AS Tasmanians would know from the past few weeks, it is really very, very difficult to get the State Government to ‘come clean’ on matters of public importance.

Attempts by Opposition Parties to get clear answers to straight questions has bedevilled Deputy Premier, Bryan Green and now has led to the situation where up to four investigations into the TCC matter are underway and Bryan has stepped down from his Cabinet and Ministerial responsibilities.

Governments use the ploys of delay and control to manage political crises. In addition muddying the waters, using smokescreens and cover up and bringing in red herring issues are all the stock and trade of Governments under scrutiny.

So, when a tenacious and persistent inquiry successfully tests the veracity of political spin or creative myth making, I’m always encouraged that the truth will out in the end but don’t expect the Emperors to admit they have no clothes on.

And yes, sometimes it comes too late to make a difference!

With the recent release of the Fox Review Panel report and with David Llewellyn again the Minister for Biosecurity, Quarantine & Foxes, I thought Tasmanian Times readers might like to read recent excerpts from the official Hansard records of Parliamentary dialogues on this issue.

Before you start, there is a WARNING. I have taken out the really padded boring bits, but this IS a transcript of pollie-speak … so you’ll need to take a stimulant of your choice to say focussed — strong tea or coffee should do it!

I can’t say, have fun … but you know what I mean.

David Llewellyn speaking on the Budget Bill on 31 May 2006:

“We will continue to build on our high-class and effective quarantine barrier measures through a range of new initiatives, including additional funding for increased focuses on checking the biosecurity status of containers entering Tasmania. A number of extra quarantine officers will be employed — some of them have already been advertised — to ensure that Tasmania remains a disease-free and pest-free place. “

“In regard to foxes, the eradication of foxes from Tasmania is still a key government policy. It began in January 2002. Since its inception, the taskforce has received over a thousand reported sightings of animals believed to be foxes from around the State. Approximately 193 of these have been deemed highly credible by the taskforce. A baiting program has seen over half a million hectares targeted since September 2002 and the most recent baiting program took place over several weeks in February this year. It has been estimated that Tasmania could support in excess of three hundred thousand foxes. Certainly that is the last thing that we would want to see in this State. Even though there are a lot of sceptics in the community, I was very confident when we began the program that there were a considerable number of foxes that had unfortunately been smuggled into this State. There was not enough evidence on which to charge people, but that knowledge was very conclusive that it had happened. We saw then, as highlighted in the media, the additional sightings that occurred as a result. It was just an unfortunate event which obviously could have the effect of eliminating a lot of our indigenous fauna if foxes were allowed to multiply. I think again there is evidence that suggests that the sightings have reduced considerably. It may well be that a number of foxes still remain within our community, some of which may have perished as a result of the programs that we have had in place — at least one we know was killed in a road accident [Burnie roadkill October 2003]. So at least that has happened. They may not succeed in multiplying and certainly we need to make sure we are making every effort to make sure that does not happen.”

David Llewellyn replies to question from Nick McKim MHA on foxes [15 June 2006]:

“There is no doubt that the presence of an established population of foxes in Tasmania would be a disaster and, as such, we need to be doing everything we can to prevent such a tragedy from occurring.”

David Llewellyn replies to question from Jeremy Rockliff MHA on foxes [15 June]:

“We need to monitor and keep on top of the issue. I think in one case a fox that was seen in and around the Burnie area was very clearly a fox that came from Webb Dock or wherever on the mainland, and that was a separate incident from the other that I mentioned. We need to be vigilant on this matter at all levels if we possibly can, so to that extent I agree with the member [Jeremy Rockliff MHA] and I certainly will make any information available as it comes to hand.”

Fox and Biosecurity Dialogue in Budget Estimates hearings on 27 June:

Mr Llewellyn: “We are in the process of employing an additional 24 quarantine officers.”

Mr Rockliff: “What has gained my attention is the lack of funding to barrier protection in relation to the fox issue. According to the report one of your own department heads, Alex Schaap, is quoted as saying: ‘the probability of a detection of a fox at a quarantine barrier is high.’ The report also suggests that while there are many exotic species detected and seized each year there is always the chance that foxes can be imported or become stowaways. The critical point is that foxes illegally or unintentionally imported into Tasmania have a greater chance of being detected at the barrier than may have been the case prior to the existence of the fox task force. So my question again is, in light of the report yesterday where it did highlight a number of instances where foxes had come through our barrier, what additional funding will be deployed to our ports of entry and how many of the additional 24 quarantine officers will be actually engaged in fox task force activities, in respect to barrier control and preventing the incursion of further foxes via Webb Dock to the Burnie port, for example.”

