutely.

CHAIR: Were they onerous? Were you supported in those?

Councillor Innes : They were massively onerous. It was only that we had the intervention of our federal minister working side-by-side with our state minister. They intervened to try to get us some respite. I will let Mr Usher talk more about that. There were the hurdles that we had to go through and the mindsets that we had to go through. I would say that dispersal does not work because there is a serious lack of will for it to work.

CHAIR: Would you like to touch on that, Mr Usher?

Mr Usher : In terms of the statutory process, we did need to get approval to disperse. We needed approval from both the Australian government and the New South Wales government. In comparison with some other people who have been through that process, we had quite good service and, relative to their experience, it was dealt with in a reasonably short period of time, but still not in a timely enough manner given the legislative framework we had to go through. As the mayor just mentioned, we had the assistance of both our federal and local members. We had $2½ million of grant money provided by the New South Wales government to assist us as well. In terms of the approval processes, Minister Hunt at the time was the Minister for the Environment and he made a national declaration which exempted us from some level of approval, but we still needed to go through that process with the New South Wales government. I must say that we had very good assistance from Ms Kim Farrant's area, from the federal government. We had very good assistance from her staff and also from New South Wales government staff, in terms of helping us move through the process. It was still a rather arduous process when you are in a situation where you have such a large number of flying foxes impacting on your community. That went from a situation where we had very few flying foxes and, although some elements of our community were not happy, the population went from virtually none to estimates of 300,000 plus over a matter of a couple of weeks. Regarding the ability to react to the situation, when having to comply with the legislation, you just cannot do it. There are means and ways in which the state and federal governments could work together to streamline that process. For example, if we are going through an assessment and approval process under New South Wales government legislation, that approval and assessment would be accepted by the federal government rather than duplicating effort and process. The heads of consideration are very similar and the types of issues we are considering are very similar, so some efficiencies could be achieved there.

Also, the Queensland government, as I understand it, have looked at a process where they have mapped areas which are potentially affected by flying fox camps and have put in place guidelines where you can do certain activities without approval, provided you comply to those guidelines. I think we need to look at a similar situation for New South Wales and coordinate that across both states. In these emergencies—I class the situation we experienced as an emergency situation—you can react far more quickly rather than having your community severely impacted for a matter of months, which was the situation in Eurobodalla. I think there are some efficiencies that could be put in place which would not adversely impact on the species, but it would address the community's concerns.

Mr CONROY: Thank you, Mr Usher. I think your council was quite privileged in terms of that funding and those exemptions compared to other communities in New South Wales who had similar levels of challenges, such as the Hunter Valley and Lake Macquarie, but that is a gratuitous comment rather than a question. There was a lot of angst in communities close to home, in my area. I am not saying you did not deserve it, but other communities did not get that treatment. I want to go to three questions around regulation that are more targeted to the department. First, the grey-headed flying fox species is listed as vulnerable. In terms of hierarchy of the legislation, where does that fit? What are the grades of listing?

Mr Richardson : The plants and animals that are assessed for listing can be categorised as either extinct or extinct in the wild—put those aside. Critically endangered is the highest level of endangerment, followed by endangered and followed by vulnerable. Below that is not listed, so it is the lowest level of threat category.

Mr CONROY: Was there a particular trigger point for listing the grey-headed flying fox as vulnerable? Was it a population drop? Was it cumulative factors?

Mr Richardson : The criteria against which the committee assesses the status of listing species are taken from the IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They use them to fill their red list, which is a non-statutory list. The one that the grey-headed flying fox met—it was some time ago—meant it was eligible under criteria one, which is around declining numbers, documented or potentially inferred. But I think in this case it was a documented decline in numbers.

Mr CONROY: What was that documented decline?

Mr Richardson : The actual numbers?


Mr Richardson : It is about trends, as we talked about earlier. There is a threshold for vulnerable. If it is a bigger decline it is endangered, If it is a bigger decline again it would be critically endangered. I would have to dig that out, but I can get you that during this—

Mr CONROY: Could you take that on notice?

Dr Lentini : There were 566,000 in 1989 and down to 400,000 in 2001, when I believe the listing took place. Actually a question that comes up quite often in communities is: why are these things listed if they are so abundant? It is because we have the precautionary principle in the EPBC Act, because there were many examples overseas where you had super-abundant species and people had this perception that they could never go extinct but they have. There was the case for the passenger pigeon—it went extinct. In the case of the plains bison it came very close to extinction. I think we really need to bear that in mind. Because of the ecology of the flying fox and because it has such a low reproductive rate there is a very real risk that if we delist it it will end up back on the EPBC list again.

Mr CONROY: I appreciate that, but the testimony to us just then was that the trigger was a decline from 500,000—

Dr Lentini : It has to be a reduction of 30 per cent or greater to warrant listing.

Mr CONROY: And we have the latest data—which has huge caveats on, and I appreciate that—that the population is back up to 670,000.

Dr Westcott : It is not that the population is back up to those numbers; it is that the population is at those numbers because we cannot actually compare the current numbers to those previous numbers, because we have no idea what proportion of the population was being counted back in the early numbers.

Mr CONROY: So the 30 per cent decline that triggered the listing was in measured camps?

Dr Westcott : In a subset of the known camps. Sorry—in the known camps at the time, which we now think are a subset of the total number of camps that were there.

Dr Lentini : I believe the 566,000 was only taken from a subset of camps, though, so it was an under estimate of the total population.

Dr Eby : I actually am familiar with the data. The 560,000 came from a total of 23 camps. At the time we knew that there were other camps that were occupied that were not visited and were not counted. The next estimate was made from a total of something like 122 camps and it still measured that 30 per cent decline.

Mr CONROY: There seems to be enormous issues with measurement here. What are the prospects of delisting? Is there a trigger point for numbers in terms of having to reach a certain point before a recommendation can be made to the minister that it should be delisted?

Dr Lentini : I believe the Threatened Species Scientific Committee will not make a recommendation to delist unless they think there is adequate evidence to prove that the threats have been mitigated to the point that they will not be re-listed.

I am more familiar with the grey-headed flying fox because of ongoing habitat clearing and because of some of the human-wildlife conflict issues they are experiencing. There is not enough evidence to show that if we delist—even if the population is stable at the moment because the listing is providing them with some level of protection—that they will not just end up back—


CHAIR: Member for Hughes—Craig.

