Mr PEDERICK (Hammond) (10:55): I advise the house that I am not the lead speaker in regard to the estimates reply. I will say in my lead-in comments that I did appreciate the work of both chairs of these committees, the members for Florey and Little Para, who sometimes had to put up with interjections and frustration, but I think they did the job good service considering what was going on. I guess the disappointing thing—
An honourable member interjecting:
Mr PEDERICK: It is not all praise, I am sorry—with estimates is the need for some ministers to give long opening statements and then to have what are commonly known as Dorothy Dixers or government questions, if you talk to government members, and it takes up valuable investigation time. I commend the ministers who just took pretty well all opposition questions; I commend them for having the guts to do that.
I want to start in regard to forestry and PIRSA estimates. This was an issue where the Minister for Agriculture thought he needed to give a 20-minute opening statement in the agriculture sector and a 10-minute opening statement in forestry, which only had a 30-minute time frame, and it does create angst. I note that during the discussion and in the opening statement the minister talked about South Australia's fruit fly free status. However, the government has failed to support my motion to establish Mypolonga as a fruit fly exclusion zone.
I think it is very important to either have Mypolonga as its own exclusion zone, which may be the better way procedurally and bureaucratically, or attach it to the Riverland. I know the amount of fruit grown south of Bowhill is certainly a lot less than is grown in the Riverland, but I think it is vital to make sure we protect our vital producers and our markets. The government should have another look at what they can do in the area south of Bowhill towards Murray Bridge.
What I am disappointed about in the agriculture estimates and in the budget is the $1 million annual funding taken away from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics. I asked the minister whether he met with Mr David Mitchell, who is the chief executive officer of the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics, and he advised me he had not, yet he decided that he would cut that $1 million annually. This is at a time when agriculture is really showing its force as a function of the state and a very vital function of the economy.
I believe agriculture has always been the economic base, yet here we have the Centre for Plant Functional Genomics and breeding being denied money to do their valuable work and I think that may come back to bite us. The minister made the point in estimates that we are doing work that helps the whole of Australia. So what? We used to do work in Libya and Middle Eastern countries, going over there with our government advisers and John Shearer equipment showing them how to farm. We were showing the world, but it seems we cannot be world leaders any more, let alone national leaders.
It is noted that $100 million is coming out of the budget of Primary Industries this year and $81 million of that, I believe, is the South Australian River Murray Sustainability Program Funding, and the rest comes out of other regional grants. It is disappointing that this money is not being replaced by other moneys that could be sought by the state government from the commonwealth for other projects that are vitally needed throughout this state to promote agriculture. Agriculture generates over $20 billion annually into our state's coffers, and so it needs more support.
Certainly, the Clipsal 500 grandstand has raised some interest. I think what has happened is disgraceful. It appears that the government realised there were some issues with some of the contracting, and many companies have been left out of pocket by Victorian company Elite falling over and people not being paid. I have seen some interesting comments about this on some online media commentary feedback, and people saying, 'This will get it out to Tailem Bend.' Yes, there is hope to have a second Clipsal at Tailem Bend by late next year, but I would still like to see two events, one in Adelaide and one at Tailem Bend into the future.
This is a huge problem for the government. Apart from giving a long-term contract to a company that has almost immediately fallen over, we find many people well out of pocket by hundreds of thousands of dollars, which they will take years to recoup. You have to question what the government is going to do for these people. Clipsal is a great event and these stands are absolutely vital to the running of that event, yet we do not seem to have any idea about in which direction we are going.
In regard to New Zealand fur seals, I want to reflect on what minister Hunter said on 10 February 2016 when he was asked a question about the diet of seals and the effect that this has on the ecology, because they consume over 400 tonne a day. There are 100,000 fur seals living along the coast of South Australia and also in the Coorong and Lakes. The minister indicated from his answer that:
The best available evidence shows that the increase in seal numbers in the Coorong and Lower Lakes area has not resulted in any broadscale neg ative ecological impacts to the area …mo st of the fur seals ' diet in the ocean is made up of red bait and lantern fish , which are small bait fish that have no commercial fishery in South Australia.
In estimates when minister Bignell was asked whether this 400 tonne figure of fish being taken by New Zealand fur seals had been taken into account through the recreational fishing management plan, Professor Mehdi Doroudi provided a somewhat interesting answer which stated:
There is no specific study right now that has taken into account how many fish are taken by seals. As a general point, when SARDI does its stock assessment work and scientific work it is based on the a vailability an d abundance of a species.
