28 Nov 2013 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before directing a question to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation regarding koala rescue volunteers.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I have been contacted by some volunteers who are concerned about inconsistencies, and barriers towards their assistance of rescuing koalas, by DEWNR. The particular organisation—most of whose members have a background in veterinary services—rescue and care for injured and sick koalas throughout South Australia.

They receive approximately 30 to 40 phone calls a week from members of the community reporting sick, injured or orphan koalas. Once they have received that information, they rescue the animals and provide them with the care and treatment they require to return to full health, and they obtain the relevant permits to undertake these tasks. DEWNR also refers koalas to this group; however, they do not provide much support.

This organisation believes DEWNR is making it increasingly difficult for them to provide assistance, and an example of this occurred earlier this month when one experienced koala volunteer had in her care two baby koalas that required regular feeding every four hours. Prior to rescuing a second animal, the volunteer had advised DEWNR of her intention to take the animal to a function, due to the regular feeding needs, and clearly the other koala was required to be placed in her care, so she had to take both with her.

DEWNR saw a photo of this through social media and advised the volunteer in an unfriendly manner that no koala is to be taken to any public place. DEWNR have also told the organisation that they cannot rescue koalas from national parks. My questions for the minister are:

1. Who is responsible for rescuing koalas from national parks?

2. Can the minister undertake that he will take up this issue with DEWNR to ensure that there is an outcome which enables the organisation to continue its good work?

3. Will he review DEWNR's policy?

4. Will he investigate why there has been a breakdown in communication between DEWNR and the volunteer organisation?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation) (14:38): I thank the honourable member for her most important question, and can I say at the outset that my department is very, very anxious indeed to be working with volunteer community organisations across our business. We make that one of our cornerstones of our key drivers I suppose, of how we do business working with volunteers—be they people who look after our botanic gardens, help with our weed eradication control, or look after injured wildlife.

There are processes that we put in place to make sure that animal welfare is a priority in these issues. People are required to have the appropriate permit, and that could go to the need for appropriate amounts of training in these areas, and indeed a compliance with our knowledge of the regulations that pertain to the various categories of wildlife that are being looked after.

Can I say that it is entirely appropriate that my agency and staff would be monitoring how wildlife is being presented. In the situation the honourable member outlines, there may have been some miscommunication, but I would hope that when members of my department see publications in the media or on Facebook, or any on other form of social media, they would act in the best interests of wildlife and ask the appropriate questions. At all times, the requirement is that they do so in a civil and polite way and recognising the importance that we as a department place on our key work with volunteer organisations across our agency.

I do not for a minute pretend to understand the details the honourable member has laid on the table today. To the best of my knowledge, it has not been brought to my attention. I will ask for a report from my department and find out what happened in this situation. If there is a breakdown in communication, I will be eager to restore proper normal functioning between our agencies and the organisation because we understand our volunteer organisations are very important to all the work we do.

I say again that our primary role is the protection and care of native wildlife, and I would expect my departmental officers to be checking when they see instances of animals that they suspect in the first instance, prima facie, may not be kept in accordance with the permits that have been applied for.