Mr CRAIG KELLY: I am looking at it from the perspective of what I have experienced in my electorate in the Sutherland shire. We had a very large population at Bates Drive next to a special needs school—a lot of kids with disabilities—

Dr Lentini : I am familiar with it.

Mr CRAIG KELLY: and the council had enormous problems for years in trying to come up with a dispersal plan. It was at enormous cost to the ratepayers. I think the local residents would have been unable to sell their houses. If a resident had their house for sale it would be a case of someone walking in, looking at the bats and then closing the door and speeding away. Why can't we just do some type of delisting that would allow a council—whether it is in one of our major cities where these colonies have established themselves—free rein to do dispersal measures? What is the adverse risk with that happening?

Dr Lentini : At the moment, we are doing some research into the effectiveness of different approaches to management. I was going to comment on this later because it is on the agenda, but I am not sure that I should address it now.

Mr CONROY: I just want to go back to regulation for a second.

Mr CRAIG KELLY: But that is the question. Could we just remove this regulation and allow the councils to do what they think is best for their communities?

Dr Lentini : We have been doing, as I said, a review of the effectiveness of different management approaches, and as part of that we have been interviewing local council operational staff and management staff, particularly in Queensland, where they have introduced this as of right. It makes it a lot easier for councils to disperse. These are only preliminary results—we still have a couple more months to go on the research—but what we are hearing is that it is having a physical and emotional toll on the council staff because suddenly they are under massive pressure to disperse. For the most part—and I wouldn't say that Eurobodalla is a classic case of a dispersal—because of the pressure from a couple of vocal residents or residents who are particularly politically influential, the council is basically wasting money on dispersals, which are ultimately ineffective. It is also creating tensions with other councils when the bats move into the neighbouring area. So, just shuttling the bats around from one area to the next is going to waste resources and is probably going to increase regulation in the long term when the bats become threatened again. It is also going to exacerbate conflict between local councils and between the communities themselves.

Mr CONROY: Can I draw the conversation back away from management to regulation for a couple more minutes. Assuming there is continuous funding for accurate measurement and we have an accurate baseline, which we have lacked in the past, of grey-headed flying fox numbers, to use that as an example, is there a particular population—so, not stabilisation, because I accept Dr Lentini's view that stabilisation in one year does not guarantee anything—that has rebounded? Does a 30 per cent increase on the numbers mean that there is a trigger point for delisting? Is there a number that, if the measurement is accurate, would give the scientific advisers and the department confidence to recommend delisting?

Mr Richardson : The process for delisting a species that is on the list of threatened species is that it needs to be nominated and put on an assessment list. That then puts it on the work plan for the Threatened Species Scientific Committee to do a reassessment. That reassessment will require evidence, as you say—some of the monitoring information, given the criteria that it was listed on originally—to no longer meet the IUCN criteria. The IUCN criteria, as was confirmed earlier, 'to meet vulnerable' needs a 30 per cent reduction over three generation times et cetera. If the population stabilises and starts to increase such that it no longer meets those criteria of a reduction over the last three generation times of the species in question then that would lead the committee to potentially recommend it for delisting under the EPBC Act.

Mr CONROY: Given the population at the moment is stabilised, potentially, with some uncertainty, is it on the assessment list?

Mr Richardson : The grey-headed flying fox is not currently under assessment.

Mr CONROY: You said 'generations'. These bats have one litter a year. Is it three years of stabilised numbers?

Mr Richardson : I will answer that in a slightly different way, and Dr Westcott may have a different answer. The previous minister, Minister Hunt, wrote to the committee and asked if there were sufficient information in order to do another reassessment of this species—notwithstanding that it may be uplisted or downlisted or whatever, but was there sufficient information available at that point in time? The response from the committee chair to then Minister Hunt was that there was not sufficient information, that the monitoring program, with the uncertainties that Dr Westcott talked about earlier around the mobile nature of this species, would probably require about another seven years in order to actually generate information that would be evidence robust enough to support the committee in providing that scientific advice to the minister.

Mr CONROY: So we need funding for seven years to get that advice. That is very useful.

Dr Westcott : An additional seven years.

Mr CONROY: Yes, I appreciate that.

Mr Richardson : From this year.

Ms STANLEY: I just wanted to add a point on the regulation aspect. Regardless of the conservation status of the greys and spectacled, I think the very last thing that any of the other state governments would want is the deregulation of management like we have had in Queensland. We have seen the effects of that since 2013, and I would say that 90 per cent of local government are rallying state government to take that responsibility away from them. It is purely just increasing community expectation. I would also say that in about 95 per cent of the dispersals that have been attempted, local government have given up and flying foxes are back in those same locations.

Dispersal itself is very easy. We can always make flying foxes move. The difficult part is keeping them from coming back. And in that process of spending usually hundreds of thousands of dollars on a dispersal, not only will they keep coming back but you have also created splinter camps. So you have made the problem worse and you are affecting more community members. I think absolutely we should not be looking at a similar framework to what Queensland has at the moment.

Mr CONROY: I have a separate question about the consequences of delisting, about additional flexibility from the federal point of view. The state point is well made. What are the consequences? I look at the flowchart on decision-making process for a proponent, which basically means that unless it is a nationally important flying fox camp, local governments can do what they want within reason. If it is delisted is the only difference that you do not have to trigger the nationally important bit? What are the consequences for local governments to manage delisting the species?

Mr Oxley : It is not that if they are not nationally significant camps then local government can do what they want. The framework actually has good management guidance available. Let's use New South Wales as an example: the referral guidelines to which you just referred were developed in consultation with the Queensland and New South Wales governments. Essentially, they were founded on the management arrangements already in place in those jurisdictions.

The national focus is, logically, on the nationally significant camps. But where we are talking about camps that are not nationally significant then so long as a local government authority is operating consistently with the management arrangements that exist in New South Wales or in Queensland then there is a high level of confidence that the local government authority does not need to refer to or seek approval from the federal government.

Mr CONROY: Is the most significant change of delisting that they can look at nationally important flying fox camps? If I am a council, what are the consequences of delisting?

Mr Oxley : If the species were delisted then the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act would no longer apply. So they would no longer face federal regulation in relation to interaction with those species.

CHAIR: I want to move on, if we can—I think we have given this a pretty good run. However, I am just interested, Phil, in that you are the guy who the council calls in—right? If I read this rightly.

Mr Shaw : Yes.

