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Speech: Greens Call for Renewed Protections for Wombats

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (21:07): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I rise today to introduce this piece of legislation that really should not be necessary. Regrettably, however, some people feel that they have the right to be cruel to animals, and so here we are. The bill that I present to this council today would make it explicitly illegal to bury wombats alive. I think most people would be shocked that such legislation would be necessary, but it is. Once again, in the past week, wombats in the Murraylands area are being treated with the most horrendous cruelty and it looks like, once again, those responsible are unlikely to face any real consequences.

Wombats are supposed to be a protected species in South Australia and technically can only be killed under certain circumstances and with the permit. However, often during farming or construction work they can be seen as a nuisance, and in particular because of their burrows. So those burrows are filled in, sometimes quite deliberately, with the wombats still inside. Those wombats are doomed then to die a slow and horrible death, and I note that this is despite current provisions under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972, which allows a penalty for killing a hairy-nosed wombat without a permit of some $2,500 or six months' imprisonment.

I want it to be clear, even with a permit, it is still never lawful or permissible to kill a wombat by burying it alive. Despite this, day in day out in our state, wombats are being buried alive as a form of eradication. Wombats cannot dig themselves out of bulldozed burrows as they have nowhere to put the soil. They become entombed and they suffocate. If the wombats are not helped, and they can live for up to 21 days I am advised, but if they are not helped once their burrows have been filled in it is a truly horrible, slow, painful death.

This form of eradication can be stopped by protecting wombat burrows by law. Wombat burrows house many other species of wildlife, such as echidnas, small native mammals, reptiles and birds. They are ecosystems within their own right. So many of our beautiful, endangered wildlife rely on wombat burrows for habitat and they too are buried alive with those wombats.

Wombat burrows have been seen as a nuisance to some landowners, but this is in no way, shape or form an appropriate response to such a perceived nuisance. Wombats are iconic native animals and such cruelty is both unwarranted and unacceptable. At present, it is the responsibility of the Department for Environment and Water to ensure that wombats are not being killed in this way. The experience over the years has been that reports of wombats being buried have been met with indifference at best.

Indeed, I am reminded of an incident in 2017 when reports of wombats being buried alive were raised with the department. That department, then DEWNR, issued a statement that said, 'Investigators do not believe that any wombats are trapped underground,' but then seven dead wombats were collected from the property. The day after that press release was released, we were further informed by DEWNR that the advice they now had from some unidentified 'wombat experts' was that it was okay because 'any buried wombats would be able to dig themselves out', and they had removed nine dead wombats at this point.

The inconsistency and the unwillingness to take action to rescue buried wombats was disappointing then, and it continues to be disappointing and beyond being able to be accepted today. Just last week, we received more reports and, in fact, video evidence of wombats being buried alive, just outside Mannum in this case. Once again, no action seemed to be taken to help these wombats, even with the video evidence and forwarding that of the person who buried them alive admitting to it on camera.

The reports to the RSPCA went unacted upon. As the caller was told, the RSPCA was unable to assist with wildlife matters and it was the department's jurisdiction now. It was, of course, reported to the department, which has now indicated that they are 'investigating'. It was also reported to SAPOL, who at first were going to attend the scene but then, even though the footage existed, because it did not show the wombats actually being maimed or injured they refused to act. What an utterly ridiculous situation.

This is not the first time I have raised in this place the issue of wombats being buried alive. Despite repeatedly being told that wombats are protected and that it is technically illegal under the act, these wombats are still being buried alive in our state, and no-one is being held responsible, even with all the evidence that would be required.

With this bill, I act on the calls of those in the community, and I note the tens of thousands of people who have signed a petition calling for this legislation and supporting the work of the Wombat Awareness Organisation. It is time to make burying wombats alive and destroying their burrows in this way explicitly illegal. I commend the bill.

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