Image for Straight from the Minister for Foxes’ mouth

The day before the “FOX PLOT” appeared on the front page of the Mercury newspaper on 5 June 2002, the Minister for Primary Industries, Police and the Environment appeared before a Parliamentary Budget Estimates Committee. Here is an excerpt from the Parliamentary Hansard of 4 June 2002.

Mr LLEWELLYN - You would recall that about 18 months ago we first had the allegation that there had been several litters of foxes brought into the State.  We got the police and the department on to that particular job and they analysed that and worked for some time in trying to assess whether or not they could get to the bottom of the issue.

As time went on there was a series of reports of people sighting foxes and in the original allegations it was alleged that litters were distributed in and around Longford, in and around the south of Oatlands and on the east coast near St Helens.  When over time this constant spread of information about sighting the foxes came in and when it was all coordinated and so on it corroborated those original allegations because all the sightings were occurring in these areas where it was alleged that the fox litters had been distributed.  Longford, south of Oatlands, Campania and in that region and near St Helens.

Ultimately there were two foxes shot - one which you cannot draw any conclusion about because the people who shot the fox although they had a photograph in the newspaper -

Mr FLETCHER - That was the one near St Helens, wasn’t it?

Mr LLEWELLYN - No, this was the one near Longford.  They eventually sent the pelt of the fox to the Parks and Wildlife Service and that was a recently-skinned fox skin.  There were DNA tests done on it and so on and it matched in respect to this source of origin again the alleged stories that were there.

Subsequently a further fox was shot near Symmons Plains and that was recovered, analysed and the stomach contents and so on analysed and found to be containing small animal species and so on that were only here in Tasmania.  So fairly conclusively it was shot where it was shot and so I think one can conclude that that was perhaps the most significant event that proves that foxes are in the State.

On top of that the DNA assessments that were made put the second fox as being a sibling or a close relative of the first fox and having originated in southern Victoria from the area where these foxes were alleged to have come.  I have noticed in the newspapers some people are very dubious about this but certainly I am not and I do not believe that we can afford to take risks so there could be a number of foxes - between maybe 11 and 20 that are in the State at the moment.  So that is why we have to have this coordinated program.  We work with the CRC for pest management in Canberra.  There has been a lot of preliminary work in getting the appropriate people together to deal with the issue of how we actually manage this very low number of foxes.  They are very cagey, shy animals and it is no wonder people do not see them readily because they have learnt to avoid people.

Mr LLEWELLYN - Yes, that is one of the programs that the Commonwealth are very anxious that we get on with and they have finally made a contribution to this program of $400, 000.  We hope that that will be an ongoing contribution as well.  There is a Fox Off bait which is a big pellet into the middle of which the 1080 poison is put in a hole and then there is a bait made of dried kangaroo meat that also has 1080 poison impregnated in it and we have done a fair bit of research with both of those baits by hanging them up at about a metre above the surface of the ground and/or burying them in the ground and seeing what reaction there is particularly with regard to our own species of quolls and Tasmanian devils and so on that may eat these baits.

The best situation that we can find that would both minimise the problem with our native species and at the same time capture a likely fox is to bury the kangaroo meat in the ground about 20 centimetres deep and this has been utilised in Western Australia and other areas as a means of actually getting these foxes.  Foxes can apparently smell this bait from about 500 metres, so you deploy these baits at 500-metre intervals and we hope they will be a success.  They will come along and dig them up and eat them and they only have to eat one of them and they will keel over, whereas with our own indigenous species they are not so susceptible to 1080.  In regard to Tasmanian devils I think they will have to find 25 of them before they get a lethal dose and with regard to quolls I think they have to eat about four or five before they have a lethal dose.  So we think it will both minimise the effect on wildlife, but also maximise our chances of getting foxes. 

[Excerpt ends]

QUESTION: What motivated Minister David Llewellyn go on the public record on this topic, when a Tasmanian Police Task Force investigation that Minister Llewellyn personally set up based on his referred “Confidential” Briefing Note had told him 12 months earlier [in July 2001] there was no substance to the allegations of fox cub importation and release conspiracy?