CHAIR: Do you provide advice on what the legal framework is that has to be ticked off first? Just talk us through that so that we have an understanding of it. You are the Ghostbusters—who are we gonna call? We are going to call you, Phil. So what happens now?

Mr Shaw : From that perspective I would refer to Jess. She has run through so many more.

Mrs Bracks : Yes, we absolutely advise on the legislative requirements that councils have. As of right, in Queensland councils can disperse or destroy a flying fox roost in urban areas without having to do anything. Even if it is a nationally important roost, which it is for grey-headeds and spectacleds where they are a certain size—less than half, I think about a quarter, of the national roosts are classified as nationally important—you can often follow mitigation measures to avoid having to refer to the federal department. I think it would be absolutely irresponsible of us if we deregulated that any further, particularly in that we really need to know more about what these species are doing. I can only imagine how the world would view us if we allowed spectacled flying foxes to become extinct, and grey-headeds are potentially on their way as well if we look at delisting so that we can manage them more easily. When it is already fairly easy to manage any roost, I think it would be criminal.

CHAIR: In the interests of time, we might move on to topic No. 3, which is management actions. Submissions and correspondence to the committee have canvassed a range of impacts of flying fox camps on communities in the eastern states in particular. The committee would be interested to hear about some of these impacts and how they can be mitigated. We would also be interested in your views on the effectiveness of management strategies and dispersal activities. We have established that there is a problem for some communities. We have established that we want to ensure that we have good numbers of these native animals; we do not want to move towards extinction of course. We have established that there is some regulation that needs to be gone through, and that can be very onerous at times and, in other states, it can be less than onerous at times. What works? We have been using the same strategy as in 1890. Come on. We have learned something, people, haven't we?

Dr Eby : It is a complex question, isn't it? I think one of the problems that we face is that for these many hundreds of years we have never looked at this in a rigorous, systematic way. In some regards there is almost a broadscale experiment happening now, but no-one is monitoring the outcomes, no-one is collecting the data, no-one is interpreting the outcomes so that we can look at what works under what circumstances. As someone pointed out earlier, we do need to define what we mean by success—success at what spatial scale and at what time scale? These are really important issues, and we have, for whatever reason, just continued to deal with these matters in an almost ad hoc way.

Dr Lentini : As I mentioned earlier, in just a couple of days we are going to be sending out surveys to hundreds of local councils to ask them: What have you done? How much did it cost? How long did it take? What were the social responses? What were the responses of the flying foxes? How far did they move? Do you believe that that was effective? I think a lot of it comes back through your objective of what you define as effective. Perhaps in the case of Batemans Bay the flying foxes are gone now and it is a huge relief to the community but there is always the risk that they will return, and then whether or not you define that as effective is another thing.

There are a range of options available other than dispersal. There have been some quite innovative approaches. For example, on the Sunshine Coast they put up sprinkler systems that the residents themselves can control, and that gives them a sense of control and the sense that they are being heard. That is very, very important and that has kept the flying foxes at a distance. You can trim vegetation to create buffers to keep them away from the residential areas. I think it is really important to remember that each situation has its own context and each community will have a different set of concerns. For some people it is going to be disease risk, and that can often be addressed by education and outreach. For some it is going to be smell and noise. For others it is going to be concern about impacts on residential prices, businesses and things like that. So there is no single broad-brush approach that is going to be the best. You really have to take into account the local context. What we have been seeing through some of the preliminary research that we have been doing is that the people in South-East Queensland who have been experiencing these issues for the longest—it is a bit newer in New South Wales—have tried dispersal and they are really realising that it is not effective in the long term. It is a waste of their resources, so they are looking to these other approaches, such as education, sprinkler systems, buffers, double glazing, air conditioning and things like that. They are bit more innovative.

CHAIR: But hold on a minute here. If you are in a situation where you have a terrible infestation of these animals that is affecting your property prices and your standard of living—I think the doctor next to you pointed out that since 2012 it has really started to become a more urban problem—

Dr Lentini : Yes.

CHAIR: The population of Australia are not going to say to their political leaders, 'Just put up with it.' They are going to say, 'Use our best science to find a way so that we can maintain our species and move them on.'

Dr Lentini : And the best science indicates that dispersal is not the way. Eurobodalla is quite unique in the resources it had available to it. For the most part, local councils do not have anywhere near the amount of resources to carry out such an extensive dispersal. It was the same for the two dispersals that are held up as the most successful, the Botanic Gardens in Melbourne and the Botanic Garden in Sydney, which both cost millions. Under the 'as of right' approach, if we are asking local councils to do the same, they simply cannot.

Ms STANLEY: If you want to have a scientific management plan, you need to determine what you want to get out of it, so you need to know what you are looking at, researching and so forth. If the committee had the opportunity to recommend that, do you have data to be able to start that process where you could, in a period of time, come up with a management plan that would work for different communities? For Eurobodalla it was dispersal because of the issues pertaining to population and where they were, but in other places, like Mr Entsch's electorate, where they have lots of other opportunities, it might not be that; it might be giving them corridors that would suggest they go there rather than into the city. Is this a whole new piece of work for the scientific community, or is there work done either now or previously that you could leverage off?

Dr Lentini : We are just about to start a three-year project—we have got some funding through the Australian Research Council; it is a project that David is involved in as well—to address just that question. One of the key challenges has been that, because of the lack of coordination, councils have not really been able to learn from each other. They are kind of making it up as they go along. A lot of them do not have the experience and the skills necessary to address a lot of these questions. As Peggy said, this is an experiment that has been going on for decades or centuries. We want to try and gather all that information together, and we are developing a framework to help councils work through what we call the structured decision-making process: basically, how you bring together all those critical bits of information that relate not only to the ecology—because this is not an ecological problem; this is a social problem, fundamentally. It is how you bring together those different threads of information, look at the options and trade them off. Deciding to disperse, for example, might have an acceptable social outcome for some members of the community and not others. It probably will not have a good outcome from a conservation perspective. So we need to trade those off. So we recognise that this is a problem. We are in the process of doing research on it. We just need a little bit more time.

Mr ENTSCH: David, you would be familiar with this: we had a big problem at Yungaburra up on the Atherton Tablelands a few years ago, and that camp was dispersed. It has not come back. They successfully relocated them, didn't they?

Dr Westcott : They did. They functionally destroyed the camp.

Mr ENTSCH: That is right, but they have not moved into another urban situation. They went back into the national parks and into the wilderness.

