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The Fox Eradication Branch, as such, is no more, but efforts to ensure that such taxpayer-funded exotic animal programs are based on scientific rigor continues.

Many lessons can be learnt from this expensive and fruit-less 10-year program. Attention to proactive policy development might drive better preparedness to protect Tasmanian biodiversity and enhance our biosecurity-quarantine efforts…

27 March 2012 - FOX ERADICATION PROGRAM – LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL HANSARD

Mr DEAN (Windermere) - Madam President, I will be reasonably short with my statement.  I applaud the Government, after 11 years heeding advice of pleadings and much outrage, for making changes to the direction of the Fox Eradication Program.  Further change is still necessary.

It was on the nose and the public was becoming sick and tired of the continued nonsense of the so-called sightings all over Tasmania and the baiting program with absolutely no evidence at all that these 1080 baits, dangerous to other native and endangered species, had been taken by a fox.  This suggests poor control, poor efficacy, or the absence of foxes.  There is no doubt in my mind that the relevant tolerance of native species compared to exotic carnivores, the off-target impact of 1080 predator baits, has been played down.

Why has it gone on for 11 years, with no genuine or real tangible evidence of foxes in the State at all?  Nearly $40 million later there has been no further advancement than when it first commenced 11 years ago.  You ask the question why. 

I will give you two good reasons.  Firstly there is the failure to have an independent oversight in place.  Secondly there is the eagerness of the minister, advisers and fox eradication program senior manager to accept everything they were being told without challenging, questioning or scrutinising any of the information that they were being provided.

The new governance model required should be one that is adaptive, science based and takes input from a wide range of interested parties on an ongoing basis.  The days of closed committees and elite groups of gatekeepers should not be entertained.

What the program has done is lock out all those who should have had the audacity to challenge the program.  Irrespective of the knowledge, standing and credentials of those people, it was a we-know-best culture and the rest butt out.  A dangerous, stupid and flawed model that was never going to ensure high ethical standards and proper and fair assessment of a program using $5 million annually, money the Commonwealth and State governments do not have.  It has been wasted in my strong opinion and nowhere else would you see such a program being run or in place.

A wake-up call with no foxes might be a better call than one with foxes.  Yet it would be foolish not to learn from the deficiencies of the last 11 years and not recognise it as a big wake-up call.  A retreat to the parochialism and the thin-skinned approach of the FEP and Government would be quite disastrous, in my opinion.

Mr Parkinson - I hope you don’t think the anti-fox effort is terminating, because it is not.

Mr DEAN - No, it is not; that is why I said a lot more change is necessary, which I said at the very beginning.  I am concerned about that, the further waste of money that is going to occur unless there are significant changes.  I have referred to the oversight panel that ought to be there.  There ought to be some independence brought to this.

Mr Parkinson - I think that your oversight panel is probably enough.

Madam PRESIDENT - Order.  We are stepping outside the rules of what adjournments are supposed to be about and we are stepping outside the aspect of comment back and forth.  Can the member move on quickly?  I am referring to both members, not just one.

Mr DEAN - A retreat to the parochialism and the thin-skinned approach of the Fox Eradication Program and Government would be quite disastrous, in my opinion.  If that was to be the case, why change?  Just bumble along in a similar way to that of the last 11 years wasting money, no proof of foxes with nothing gained and no proof of any success at all.  Moving one step beyond self-interest and basing any new group on an objective analysis of the past is important.  Much work is now required of this new unit to mend the many burned bridges and restore the credibility and public acceptance of a program to work as the invasive species unit, or whatever it might be called.

28 March 2012 - FOX ERADICATION PROGRAM – LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL HANSARD

Mr DEAN (Question) - My question is to the honourable Leader.  The Fox Eradication Program is continuing to focus on baiting and preventing foxes from becoming established in baited areas.  Mr Elliott is on record as having said that early signs of this approach are encouraging and a clear area is increasing.  Will the Leader please advise if they have put up a big fence?  My first question is:  what is the FEP actually doing to prevent foxes from becoming established in baited areas?  Secondly, how is a ‘clear area’ being established and maintained?

Mr PARKINSON - I thank the honourable member for his question.  The Fox Eradication Program is a major undertaking being carried out on an unprecedented scale.  As the honourable member would acknowledge, once baiting has been completed in an area, efforts must continue to ensure foxes do not re-establish in that area.

Mr Dean - How is it being done, is it a big fence?  That is what I am asking.

Mr PARKINSON - A monitoring program moves into the areas after baiting is completed and detector dogs are used to survey that area for any sign of foxes .Public reports of suspected fox activity within a baited area receive higher priority and the FEP investigates those reports using the detector dogs and liaison with landholders.  The attention given by some parties to the absence of live foxes caught fails to understand the fundamental principles at play.  Baiting is the most efficient and cost-effective method available and experience around the world shows that very few baited foxes are ever found after a baiting program.  The FEP’s approach has been reviewed by a number of experts and endorsed as the most feasible and effective method available to prevent foxes from establishing in this State. 

The ‘clear area’ is maintained by public vigilance and the FEP’s responses to public reports.  Where resources are available, consideration will be given to conducting additional surveys.  However the FEP’s focus is on completing the proactive part of the program and completing the baiting and post-bait monitoring.  Whilst the early signs are encouraging, the risk of future incursions is possible and there is still much work to be done.  The Fox Eradication Program will be looking at long-term strategies to manage this threat into the future in conjunction with partners in the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre.