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Tuesday, 23 November 1971
Page: 3465

Mr SPEAKER -Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.

Mr FOX - The Select Committee on Wildlife Conservation, when established in May 1970, was given full and comprehensive terms of reference covering all aspects of wildlife conservation. The interim report which I have just presented relates only to the exploitation and conservation of kangaroos. It is hoped that a final report covering all terms of reference will be tabled early next year. The decision by the Committee to present the interim report was prompted by a number of factors. I think it is true to say that much of the impetus for the present interest in wildlife conservation has been generated by concern about the status of kangaroos, particularly those species which are commercially exploited for their skins and meat.

Early in the Committee's inquiry it became clear that much greater emphasis was being given to kangaroos than to other matters within the terms of reference and in fact there was a tendency in some quarters to identify the Committee solely with the kangaroo issue. A great deal of emphasis was given by witnesses to the urgency of the situation and the need for immediate remedial action. The Committee was also anxious that its final report would be a full and substantial one and felt that once the most emotive area of the Committee's inquiry had been reported on, the way would be open for more dispassionate discussion of the Committee's remaining terms of reference. We were also conscious of the time required to prepare a final report and felt the first priority must be to reach some conclusions and provide recommendations on the kangaroo issue.

Some ecologists and others have advised us that it is undesirable to look at any particular group of animals in isolation from overall wildlife conservation matters. The Committee, however, took the view that to most people conservation of kangaroos was by far the most contentious and to many people the only wildlife conservation issue of immediate importance. The Committee has taken a substantial amount of evidence and travelled extensively throughout Australia to obtain first hand information. 1 believe I can speak for all the Committee members when I say that the Committee found that field inspections -and discussions with people on the spot were of the utmost importance in the formulation of the Committee's conclusions and recommendations.

There is no doubt that widespread public concern expressed for the kangaroos' survival has arisen as the direct result of killing kangaroos for skin and, more particularly, for meat. Moral objections to feeding native fauna to pets have been made but the principal concern is that harvesting of kangaroos in large numbers must inevitably lead to their extinction. Evidence in support of this contention was that it is now rare to see kangaroos in the wild and that tourists report having travelled widely throughout Australia without seeing kangaroos. Many people, by submission to the Committee and by petitions to Parliament, have advocated the immediate cessation of harvesting and a total ban on the export of all kangaroo products.

In seeking factual information about kangaroos and the possible threat to their continued existence that the kangaroo skin and meat industry may be having, the Committee was confronted with a great deal of contradictory evidence, much of which could not be described as objective. Perhaps the most disquieting feature to emerge was that even among expert witnesses insufficient detailed knowledge of kangaroo ecology existed. One eminent scientist in fact told the Committee:

If any of the scientists have told you that they are dealing with scientific facts in this whole confused kangaroo situation they are wrong, because nobody knows the facts.

Probably the most significant conclusion that the Committee reached was that none of the larger kangaroo species, and they are the ones that are commercially harvested, is under immediate threat of extinction. The evidence clearly showed that the development of pastoral and grazing activities and the associated land clearing and provision of water points have led to the creation of much greater areas suitable to the larger kangaroo species than existed before settlement and have, in fact, led to an overall increase in kangaroo numbers. However, this same development has led to the probable or threatened extinction of many smaller species.

The overall situation is extremely complex. The position varies from State to

State and from one part of a State to another and from one time of the year to another. The Committee believes that more of the attention of the well meaning conservationists should be diverted away from the larger species and concentrated on these smaller species about which to date little public concern has been expressed. The Committee accepts that at some times and in some places kangaroo numbers do reach unacceptably high numbers and represent an unfair burden to graziers. It is clear that at certain times culling of excess numbers' is required. If the commercial harvesting of kangaroos were to be halted, culling would still be necessary but would have to be carried out at public expense and would also represent the wastage of a resource.

The Committee. having established that kangaroos are not under immediate threat, naturally wished to make recommendations to ensure that they never will be. The Committee is strongly in favour of firm Government control over commercial h ar:vesting activities and would certainly not support the concept of the kangaroo industry determining its needs and .carrying out the harvest on this basis. It also recognises the symbolic importance of the kangaroo to wildlife conservation in Australia and also believes that publicity regarding the killing of kangaroos affects the tourist industry adversely. The Committee believes very strongly that the public will not accept the mere assurance that large kangaroos are not under threat and that a clear indication should be given of Australia's interest in, and concern with, wildlife matters. The Committee has therefore made recommendations regarding the establishment of large kangaroo reserves. Wildlife conservation matters in the States are, of course, the responsibility of the respective State governments and as a result legislation concerning kangaroos varies quite widely. The Committee has recommended that the Commonwealth approach the States with a view to establishing a more uniform approach.

I would like at this point to record the Committee's appreciation to the State Premiers for the assistance given the Committee by officers of relevant State department. The Committee in its report has recorded its appreciation of the help it has received from the Australian Conservation

Foundation which provided its Deputy Director, Dr J. G. Mosely, as an adviser to the Committee, and to the late Dr F. N. Ratcliffe, who provided invaluable assistance in the earlier stages of the inquiry. At this stage it is fitting that I should place on record the Committee's appreciation of the work and' intense interest shown in the inquiry by the officers of the Committee section who served this Committee so ably. Mr Gale, Mr Richmond and Mr Dee. It would also like to record its appreciation of the assistance given the Committee by the Hansard reporting staff, particularly Mr B. Harris. Finally, the Committee would like to thank Mr Lin Barlin, Senior Parliamentary Officer, Bills and Papers Office, for his help and guidance in the early stages of the Committee inquiries. The foundation which he laid ensured the success of our undertaking.

The Committee found that widely divergent views were held by the various groups concerned with kangaroos, ranging from those who advocated complete protection of kangaroos to those supporting uncontrolled harvesting. The Committee recognises that it is impossible to make recommendations fully satisfactory to all groups. The demands of pastoralists and graziers, wildlife scientists, State fauna departments, the tourist industry, conservation groups and the kangaroo industry itself are obviously at times in conflict. However, I believe that the Committee's report, based as it is on a thorough assessment of all the major issues involved, represents a realistic view of the actual position, and providing its recommendations are implemented ensures the long term conservation of the larger kangaroo species. I move:

That the report be printed.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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