Dr Westcott : No, what we saw was a bounce in the numbers at Tolga, which, as you may be aware, has been a problem since 1907, I think.

Mr ENTSCH: Yes, but they are killing the rainforest there.

Dr Westcott : It is interesting. In 1932 in the local newspaper, they said, 'The flying foxes at Tolga Scrub are killing the rainforest.' They have been saying it for a long time, and the rainforest is still there. Warren Entsch mentioned the experience in Cairns, and I have been working for a couple of years now with Cairns Regional Council on that problem. I have also worked with a number of different councils, from Victoria to all the way up the east coast. One of the things I consistently come across is that councils are not aware that there are more options available to them. They have really only ever thought about dispersal. As I said earlier on, in some cases dispersal is the appropriate choice, but there are lots of options between dispersal and the other extreme of doing nothing. There needs to be a structured approach.

Ms STANLEY: Could you outline some of those options?

Mrs Bracks : I would like to address your question when you are finished, David.

CHAIR: I am interested in exactly the same question. Could you outline them?

Dr Westcott : Dispersal is the appropriate choice in some circumstances, but councils need to work through all of the costs and benefits of the different options that are available to them. A structured framework for doing that—

CHAIR: Just on that, the council are just normal people who get elected to local council.

Dr Westcott : Absolutely.

CHAIR: Local council is the toughest form of government. They get every pothole and they have no money to fix them. In this case, for a local councillor, where do they go to get that information?

Dr Westcott : That is the problem. We have not got the support or the networks to make that happen.

CHAIR: Could you briefly run through what some of those other options are?

Mrs Bracks : I would like to comment on that when you are done, David.

Dr Westcott : Can I just comment on the framework? Then you can talk specifically, Jess. Jess will be much better at talking about the actual on-ground options. Some of the things councils need to work through are questions around whether they need to disperse to achieve particular outcomes. Often, they do not actually have an end goal in mind and they have not actually decided what would be an acceptable, if not perfect, end goal. The difference between acceptable and perfect can be a lot of money. At the end of the day, for most councils that is the big issue. Essentially, we need to develop a framework that allows them to assess options, to work through them and to choose what is best for them.

CHAIR: I am not hearing any options, though. Can I throw it to Jessica if she wants to give us the options? I think this is what councils want to hear.

Mrs Bracks : Eurobodalla is an example, I would say, where they absolutely needed to get them out of people's backyards. I went down there and saw it firsthand. There were flying foxes absolutely everywhere through the town and I know that they had to act on that. I would argue that rather than spending significant resources on dispersal—we think it was potentially a one-in-seven-years flowering event that attracted so many. There had never been that many down there before. When that flowering finished the flying foxes would leave on their own. So I would argue that for immediate resolution, potentially, they could have gone in at night and done the buffers, which would have been a long-term solution which was needed to prevent the return of flying foxes to people's backyards. It could have been done at night without dispersal.

CHAIR: What is 'doing the buffers'?

Mrs Bracks : You can put canopy sprinklers in the trees to prevent flying foxes roosting in people's backyards or you can trim vegetation. There is a range of other deterrents we are really keen to trial. That would have created that buffer for the long term. I would say that probably in a few weeks the flying foxes would have left on their own anyway, and that funding that was used on dispersal could have been used to create alternative habitats so that when they come back to town, perhaps in another seven years time, there is a place for them to go.

Mr EVANS: Can I ask what might be a really fundamental question: when you are talking about water sprinklers and things like that, is that not dispersal? What do you mean when you talk about dispersal if it is not about spraying them with water and making them move? What does dispersal mean in practice?

Mrs Bracks : You could use sprinklers as a form of dispersal. The way we define it is passive dispersal, or deterring the flying foxes, versus actively dispersing them. Active dispersal is what happened in Eurobodalla. You go out pre-dawn, before the flying foxes return from foraging, and you make noise, create smoke and lights and prevent them from landing, basically. There are deterrents you can put up during the day or at night and you can only activate in the mornings to deter the flying foxes from landing in those trees, but you are not actively harassing them in dispersing them; you are just making that tree less attractive for them to land in.

Mr CONROY: If the end result is that the flying fox does not land in that tree, why is it better to do passive?

Mrs Bracks : I guess that passive is something that flying foxes would have to deal with in nature. A tree might fall down and that roost may not be available to them anymore when they come back from foraging.

Mr CONROY: So it is less stressful for them?

Mrs Bracks : Much less stressful, yes.

Mr Shaw : The outcome from a dispersal is often designed to get rid of the entire camp from that location, whereas a passive or buffering system is designed to provide the community with a gap between their residential area and where the nearest flying foxes are camped.

Mr CONROY: What other actions are there? You have listed that you have tried a couple of others; what are the more significant alternatives to active dispersal?

Mrs Bracks : There have been a lot of trials done and we need to continue researching that because at the moment we do have a fairly limited tool belt in that sense of vegetation management—netting trees to actually exclude them from being able to land, sprinklers to deter them and, potentially, noise. We have trialled shrimp paste and chilli paste—they keep them away from particular branches—but we really need large-scale trials. If you are looking at a 50 metre buffer—

CHAIR: There is no eradication at any stage?

Mrs Bracks : No.

CHAIR: I was just wondering.

Dr Lentini : What do you mean by 'eradication'?

CHAIR: Killing.

Mr ENTSCH: Shooting.

Dr Lentini : Oh—

Mr EVANS: He is a farmer! He uses—

Dr Westcott : Animals are not killed intentionally, but they do get killed.

Mr EVANS: He would prefer an Adler for that!

CHAIR: I am not saying I have an Adler for it. I cannot shoot anyway; I am hopeless!

Mr CONROY: I am not saying that I advocate for that. Again, I have a question for Ecosure. A bit of the discussion here, especially from Dr Lentini, was about the expense of active dispersal being a key hindrance. Obviously, your submission went through a range of dispersal activities and made the case about how very many of them were unsuccessful. Is it mostly a matter of resourcing? If we threw millions of dollars at all the affected councils—and I am not saying that we should do this—would that give a high degree of confidence that dispersal would work? Or is it much more complex?

Dr Lentini : It would just be an ongoing problem, though, because they would move to the next council and then you would spend a million dollars there, and then they would move to the next council and you would spend a million dollars there.

CHAIR: But isn't the ambition to move them back out into the rural areas?

Dr Lentini : We do not know how to do that, though.