Mr McKim: “It would not cost anything to keep the gates closed at the Burnie container depot, Minister; it would be free”.

Mr Llewellyn: “We have obviously considered all of those matters and are anxious to make sure that that does not happen in the future.”

Mr Llewellyn: “Look, I did answer the question twice before. I had the courtesy of giving the honourable member a copy of the report, which is a new strategy for biosecurity, border control included, together with $4 million, 24 new staff. If that is not doing something, I will eat my hat.”

Mr Rockliff: “Well, would there be any freight surveillance, for example?”

Mr Llewellyn: “Yes, there will.”

Mr Rockliff: “And where would that be?”

Mr Evans [CEO of DPIW]: “A significant part of those new resources are going to inspection of containers, so a large part of those resources will be based on the wharf, doing cargo clearance work.”

Mr Rockliff: “At which points of entry?”

Mr Evans: “At all Tasmanian ports.”

Mr Llewellyn: “The first thing I would like to happen with regard to this whole question is for the people throughout Tasmania — particularly those who delight in joking about this particular matter, and inferring that fox presence in this state is a hoax, and continuing to peddle that particular line — to realise that this is a serious issue, and that the Government has taken a serious view of it, and have for the last eight years continued to address the issue.”

“The evidence is that the numbers of sightings have reduced. However, there is, according to the [Expert Review] report, clear evidence that there are wild foxes living in the environment. Now we would hope that the number of foxes in Tasmania is small, and that is probably corroborated by the fact that capturing one is proving very, very difficult.”

“But we will continue to provide that monitoring and action that is necessary to coordinate a group operating out of Launceston. We are hoping that the Commonwealth Government will assist us with additional support on this matter, because it is not only an issue for Tasmanians, it is an issue for the whole of the nation, and we have program and strategy in place. We are trying to deal with the barrier control issue in a more constructive way. I concede that barrier control probably has not been as good as it should have been in the past and that is why we are making the announcements and putting the strategy out that we have.”

Mr Rockliff: “Thank you, Chair. Minister, with respect to your last answer when we were discussing the fox issue, you did concede that barrier protection had not been up to standard in the past, and I guess still is not, given that the funding has not been realised yet. Do you concede that foxes could have come through our ports of entry over the course of the last eight years? What physical measures will be implemented to ensure that the risk of incursion will be negligible in the future?”

Mr Llewellyn: “I can only speculate on these issues that you have raised. I think there is probably a high likelihood; we know in one case that a fox actually came off the wharf in Burnie.”

“Certainly, as new minister, I give that pledge of doing that. I have mentioned it to you now for, I think, the fourth or fifth time, that the money that we have allocated for the bio-security strategy involves our monitoring the freight in a much more complete way than was happening in the past. That will involve people in all of our ports.”

“We have had people from within the department talk to their Victorian colleagues, about the dock and trying to eliminate actual foxes in the Webb Dock area. Obviously, if there are no foxes in the Webb Dock area that there is not a likelihood of their jumping on board ship so it makes it easier at the other end, too. But we will take whatever action is necessary to ensure that it does not happen in the future.”

Reports to the Parliament on Estimates Committee hearings on 5 July 2006

Mr Rockliff: “I would go far as to say that [smuggled foxes allegation] was used as an excuse for the lax biosecurity procedures that we had in 1998 … If the minister at the time took up that issue very strongly to ensure that our pre-barrier and barrier control was as efficient as possible, then we might not have had other incursions of foxes — most notably, perhaps, the famous fox in the box in 2003. There was a sighting of a fox, I believe in a container, at Agfest in about 2001.”

Mr Booth: “We would also like to see greater front-line quarantine security at ports of embarkation rather than disembarkation to make it a better system.”

Mr Llewellyn: “I take the point about Webb Dock and so on. I have written to my counterpart in Victoria and talked to him about that particular issue.”

Sincere thanks to Jeremy Rockliff, MHA and Nick McKim, MHA for asking persistent questions.

DAvid Obendorf

So, when a tenacious and persistent inquiry successfully tests the veracity of political spin or creative myth making, I’m always encouraged that the truth will out in the end but don’t expect the Emperors to admit they have no clothes on. And yes, sometimes it comes too late to make a difference!