Minister Hunter was questioned about the impact seals are having on Ngarrindjeri totems and other native birdlife. I asked a question on the appropriate budget line which talks about animal welfare in Budget Paper 4, Volume 2, page 156, Sub-program 1.3:
I understand that sub-program 1.3 has been established to ensure the humane treatment of animals. Can the minister advise how this program is ackn owledging and ensuring the humane treatment of the Ngarrindjeri's totems and other native bird life in the Coorong and Lakes, who are being pointless ly killed by the New Zealand fur seals?
The minister responded:
I just need to correct the question er . The New Zealand fur seals he refers to are n ow called long-nosed fur seals—
It obviously was not convenient to call them New Zealand fur seals—
The New Zealand fur seals are long- nosed fur seals. They have been here for about 100,000 years, I am advised by our scientists. The Australian fur seals, on the other hand, seem to be an itinerant group of South African fur seals who have come in over the last 10,000 years. So , the long-nosed fur seals, or New Zealand fur seals, are the original seals, I am advised, going back that far.
Then I asked:
And what are you doing about the pointless death of Ngarrindjeri totems and other native bird life along the Coorong and Lakes by these fur seals? That was the question.
The next part of the response was:
My advice is that the agency has set up cameras and had volunteers monitor the pelican rookeries, for example, down in the Coorong. They have gone over 70 hours of filming time, checked it, and have see n absolutely no evidence of attacks on pelicans by long-nosed fur seals or any seals at all. So, we hav e gone to great lengths to monitor these colonies and to see if there are any interactions which need to be moderated, and my advice is there have been none that have been recorded on over 70 hours of monitoring from the CCTV recordings, or indeed seen by an y of our staff, that I have been made aware of.
Then I asked:
So, aside from the colonies and right across the length of the barrages, the Coorong and the Lakes, DEWNR staff would have to be the only people who have not sighted any dead musk ducks, fairy terns or pelicans—not one.
The minister's response was:
My advice is this: yes, you may see corpses of animals around the place. They are not infrequent in nature, things do die, but there has been no evidence that we have been able to ascertain that they have been caused by anything other than fe ral animals— cats, dogs, foxes, for example. SARDI, apparently, has checked seal scats and has found absolutely no evidence in those seal scats of any seabirds or sea creatures in their diet other than the fish that form a normal part of their diet. While you speculate, anecdotally, on seeing a corpse lying around, there is no evidence that I have available to me that the seals have been eating ducks or pelicans, and the scats checked through SARDI have confirmed that.
The minister continues:
Here you are speculating, on your great scientific background, about seals rampaging through these places killing all sorts of animals, and you are not even thinking that other species, like foxes, cats or feral dogs, could be taking any of these species and eating them and leaving corpses. You just have this one view that the seals are the things that are killing them, with no evidence whatsoever, Adrian. You have no evidence whatsoever, no scientific evidence at all, and you are maintaining this line of inquiry without even thinking that maybe something else is actually doing this. Maybe something else, like a fox; maybe something else, like a feral cat. Where is your scientific information about that? Whereas I can tell you that SARDI has told me that they have checked the scats of seals and there is no evidence of pelicans or ducks as part of their diet in those scats.
Just like they do not find any evidence of little penguins which have been destroyed. Your department, from you down, has the Sergeant Schultz approach with regard to what impact these seals are having—
Then there was some comment about the points I was making, and I responded:
I don't care. If he can make a point , I am going to make a point. I have communities that see these effects—
Then I continued, stating:
This is the department that uses the Sergeant Schultz approach—
And if anyone does not know who Sergeant Schultz was, he was in
Hogan's Heroes, a great program set in a World War II prison camp, and he knew nothing and saw nothing—
yet these communities and the Ngarrindjeri, whom I know the minister meets with, say these same things. Let him talk to the Ngarrindjeri and let him see when he gets round this approach whether they [DEWNR] just want to have their heads in the sand.
With regard to minister Bignell, I asked a similar question about the Ngarrindjeri totems and other bird life and his reply was:
We do not have responsibility to the pelicans …W e just have the fish . We do not do the pelicans.