Mrs Bracks : Yes.

Dr Lentini : There is no evidence whatsoever that you can move them.

Mr Shaw : There are two questions there, but just addressing the mitigation options: some councils have chosen, for instance, to do a very integrated plan where you may create vegetation buffers—clearing particular areas up to, say, 50 metres away from the back fence of a residential subdivision. Some councils have also included car covers, pool covers and double glazing—

Mrs Bracks : Pressure washers!

Mr Shaw : and air conditioning—a really integrated approach, I suppose, to considering the community's concerns but retaining that flying fox camp there. That does not work in all circumstances and it does not satisfy the community to the extent that they would like. Many of them just want the bats gone. But the reality is just as it has been stated: if we go back to the dispersal option as the last resort, or as the first resort, we are just going to follow them around different communities. They are not going to go back to the natural ecosystem without us thinking and planning ahead. I think this is the research that needs to be done and the long-term planning that needs to be done. We need to create habitats that we predict will be as close to perfect for them to go to. We need land-use planning schemes that consider where existing camps are, and that needs to be taken into consideration when development occurs so that we do not create more conflict and we do not allow urban encroachment into areas where flying foxes already are.

We know that they have a very high site fidelity; that means they love to come back to those sites. So they may abandon a camp for five or 10 years and then come back to it. We need the community and the planners to understand that, as they might think there used to be flying foxes there but they are not there anymore, let's build right up to the edge of that—and then the flying foxes come in and you have a community conflict.

CHAIR: I am going to throw to Lindsay—it sounds like they are coming back in 10 years time!

Mr Usher : This is not an easy situation—if it was, we would not be here. We went through a management process early on in the piece and we looked at all the options. Then the council adopted a management plan which put in an integrated response which was to establish buffers. This plan was done in consultation with the community and those landholders who were most severely affected. We put in buffers, we introduced free car covers and Gernis and removed all the cocos palms and other food source trees in certain areas. That plan in some people's mind was successful; for others it was not successful. Some members of our communities just did not want to see a flying fox at all. Others were quite happy with mitigating the impacts and separating the impacts from their house.

The situation we had in April of this year was unprecedented. We did not predict it and could not have predicted it. Some say we should have, but we did not. It was a game changer for us, and that was when we were forced—it was the only option we had—to look at dispersal. I think we have looked at quite an integrated response to it. I agree with some of the comments here that it is partially or potentially shifting the problem around, and we need a much better understanding of how flying foxes move, how they react and where they are going to go to. We do not have that at this point in time. I do not think we can just say that that the dispersal should not be attempted; in some situations it is the only option that we have. I agree we need an integrated response, and we did do that, but it is also a social problem and you will have people in your community—it does not matter what you do—who will not be happy unless the flying foxes are moved out of the community.

Ms Lenson : The management actions for local government in Eurobodalla were pretty unique. I would like to speak more broadly for local government. The management actions are primarily reactionary. They become apparent when you have flying foxes there and when it hits your community. The level of actions you would potentially undertake or need to take are dependent on the impact on the community, considering the negativity of those impacts. What we do need to see is a strategic approach from the state and consistency across states, and that needs to be fostered through the federal government. Currently we do not have consistency, so there are equity issues. Irrespective of whether the species is listed or not, we still are left with the problem of the flying foxes in people's backyards. It does not diminish Animal Welfare Rights, but I think the impacts on people need to be considered.

Of course, with the listing of flying foxes, we are still at the coalface of the issue. I have officers in the field, and the people say, 'Are you for or against flying foxes?' and we say we are actually for the community and we are for flying foxes. Its pits community against community because now if flying foxes are seen to move to Bega or to another shire—particularly in Sydney it is easy to move across a border—there will be a lot of blaming of the actions of one. So we really do need a coordinated approach. We need to have further research. We would like to be able to have them in forest areas where they are not impacting on human communities, but we do not have the answer for that. We have certainly researched what is happening across the country, and we endeavour to implement a number of strategies. Our situation was quite unique, but certainly we would advocate for that strategic approach and consistency across jurisdictions. It cannot be left just to local government, and the messaging that comes out needs to be clear and concise from state and from federal.

CHAIR: A lot of the control seems rather agricultural. Has there been much done with sonar or science-type ways of moving animals on?

Dr Eby : There have been trials of those sorts of things.

CHAIR: Have they been found effective or not effective?

Dr Eby : Failed. As you said, we are coming to a point where we understand that we do not have right now the tools to provide to communities that will work in a multiplicity of situations. The situation at Batemans Bay is absolutely extreme. The animals will come back to that area, perhaps in 2020 when the spotted gum flowers again.

Dr Westcott : Or perhaps this Christmas.

Dr Eby : Or perhaps this Christmas, but—

CHAIR: Can I just interrupt you. Is this something that is in proactive planning—a planning permit about what food source trees can be planted in a town? Is that an option? I will let you continue your answer because I have cut you off.

Dr Eby : To put it into context, for the grey-headed flying foxes, most winter food habitat has been severely cleared. Most of it occurs on land that we value for development and for agriculture. There are a couple of exceptions, one of them being spotted gum. Spotted gum grows on hilly slopes that we do not value. Most of the spotted gum that is available to the grey-headed flying foxes is in the state forest estate. Some of that land has now been converted to national parks. It only flowers once every four years or so, but the last time you had problems was 2012. But once every four years, when it flowers, because of their preference for nectar, animals move out of the city in Sydney, out of urban areas in Newcastle, out of the Illawarra and from further afield and they migrate to the spotted gum because it is like a beacon for them—it is something that they really prefer.

When the future planning is being considered and resolved, I think it is important to recognise that this will happen again. It will happen again probably in about four years, in about 2020, and there will be large numbers of animals that come back to that resource. In the past, there has been a camp associated with the spotted gum and it is still operational as I understand it—the Cockwhy Creek camp. Now there are two camps associated with that resource and this brings us back to my final point in my opening remarks: we need to address the ecological root cause of this ongoing increase in camps and the fact that they are mostly increasing in urban areas.

In my submission, I gave you a graph that shows the exponential increase in the number of camps in Sydney. It was steady state for decades. In the last little while, it has gone up like this. When you look at that graph, you can see it has not gone up randomly; it has gone up stepwise and each of those steps is a food shortage that has occurred in winter. At each of those food shortages, an increasing number of camps have been formed. We are in the middle of a food shortage now. There is a new camp that has formed in the town of Dubbo, in the middle of town. There is a new camp that has formed in Sutherland, not far from Kareela. This is going to keep going. I cannot emphasise enough that part of the research program really should be to try and test the hypotheses around the ecological root cause and look to find a way of intervening.

