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Motion: Kangaroo Harvesting Inquiry

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I move:

1. That a select committee of the Legislative Council be established to inquire into and report on kangaroo and wallaby populations in South Australia, with particular reference to:

(a) how they are affected by commercial and non-commercial harvesting;

(b) the adequacy and enforcement of the National Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos and Wallabies for Commercial Purposes and the National Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos and Wallabies for Non-commercial Purposes, including methods used and their impact on animal welfare;

(c) the sustainability of current harvesting levels and their long-term impact on the species;

(d) the impact of commercial and non-commercial harvesting on the health and wellbeing of kangaroos and wallabies, including any physical and psychological stress caused to the animals, permitted wildlife rescuers and carers and First Nations Peoples;

(e) alternative strategies and practices that could be implemented to ensure the humane treatment and conservation of these animals; and

(f) any other related matters.

2. That this council permits the select committee to authorise the disclosure or publication, as it sees fit, of any evidence or documents presented to the committee prior to such evidence being presented to the council.

I bring this motion to this council today, knowing that there was a similar inquiry in New South Wales, some two years ago now, which found that jurisdictions could be doing so much better with regard to the treatment of kangaroos and wallabies in our nation. Given that there is currently work underway to look at our management of these animals through the department's own consultation, it is time that community, carer and other voices were also heard, as we have a unique opportunity.

We will have varied opinions in this council on kangaroos and wallabies. If we are reflective of the community, that is expected to be the case, but I know from previous speeches on this issue that we have a diversity of opinions. I would note, though, that we can all agree that kangaroos and wallabies are one of Australia's iconic native animals and that they are more than just our national emblems. Kangaroos and wallabies form part of our state, the extraordinary biodiversity, and contribute to the health of our landscape. They clear plants and play an important role in bushfire hazard reduction.

They contribute to the regeneration and health of our native grasslands. Their fur traps seeds and redistributes them over wide areas, and their toes can aerate compacted and nutrient-deficient soils. These creatures are really our native ecosystem engineers. Yet, despite that national affection—indeed, putting them on our national emblems—the benefits that these creatures provide are often forgotten and there are very longstanding concerns in the community about how we treat and manage these creatures.

I bring this motion to this council today in particular as, just last month, piles of dead kangaroos and thousands of kangaroo bones were found left to rot on land adjacent to the South Para Reservoir. That is one of our largest drinking reservoirs. Kangaroo bodies had been dumped in a pit, which then filled with rainwater and then turned a toxic green and, indeed, this was done on SA Water land.

The footage from this gave South Australia promotion around the world—not the sort of promotion, I imagine, that this state wishes to see, not the sort of promotion that the Premier welcomes with his major events, and not the sort of promotion that I would hope would be something that we would see in the future. However, this is not the first time that we have seen such exposure of the way that kangaroos and wallabies are treated in our nation.

Australia-wide, these creatures are not farmed in the traditional sense; they are hunted by commercial, private and hobby shooters. They are often shot at night, often from an unstable platform, such as a moving ute, and all the while those kangaroos and wallabies, of course, are moving targets. So it comes as no surprise then that the wounding rates, rather than the kill rates, are quite high. In fact, one study found that up to 40 per cent of kangaroos were miss-shot and left with injuries. I ask: in any other industry, would a wounding rate that high be accepted?

This inquiry is needed so that we can understand how our state's kangaroo and wallaby population is being affected by the harvesting practices that we currently have in place. There have been serious questions also raised about the adequacy of the population estimates that are used to determine how many kangaroos and wallabies can actually be killed each season. Those quotas often fluctuate wildly, with population estimates that actually appear to be statistically impossible.

Hunting can take place in areas where no population data has been collected, using estimates that simply do not stack up. We need proper scrutiny of these methods and data used to decide how many of those kangaroos and wallabies can be so-called 'sustainably killed' that is scientific, verifiable and accurate.