I want to comment about a comment from a senior member of DEWNR's staff in one of the dot points sent out to DEWNR people and members of the working group. This is still the classic DEWNR response. It stated:
There is no evidence that seals are altering the ecological character of the Coorong and Lower Lakes. The suggestion that seals are a clear and present danger to the birds and fish populations have not been backed up by what we are seeing. Sustainable management of the fishery and long-term business survival of any business that
harvests natural resources is dependent on adapting business practices to environmental conditions. That is the focus of the current research—new crackers and new fishing gear.
I want to read a letter from Garry Hera-Singh. He is the Chair of the Southern Fisherman's Association, Lakes and Coorong Fishery. I quote:
I support Tracy's [Tracy Hill] comments 100 per cent.
The difficulty with most people on the government payroll is understanding and appreciating NZ fur seal impacts in the lower lakes and Coorong region that the traditional owners said explicitly were never in the region in numbers like present. There is no evidence in their middens or dreamtime stories that go back 6,000 years. We (the fishing industry) see the devastation of NZ fur seal impacts DAILY. Whether the impacts are on native fauna or impacting on our fishing business, it is in OUR FACES EVERYDAY.
There is and has been a disturbing trend by DEWNR to continually 'down play' the impacts of [New Zealand] fur seals in the Coorong and Lakes over the last 12-18 months. Clearly this issue does not sit well in the current 'city centric' politics of the day!
The fishery (and community) is losing millions of dollars per annum because of the explosion in [New Zealand fur seal] numbers.
I would like to enlighten the author to some background information to their 'general info' dot points raised earlier.
This is reflecting on dot points from DEWNR. He continues:
Contrary to your belief that there has NOT been a subsidy or waiver of LICENCE FEES for the lakes and Coorong fishers, there has been a specific NET FEE relief but not licence fee relief! E g . I am given almost an $8,000 per annum net fee relief but I still have to find $14,000 for licence fees in the 2016/17 [financial year]…you may argue a small price to pay for the privilege to supply consumers with a fresh and high quality seafood product that keeps a few locals in a job!
Secondly, there is an inference that the fishery has not done too badly with $460,000 subsidy . I n the same period I estimate very conservatively the fishery has lost $8 million in the last two years.
Briefly, lost value adding opportunities ie. filleted, smoked, cryovak and MAP seafood packs and an array of marinated products, loss of niche markets, and a loss of market share to increasing imports. Yep, this so called 'smart country' just keeps exporting rural/regional jobs. Further evidence of down playing the [New Zealand fur seal] impacts in the [Lakes and Coorong ] fishery is suggested by the windfall industry received from the Fisheries Research & Development Corporation (FRDC) of $260,000 to look at seal deterrence an d other fishing methods. Let's get this issue clear, $50K from DEWNR, $50K from PIRSA and $150K from FRDC = $250K.
Just for your information, the Lakes and Coorong fishers have paid an annual levy into the FRDC research fund for more than 30 years. Last year the levy was just over $15K.
Enough said about our contribution from 36 fishers and their families.
It appears that the various seal counts are perceived to be an accurate reflection of what is actually within the Lakes and Coorong.
I will repeat what one 'seal expert' (and employed by govt.) said to me on a number of occasions, he said, 'generally what you count is only about 20 per cent what is in the region.' The more I see, the more I think this is so true!
Next time you see a number, just think there was 80 per cent that was NOT counted.
Southern Fisherman's Association
Lakes and Coorong Fishery
That shows the level of angst, and they would have relayed these concerns to DEWNR. When you have a minister that says that not one native bird has been attacked by a New Zealand fur seal or a long-nosed fur seal, whatever he wants to call them, I think that is a disgraceful comment to make because it is absolutely not true. Something needs to be done. Communities at Goolwa and Meningie are being severely affected by these seals, and the government needs to stick with the facts and not keep creating a fantasy.
In the closing time I have, other things I am concerned about include foster carers and the fact that it is something like 130 children who have to be housed in motel rooms. I am not surprised because some of the things that have come to me from foster carers and previous foster carers about allegations about their treatment—and a lot of the time these turn out to be false allegations. The treatment that foster carers get from staff is absolutely disgraceful. I know some people who have served for decades in this role, and they wish now they had never stepped down that path.
Families SA is falling apart as a department. With FOI requests, we just keep getting excuses about why we do not get them. We cannot get them out of the DECD side of things. I note they are still running two streams. It is an absolute disgrace and it has to be fixed so that we can get some foster carers, if that is at all possible.