CHAIR: That actually leads into a next topic very well, which is possible solutions. I guess if we were to summarise what you are saying there, we take away their home so they come to ours, effectively.

Dr Eby : If we take away their food in the bush, they come to the food that we provide in the city—and I am only talking about greys.

Mr ENTSCH: You say you are pretty sure they are coming back in 2020. When was the last time you successfully dealt with this problem in your town? Has this been a recurring problem or is this a first?

Councillor Innes : Yes, it has been a recurring problem that has been growing year by year. Some people say we have had them for 10 years, but I was born in Batemans Bay and I challenge that figure a little bit.

We have the situation where in the centre of Batemans Bay we effectively created the habitat for them. We put in water gardens, we allowed the casuarinas to proliferate and we created this wonderful habitat for them. So, when you say they are coming back, they are coming back because parts of the constraints around us have been that we were not allowed to manipulate their habitat. Yes, they are going to come back—not because there are not better places for them but because we have effectively tied our hands behind our backs and left that habitat sitting there waiting for them to come back to.

Mr ENTSCH: That you created for them.

Councillor Innes : And that is part of our problem. I absolutely believe, and I have had many casuarinas on my rural property, that they respond very well to manipulation. I think that with this issue of the urban impact we have to look at habitat manipulation. We have to be prepared to look at that as part of the solution, because I can tell you that if we were able to go in and effectively deal with the habitat in that area without our hands tied behind our backs then, when they come back next time, they would not be there because the trees they are roosting in would not be there either.

If you look at the conversations about the solutions and those things, we went through all of those solutions. We provided car covers, we gave people gurneys and basically that was like slapping them in the face and saying, 'Well, you've just got to put up with it. These are the pathetic little things that we can offer you.' But once we started to get fair dinkum and once we started to look at creating buffer zones which were really effective in getting them out of people's backyards then we really needed to be serious about looking at the parklands and the urban areas where they were coming in. I think that doing some serious habitat manipulation is going to be the only answer.

It is interesting to note that when we did our dispersal—and Lindsay might have a figure—we lost one flying fox, and that was not due to the dispersal efforts. So part of the constraints that were put around our dispersal was that we had to be very mindful of the impact that we were having on the flying foxes. It would be good for Lindsay to give you some insights into how that process went and how we had to absolutely minimise the impacts that we were having on that species.

When people say, 'Oh, it doesn't work, it's too cost prohibitive,' the cost cannot be a determining factor as to whether we take action. It costs so much more not to take action. I would say that with the impacts it was having on our community, even if we effectively ended up spending $3 million on a dispersal it was going to end up costing us a great deal more not to take some action. So we have to take action. But I think it is going to get back to the solutions being a whole range of tools that are in the toolbox.

In the first instance, we have to go into the community and say, 'We are going to help you. We are going to try to find a solution.' Whether that ends up being a full-blown dispersal or whether it is trying to keep them in areas where they have less of an impact and providing buffers and things like that—absolutely. But we also have to stop this mindset of, 'Oh well, if you disperse them from here they are going to become somebody else's problem and then they are going to have a whinge and they are going to be upset. So we can't disperse them.' Why should one part of a community have to live under siege like that? I say: yes, disperse them. Let everybody share the burden of having these things living in their backyards or in their towns. It might actually make people take a serious approach in trying to find some solutions. I seriously believe that the solutions are going to have to look at the native vegetation that we have in our urban areas.

Mrs Bracks : I do not always disagree with dispersal. There are definitely situations where—

CHAIR: I thought that is what you did?

Mrs Bracks : We do dispersals. For the majority that we have done we have recommended against that as the option, but we would still prefer to be involved in most cases. We have declined quite a few invitations to disperse, because we are opposed to them so strongly. But in most situations we would prefer to be involved, to make sure it is done the best way that it can be on the ground, looking after the welfare of the flying foxes and also trying to influence alternative options. Ninety per cent of the time there are alternative options that cost less and have the same general outcome.

In saying that, I think it is more about having a strategic approach. Dispersal may be part of that. But there is no point in us dispersing without having strategy around that, without having available rest habitat in low conflict areas for the flying foxes to move to. Otherwise, they are just going to splinter all through our towns because they do not have an alternative. We also need to address the fact that they are very reliant on urban areas for food sources because we have cleared so much of their native foraging habitat. We need to replace that; again, in low conflict areas. That will reduce the reliance on our urban areas. It will reduce the number of camps that are popping up close to urban areas to take advantage of that year-round food supply. It will reduce the huge influxes in one area. Basically, a quarter or a third of the species was reliant on the spotted gum in the Eurobodalla Shire because there were not enough alternatives.

CHAIR: We all know that there is no one answer and that we have to find some answers. If there were one major change or improvement that could be made, what are your individual suggestions? Everyone always asks politicians to fix everything. I am sure Pat knows most of the answers! But we do not know all the answers so we are going to chuck it back onto you a little bit.

Mr Andrews : I have three suggestions, and they will not take long. The first is to address one of the root causes, to help the flying foxes and to help us in our response to them to cope with climate change in the future, that will make their habitat even more variable. More fires and rainfall that is more varied will affect these flowering events et cetera. The first is to invest in habitat restoration, reconnection and protection back out where they belong. The Australian government through the National Landcare Program—since I was appointed in 2014, has invested, I believe, about $498,000 with farmers and other private landholders to do that sort of work. Green Army teams are also doing that. We will need to do more of that habitat restoration where they belong, where they play the important roles that the scientists talk about and where they are not a nuisance.

I have lived in a town with the red flying foxes up in Jabiru and, I have to be honest with you, I would be lying if I said that I would be delighted if they were living in the tree in my garden, because they are smelly and noisy. They are a difficult species. So the first thing is to incentivise them as much as possible through habitat, protecting restoring and reconnecting the habitat where they belong. The Australian government is doing its best through the National Landcare Program and perhaps we need to scale that up.

