Image for Tasmanian Greens need to re-engage on foxes

Several Tasmanian Times commentors have asked: what is the Tasmanian Greens policy of fox eradication in Tasmania? I cannot speak for them; however, I have been grateful to them (and the Liberal in Opposition) for initiating several Freedom of Information requests for documents related to the activities of the Fox-Free Taskforce (up to 2007) and now the re-badged Fox Eradication Program.

For the past decade of Tasmania’s war on foxes, the three main political parties have supported efforts to keep Tasmania fox-free - as we would understand & respect.

That said both the State Liberals and Tasmanian Greens have been critical of various policy directions David Llewellyn as first Minister responsible for Tasmanian foxes was taking. Regrettably since 2001 Minister Llewellyn, then Minister Steve Kons, then Minister Bryan Green, then back to Minister Llewellyn have been staunch gatekeepers to this fox privy.

Matters of biosecurity and quarantine surveillance at Tasmania’s high-risk fox entry points were correctly raised by the two opposition parties - only to be told all was in hand and ‘don’t worry’. They raised concerns about the easy transportability of fox evidence - such as fox carcasses, fox scats and fox skins - again to no avail.

They were told that DPIPWE relies on their ability to check all incoming vehicles and freight containers for smuggled fox parts AND the deterrence of stiff fines and lengthy periods of imprisonment. They raised concerns about the essential logic used to link the discovered fox evidence that was said to provide ‘unequivocal’ proof of the Department’s belief for ‘fox presence’ (a statement that reluctantly changed to ‘fox establishment’) were also never satisfactorily explained - scientifically or politically.

Getting back to the Tasmanian Greens and their stance on foxes in Tasmania, I refer to an interview Cassy O’Connor had with Kim Burleigh for the UTAS student magazine - Togatus; it was published in February 2010.

In response to the Commonwealth Government’s decision to review & reduce its funding allocation to Tasmania for ‘fox eradication’ she said; “I think in part it’s inexplicable because there is enough scientific evidence to prove that there are foxes in Tasmania. Unfortunately, there is a small group of sceptics [unnamed] who have really managed to muddy the waters.”

Scepticism is one of the hallmarks of a science; it has been so for centuries. The ‘small group of sceptics’ to which Ms O’Connor refers includes me. For some politics is perhaps as ‘muddy’ a profession as science; however, speaking from nearly a decade of experience, offering the basis for a science-based review of Tasmania’s approach to fox eradication has been Mission Impossible!

It is too easy and too simplistic to brand individuals such as myself as ‘sceptics’ - now used as a pejorative term of contempt - ‘who have managed to muddy the waters’.  It is somewhat harder, perhaps painful, to listen to ‘sceptics’ and examine the rebuttals and responses offered by the government bodies who are funded for such public policy activity. 

Regrettably the Tasmanian Greens had no membership of the Parliamentary Accounts Committee that sent over six months to examine the efficiency and effectiveness of Tasmanian fox eradication efforts during the latter half of 2009. If they now have sufficient research staff available, they might wish to review the transcripts of the testimony to this Inquiry.

I have put up the $5000 fox reward (initially $1000) - literally putting ‘my money where my mouth is’ (HERE). In 2006 Minister Llewellyn called me in and tried to persuade me not to do it. I asked him why? He felt it would encourage hoaxing and smuggling. Then when I explained that most of the evidence considered by his own Department as ‘evidence of fox presence in Tasmania’ was indeed fabricated and based on hoaxing; what one of his own departmental staff subsequently termed “tom-foolery”, the conversation turned to ‘shooting the messenger’ - me, not any fox!   

It has been stated in several publications that Tasmania’s war on foxes has to date cost the tax-payer $36 million dollars; that doesn’t include the recent decision to re-direct $7 million of Commonwealth funds pulled from a West Coast metal salvaging project and placing it with the Fox Eradication Program.

On 30 April 2010 a well-respected Tasmanian naturalist Jim Nelson, a person who believes foxes are in Tasmania wrote this on Tasmanian Times:

“It appears that the least likely result of this baiting with 1080 will be the killing of foxes. The proposed baiting program is apparently based on a NZ model of baiting a few small islands where the baits were unlikely to impact on important native species (mainly birds). This is in no way relevant to the fox issue in Tasmania. The likelihood of foxes taking these baits is probably small, while the potential for ‘collateral damage’ is high. I believe there is good anecdotal evidence that foxes are present here, and this represents a potential environmental disaster for the state.  It is well past time that a REAL review of the fox taskforce is carried out. We cannot take the risk of foxes gaining a stronghold here, but we must find effective answers to the problem.”
On 1 May 2010 Jim again wrote to Tasmanian Times:

“The proposed baiting program should not be supported by the community. The most likely result of the baiting is that it will kill numerous animals, none of which will be foxes. Why would anyone assume foxes would take these baits in preference to catching live prey, when that live prey is so plentiful here?
If landowners want to join the fox eradication effort, they should call on the Minister to hold an urgent review of the Taskforce instead of allowing this dangerous baiting on their land.”

There is a saying that goes: “Seeing is believing” and I respect Jim Nelson for that, as I did when fellow experience field naturalist Steve Cronin reported that he saw a fox during a wildlife survey in 2003.

Earlier this year I placed a document on Tasmanian Times that was also provided to the PAC Inquiry into foxes. I was grateful to the Committee’s chairman, MLC Jim Wilkinson for the opportunity to speak to Committee on their final day of taking public testimonies. The document focussed a useful template applied to any area of controversial public policy; in this case I applied it to Tasmania’s fox eradication program. The two questions were: “Is it accepted?” and “Will it work?”

I urge the Tasmanian Greens to re-engage with this important issue as Labor MP Bryan Green is now Minister-in-charge of Tasmania’s fox privy…again!