National Parks And Wildlife (Wombat Burrows) Amendment Bill

Bills, In Parliament, Speeches

Introduction and First Reading

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:09): Obtained leave and introduced a bill for an act to amend the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972. Read a first time.

Second Reading

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:10): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I rise today to bring back a piece of legislation that I previously introduced that is still, regrettably, necessary. Unfortunately, we still have people in our community who feel they have the right to be cruel to animals, and so here we are. Further, we appear to have government departments that are unwilling to enforce our existing laws and protect our native animals. I commend the work of dedicated wildlife carers, and in particular Brigitte Stevens from the Wombat Awareness Organisation, for their dedication to protecting and advocating for our beloved wombats.

The bill I have introduced to the chamber today would make it explicitly illegal to bury wombats alive. I think most people would be shocked to hear that such legislation would be necessary, but it is. The southern hairy-nosed wombat is the faunal emblem of our state, and though it was once widespread in semi-arid regions of our state the species is now restricted to isolated populations.

Wombats are supposed to be a protected species in South Australia and technically they can only be killed under certain circumstances and with a permit. However, often during farming or construction work they can be seen as a nuisance, in particular because of their burrows, so those burrows are filled in, sometimes quite deliberately, with the wombats still inside. These wombats are then doomed to die a slow and horrible death.

This is a clear sign that our laws are inadequate and not properly enforced. The current provisions under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 allow a penalty for killing a hairy-nosed wombat without a permit at $2,500 or six months’ imprisonment. I want to be clear: even with a permit, it is not permissible to kill a wombat by burying it alive. Yet, it is estimated that hundreds of wombats are killed by being buried alive every year as their burrows are bulldozed, and nothing is being done to prevent this.

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, they can live for up to 21 days once their burrows have been filled in. This is a truly horrible, slow and 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 in their own right. So many of our beautiful endangered wildlife rely on wombat burrows for habitat and they too are buried alive with the wombats. The killing has to stop. We need to find a better way to coexist with these beautiful animals, and we need to actually protect them, not just pay lip service that we are doing so.

Wombat burrows are sometimes seen as a nuisance to landowners, but this is in no way, shape or form an appropriate response to a perceived nuisance. Wombats are iconic native animals, and this cruelty is 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, but the experience over many 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, they issued a statement that investigators ‘do not believe that any wombats are trapped underground’, but seven dead wombats had been collected from the property. The day after that statement was released, we were further informed by the then department—DEWNR, now DEW—that the advice they had received from some unidentified wombat expert was that ‘any buried wombats would be able to dig themselves out’ and that they had removed no dead wombats from the property.

The inconsistency and the unwillingness to take action to rescue buried wombats was disappointing at best and continues to be disappointing today. In fact, that is a very tame word before those actions. Even last year, I shared with this chamber the disturbing story of wombats being buried alive once again, this time at Lake Carlet.

The incident was reported to the RSPCA, which was unable to assist as wildlife matters were under the department’s jurisdiction. It was then reported to the department, which indicated that they would investigate. It was then reported to SAPOL, which was unable to, as the footage did not show the wombats being maimed or injured. What an utterly ridiculous situation. This is not the first time I have raised the issue of wombats being buried alive.

Despite being repeatedly being told that wombats are protected and that this is technically illegal under the act, wombats are still being buried alive and no-one is being held responsible, and no-one is stepping up. With this bill, I want to act on the calls that have been made for some years by the community, and in particular the calls of the Wombat Awareness Organisation, and make burying wombats alive and destroying their burrows explicitly illegal.

People who are responsible for such horrific killing of wombats need to be brought to justice. We must ensure that we have the right tools to properly prosecute those who break our laws and the laws must be explicit in condemning and preventing animal cruelty. There is never an excuse for such a senseless and cruel killing of animals, especially when the animals in question are our precious and threatened native fauna. It is only by showing that there are significant repercussions to these incidents of animal cruelty that we can start to protect them properly. With that, I commend the bill to the chamber.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. I.K. Hunter.