The second is to invest more in science—not research papers or academic type science but practical, grass roots, action-oriented science and, indeed, science in the sort of things that Mayor Innis was talking about. I would call it adaptive persistent adaptation. We cannot pretend that Australia is the same as before 1788. We have altered the landscape and the historical legacy of habitat degradation is something that we have to manage because a lot of the land that is our prime grazing and farming land—the Riverina, for example, all of that land, our dairy land in Gippsland—has been altered. We need that to be a wealthy, developed and sustainable economy. The assisted adaptation, for example, and the science could explore what actually incentivises the bats to roost in towns and how can we incentivise them to roost somewhere else.

What strikes me as an opportunity in that regard is that the No. 7 out of the top 40 things recommended on TripAdviser as an activity in Houston, Texas is visit their bats. Thousands of people fly to Houston from all over the US and abroad to visit them and they put it up on their tourist site. But the thing is, the bats are not living above families' homes. They are living under a bridge. There are 250,000 of them that live under a bridge, and thousands of people visit them. It is the No. 7 suggested thing to do on TripAdvisor. There is science on what actually made the bats choose to live under the bridge rather than in people's backyards in Houston. That sort of science can actually help us live with the bats, enjoy the bats and enjoy economic benefits from the bats whilst actually not having them urinating and defecating on our children's trampolines and without the noise and the smell in our backyards.

They are my three suggestions: habitat investment, more science and, particularly, science in assisted adaptation.

Mr ENTSCH: We should have a house swap here for those that love them and want them in their community and for those that really need to find a solution. That might be another solution.

Mr Andrews : Airbnb!

CHAIR: Righto. We have three solutions on the table here.

Dr Lentini : On solutions, can I just make a couple of points on the discussion earlier?

CHAIR: But we are looking for solutions.

Dr Lentini : It is part of that. It is addressing community concerns. It is a shame we do not have a greater representation of councils here at the roundtable because, as we have acknowledged, Eurobodalla is a pretty extreme case. For the community, a lot of the time, as we have been finding, there are a couple of vocal residents whose concerns are absolutely valid and we do need to address those, but if we want to address the whole community and their wants and needs then we need to not just listen to the vocal minority.

Another thing that has come out of the discussion is that we need greater coordination and oversight of some of these actions we are implementing, so we can understand the ramifications of dispersals or other management options. Particularly, in the case of the way we manage nationally threatened species there is very, very little monitoring that goes on once some of these dispersals have been implemented. We can know that they left Batemans Bay, but we do not necessarily know where they went or whether there were some serious impacts on the animals when they got there because they were driven away from their key food sources. I would really like to emphasise that we would ask for monitoring in that case, and that does not happen most of the time for flying foxes. As an individual, I would have to say that I personally would not want them living in my backyard either but, at the same time, I would not want my money being wasted on an action that is ultimately going to be ineffective.

CHAIR: Wouldn't it be just like working from home?

Dr Lentini : I actually live in Kew, which is quite close to the Yarra Bend camp in Melbourne, but I am not underneath them. At the moment, I think we absolutely do not want to see a move towards deregulation as in Queensland, where efforts have become very fragmented, ad hoc and we cannot really keep track of what is going on. I think that would be a really, really bad outcome for the communities and for the bats. We would really like to see national coordination and recognition. Even though we need national coordination, the problems need to be addressed at the local scale, taking into account what each individual community is experiencing, what outcomes they would like to see and the outcomes for the whole community, not just for the two or three residents who are particularly vocal.

Many people have brought up research and we are in the process of commencing a three-year project to look at predictions of how flowering is going to change in light of climate change, how we can better predict when bats will arrive. But research takes time and we have not even started our project yet.

Mr Usher : The obligations of the management of flying foxes is typically falling back on local government. They are not our animals; they are the communities' animals. Often, we are not the owner of the land on which they are located. In the case of Batemans Bay, we were managing flying foxes on land owned by council, owned by the New South Wales government and owned by the private sector—so publicly owned and privately owned land. I think we need to have a better determination of who is responsible for managing. I do not think it should always fall back on local government and local communities. If these species are of national importance and significance then the broader community should be paying for their management not just a small number of local people. We need to get a better funding structure around management solutions. We were lucky that we did get $2½ million and I know other communities are unhappy about that. But there does need to be a greater level of funding provided by both the state and federal government to fund the management solutions.

This comment has been made before, but I will just reaffirm it: we need to understand why they are roosting in urban areas and what it is that is making them roost in particular locations in urban areas. Until we understand that, we cannot recreate those environments elsewhere for them to encourage them to roost in areas outside our urban environments.

The third point I would mention is that we need greater coordination of the knowledge that we have and the sharing of that. At the moment we are doing it, but it is by ad hoc means. We need a single portal where people can log information, share ideas, share information and, importantly, share the movement of flying foxes and also blooming so that communities can get a better understanding of where they may appear or may not appear.

CHAIR: Do you mean that, if councils encounter a major problem, they need a single place where they can say, 'Right, this is the process; we do this, this and this; this quantity is this; therefore we can do this,' or are you talking more about individuals?

Mr Usher : I think we need to have a single website or portal where we can share information and experiences so that if, for example, flying foxes are arriving at Batemans Bay we can update it and say, 'We've got increasing numbers at Batemans Bay,' or if they are decreasing at Batemans Bay, so other people can understand what the movements are, because at the moment we do not know whether they are coming or going. We talk to people who we know, so we have a good relationship with a lot of the councils and other people in industry. We talk with Jess and other people so we get an idea of what is happening, but it is a matter of ad hoc phone calls and emails. There needs to be a portal where you can track and understand the movement of the flying foxes across the three states where they typically move. The ability of that, for us, is that, if we know that all of a sudden they are starting to leave certain areas and we are getting blooms in our areas, we can start to educate our community about the fact that they are likely to be coming to our area, and education, I think, is one of the big things. Deb mentioned it earlier. We had not had a real flying fox problem, but when you do have it it is too late to start educating your community, because they are fed up the moment they arrive, basically, in most cases. So we need to create a better understanding and level of knowledge in communities that are likely to be affected by flying foxes.

Dr Lentini : We are about to launch an app that will allow us to do just what you were talking about so people can record when they are seeing flying foxes and where.

CHAIR: A good start. We are coming to the conclusion here, so are there any further solutions that people would like to lay on the table? Of course, everything is being recorded and is being collected as evidence.

Dr Westcott : I have a couple of comments, including a comment on that previous point and the app. The National Flying Fox Monitoring Program was originally intended to be conducted on a monthly or bimonthly basis so that, right across the east coast, we had that information on how the population was distributed and how that was changing. Unfortunately, the Queensland and New South Wales governments decided that they did not want to spend the money to do that, but that is the kind of information that you would get back from a more intensive program.

