Cane Toads

31 Jul 2007 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make an explanation before asking the Minister for Environment and Conservation a question about cane toads.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Last week, I asked the minister a supplementary question, as follows:

Given that Professor Tyler [that is, Mike Tyler] has 50 years’ research experience in this area, will the minister or one of her officers agree to meet with him?

The minister’s response was as follows:

I am not aware of his approach to my office, nor am I aware of his credentials.

In response to an article in The Advertiser last week relating to this matter, Professor Tyler wrote a letter to the editor in which he contradicts advice that was provided by the minister. He said:

The cane toad is in the Thompson River south of Long Ridge, and the minister is in error in stating that it will be many years before it reaches South Australia. In reality, one good flood will be enough to introduce it.

Professor Tyler has been good enough to forward to me some correspondence he sent to the minister on 6 October, in which he said:

A couple of months ago I attended a national workshop in Brisbane which addressed the topic of control of the Cane Toad. The move westwards of this pest species is a matter of great concern because it will soon enter South Australia.

The entry of the Cane Toad into South Australia will occur at two sites: firstly, via the floodplains of the north-east because it is already in the Thomson River in Queensland which feeds this area and secondly, via the Murray/Darling Rivers.

I would appreciate an opportunity to meet with you and inform you of the nature of the threat posed by this species—

and so forth. I also have a response from the minister to Professor Tyler in which she suggested that he meet with one of the officers of the Department of Water, Land, Biodiversity and Conservation. Professor Tyler has explained as follows:

After having received her letter but having not heard from Mr Mark Ramsay I eventually set up a meeting with him myself, although I was suddenly admitted to hospital at that time and had to defer the meeting. I had hoped that her staff would take the initiative and arrange another date for the meeting, but I have heard nothing more from her department to this date.

My questions to the minister are as follows:

1. Will she admit that she has misled the council in stating last week that she was not aware of this correspondence or of Professor Tyler’s credentials?

2. Will she undertake to meet with him so that he can discuss this important matter with her?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO(Minister for Environment and Conservation): It is truly disappointing that we have a lazy opposition that keeps bringing back the same old questions day in, day out. I said that I was not aware at that time. I receive hundreds and thousands of pieces of correspondence and I said, at that time, that I was not aware of it. However, it is quite dreary that members opposite really cannot think up an original question to bring to the chamber. Nevertheless, we soldier on with what we are given. Since I last spoke on this issue, my office has gone through the files (the hundreds and hundreds of pieces of correspondence) and have identified that Mr Tyler did, in fact, correspond with my office.

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order! We all know there is a camera in the gallery today, so you do not have to change your behaviour just because of that.

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: They are just so lazy. However, I have been made aware, since then, that he wrote to me about 12 months ago. He did request that I meet with him and I arranged a meeting on 13 December with him and my officers (because I was not available at that date), and he cancelled that meeting due to ill health. Subsequently, staff attended a meeting with him at the South Australian Arid Lands NRM board on 4 May to discuss issues around cane toads. At this meeting, again, Mr Tyler left, being unable to enter into discussions because of ill health, as I understand it.

There were, in fact, two occasions when senior officers from my agency did attempt to meet with him and were unable to do so. I am always available to meet with or to receive correspondence or information from any person at any time. I try, to the best of my ability, to meet as many of those personal requests as physically possible and I do, in fact, attend many hundreds of them, and this invitation is still open.

In terms of advice and information, I have been advised that my officers are aware of the latest scientific knowledge and understanding about cane toads. I would like to put on record that, in fact, South Australia is doing a great deal towards the prevention of cane toads moving into South Australia. We contribute funding of about $250 000 per annum to the national Invasive Animals CRC in relation to invasive pests, and that includes the cane toad; and we also contribute monitoring and surveillance, as I mentioned in my response to the question last time. We employ almost 100 rangers and over 100 inspectors, and part of their everyday duties is the monitoring and surveillance of cane toads.

We also provide an information sheet which is circulated by rangers and inspectors, and that is generally available.

This information sheet promotes awareness among the general public—particularly those who are in industries perhaps at risk of bringing cane toads into the state—and helps people to identify the cane toad and distinguish it from other species that are physically quite similar. The information sheet is circulated particularly throughout industries that are considered to be higher risk areas, such as the transport and nursery industries and the fruit and vegetable transportation industry.

South Australia is involved in national working groups that are considering strategies and responses to all vertebrate pests (including cane toads) through the Vertebrate Pests Committee. The state also has a response plan in place to include cane toad incursion, with three levels of action:

monitoring, containment and eradication. We are considered to be in the monitoring phase at present.

On a national level, I have mentioned that the CSIRO and the Invasive Animals CRC currently undertake a range of nationally coordinated research projects on cane toads using quite radical genetic solutions. They are also looking at biological solutions, such as the introduction of a lung worm, as well as other different types of solutions. Obviously, we benefit from research of that nature.

When South Australia prioritises the resources it puts aside for the management of pest incursions, it does so according to a risk assessment model. That model looks at two things: the likelihood of the incursion and its impact, including economic, environmental and social impact. South Australia currently either has or potentially has many other very serious pest incursions—for instance, rabbits, foxes, fruit fly, theWestern Australian wood borer, and Queensland fire ants. Many of these pests, or the threat of these pest incursions, could have a serious impact on South Australia’s economy alone—and I mentioned rabbits and foxes, which pose a much greater threat, particularly economically, to our state.We currently contribute well over $10 million towards the management, protection and prevention of pest incursion.

The Hon. R.I. Lucas interjecting:

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: You repeat your questions; I am entitled to repeat the answers. The risk of the cane toad invading South Australia is considered to be moderate and—

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order! The opposition will suffer in silence.

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: The risk of a cane toad incursion is assessed as having important environmental, but very low economic, impact. So, in fact, we prioritise our resources to those pests that have a much greater impact. I am happy to speak further on the matter, but I will leave it there for the time being.