I have three suggestions. I am a scientist, so you will not be surprised to hear me say that we do need more research, but it has to be solutions focused research, and there are plenty of opportunities around that: things like why they are in urban areas, what is really driving them and how that varies in space and time. There is another thing we need. There are regulatory issues. It is not simple for a lot of the councils, and we need to have a system that is flexible to deal with situations like Batemans Bay but also a system that allows us to make those larger scale decisions, because we have to make decisions about what is going on at a species, at a regional and at a local level. Next, we need to have a good decision framework for councils so that they can identify what realistic objectives are and how they can best achieve those. I had one other point, and I have forgotten it. Sorry, I have remembered it: we need to have a really good education program about living with flying foxes and why it is not a simple problem.

Mr Shaw : Can I also suggest something. It is a little bit out there, but it is something that is utilised in Europe and the US: the use of weather radar. They interconnect, and they are able to detect migratory bird species, in particular, on a moment-by-moment basis by filtering out the weather requirement that they are after and focusing on wildlife. We could work with the BOM—the Bureau of Meteorology—to likewise take the data and establish algorithms to extract the data around flying fox movements. One of the questions people are asking about flying fox movements is how we would become predictive about that. Certainly a research program that worked with the bureau would be a suitable thing—that is one thing that has not been mentioned yet—but there were several other comments that various people have made which we completely concur with. One is a national strategy and a national strategic plan, and the other is the re-establishment of good habitat through good research about what is suitable habitat for flying foxes so that we can actually place programs of restoration in areas of less conflict. I would say that the recent relaxation of land clearing laws in both Queensland and New South Wales are not helpful for this problem. We are, bit by bit, reducing flying fox habitat through relaxed land clearing laws. We have no evidence to suggest that there is any linkage between the current land clearing and the movement of flying foxes into urban areas but it sort of makes sense, doesn't it?

CHAIR: We do not know. We are trying to work on a little bit more science projecting.

Mr EVANS: I want to some really quick yes or no questions to draw out the idea of national coordination. I think Dr Westcott touched on it a little bit and Ms Lenson did from a different perspective. I will start with you, Mrs Bracks. A couple of people have mentioned the topic of deregulation in Queensland. It was the case that the state regulated its approach and put the regulation or the regulatory burden of solution onto the individual councils. Is that what we are talking about?

Mrs Bracks : Yes—basically. It gave councils an 'as of right' to act how they saw fit without any further need for approvals.

Mr EVANS: You made a comment around it allowed councils the options to choose dispersal or eradication, but none of them have chosen culling or anything like that, have they?

Mrs Bracks : No. Outside of a limited number of permits for orchard protection, culling is not legal, but they are able to destroy a flying fox roost, and in many cases that has been bulldozing with no further approvals.

Mr EVANS: Ms Lenson, when you talked about coordination, you were talking about what? Were you talking about information sharing between councils? Was that your focus, or have I misread that?

Ms Lenson : I think it is important between councils, but also from a state level and from a federal level—so that is the strategic approach—and particularly the messaging about flying foxes: the ecology and the issues associated with flying foxes.

Mr EVANS: So it is more around the central coordination of the giving of information, education and awareness—

Ms Lenson : Yes.

Mr EVANS: so that the same message is being targeted nationally. Does that correlate with what you were talking about Dr Westcott, or were you talking about something different when you talked about national coordination?

Dr Westcott : Some of it, in part, yes. But also decisions have to be made under the EPBC Act on the likely impact on the species of particular actions, but actions are considered generally almost in isolation of each other. You can have multiple actions happening even in a region.

Mr EVANS: If I can just be clear: because of the range or the ecology of these species, we are not talking about significant subspecies populations?

Dr Westcott : No, they all function essentially as a single population.

Mr EVANS: Thank you.

Mr Oxley : Almost explicit in the discussion today is that there is a very significant role played by state governments in dealing with this challenge, and they are not here today. We need to recognise that they need to be fundamentally engaged in the sort of activities that are being talked about.

CHAIR: They were asked to provide written submissions. We did ask them to attend but they were not able to. They have provided written submissions.

Mr Oxley : What I would say is that, over the past several years, there has been a big effort—which has been given much greater momentum in the past 12 months because of community concern—to ensure that we have much better operating relationships between the Commonwealth and state governments that have their own statutory responsibilities in this regard. So we have been working to streamline and strip out duplication. One of the things that we are seeing is that the huge effort that is being put in by local governments, such as Eurobodalla and up on the Sunshine Coast, requires a very significant investment not just of dollars but of human effort to build understanding and put in place ongoing management arrangements that will give communities the relief they are looking for. So, while it is a very burdensome and difficult process that our friends in Eurobodalla Shire have been going through, if, done well, it will deliver long-term benefits to the community.

Mr Usher : I would just like to raise an issue which we have not really discussed—that is, the health impacts associated with flying foxes. There is a bit of information around about Hendra et cetera, but one of the experiences we have at Batemans Bay is that there is a strong view amongst those people living close to flying foxes that, as a result of the camp being there, they are experiencing increased occurrences of asthma, skin irritation and other medical conditions. We have written to the New South Wales government and asked them to do some investigation into that in terms of whether there is a correlation or not. We have not had a favourable response at this point in time, but I think it is really important that that issue is addressed. It was a cause of a great deal of stress for our community at the time—

CHAIR: That is understandable.

Mr Usher : and, if it is real, then it needs to be addressed. If it is not real, then we need to educate our community about that to remove that stress level.

CHAIR: I think that is a very good point to have recorded. Usually, these inquiries just individuals coming and speaking to the committee. I think we have had a lot more constructive feedback by having a round table. I think everyone has conducted themselves extraordinarily well, and we have all learnt a little from one another as well as the committee learning a great deal.

Thank you for your attendance. If you have been asked to provide additional information, could you please forward it to the secretariat by Friday, 2 December 2016. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence. You will of course have an opportunity to request corrections, if there are any errors. This has been really good. On behalf of the committee, I really appreciate the time you have taken out of your busy schedules to come and talk to us. We have learnt a great deal and I hope, as a result of your time, we come out with some workable solutions and recommendations. Hopefully, our engagement with flying foxes is somewhat more progressive than in 1890. Thank you very much. I declare the public hearing closed.

Committee adjourned at 12:22