This inquiry would also look at the consideration of how the national standards are applied here in our state. In fact, it would hopefully establish whether, firstly, the standards are being enforced, and, beyond that, consideration would be given to whether those standards are still fit for purpose.

I note that we have seen a lot of international brands take steps back from using kangaroo products. Again, I ask this council to reflect on how that reflects on our state. Both Nike and Puma have announced that they will no longer use kangaroo leather in their products. This follows others, including Gucci, Prada, Diadora and Lidl. Brands do not walk away from products for no reason. They have had concerns that were not being addressed.

I think one thing that gets lost when talking about the so-called harvesting of kangaroos and wallabies is the wellbeing of the animals, and that is why these brands are walking away. I have already mentioned that high wounding rate—as high as 40 per cent in some estimates—but we also regularly see the killing of female kangaroos and wallabies with dependent young. These young are seen as a waste product and currently joeys are disposed of with a swift blow to the head—indeed, those methods leading to broader impacts within the mob.

I also think we really need to stop and reflect on those who take care of these creatures, the wildlife carers and rescuers who spend countless hours caring for these animals. They nurse them back to health to eventually send them on their way—except that kangaroo and wallaby carers know that they are often now being forced to potentially send them back to a hunting ground. They could send them back out knowing that there is a good chance they will be shot and killed or injured.

Compassion fatigue amongst our rescuing and caring community is real. There is only so much that wildlife carers can give and, when considering this issue, their wellbeing should not be forgotten–currently, it has been.

Questions have also been raised with me by carers, in particular, on their ability to keep kangaroos in their sanctuaries long term. Some kangaroos come to the sanctuaries and are not able to be released. Carers have been able to keep these animals in the sanctuary for life, but recently concerns have been raised that in the future this will no longer be the case. I note that on the Stacey Lee program on the ABC late last year the department had to address this issue, but did not seem to give much clarity on what the future directions would be—certainly not in a way that has given much comfort to rescuers and carers.

Carers remain concerned that they will eventually be forced to either release or euthanase. That is not a choice we should be making our rescuers and wildlife carers undertake. We have heard a lot of quite worthy mentions of how the veterinary profession grapples with those issues, and we should not be forcing those same choices onto wildlife carers. 

These creatures face a series of challenges: habitat loss, climate change, and human activities all pose significant threats to kangaroo and wallaby populations in our state. We must ensure that sustainable practices are put in place to allow these creatures to thrive in the land they have inhabited for thousands of years—and, indeed, to allow the land to thrive.

In bringing this motion before the council I know this will not be the end of the debate. I know that wildlife groups, particularly kangaroo and wallaby groups, will be in contact with members of this council. They have long called for such an inquiry and are hopeful that this council will see fit, at this point in time, to take a proper look at our management of these animals.

I have had conversations with other members of this place about kangaroos, and I am sure most Australians have some affinity one way or another with these animals. I have just been prompted by my mum and my Uncle Murray about 'Rooey', that used to be my grandma's stray kangaroo that we had for many, many years while I was a young child and a teenager in the Bogan Shire. 'Rooey' was sometimes replaced by another 'Rooey'; I am not sure how many 'Rooeys' we were actually up to there in my grandma's former home, now my uncle and Mum's home, but we have always loved to take in those strays.

That is not necessarily the situation for all, even in that small community. I think that Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story documentary really captures the weird love-hate relationship that we have with kangaroos in this country, and that has perhaps led to laws and practices that are not fit for purpose or reflective of the sorts of standards we would wish to see in the future.

I encourage members to read the correspondence they will be receiving. I will be circulating a document in support of this inquiry that I received from one of the rescue groups, and I hope members will take a look at that. They will see that this is not a black and white issue; this is an issue that has many nuances to it, but it is an issue where I think we could all probably agree that these practices do need improvement.

I would hope that a committee inquiry of some sort, be it a select committee or a referral to an appropriate standing committee, might actually see that cross-party collaborative approach taken to really improve our practices and laws, and better support kangaroos and wallabies in this state and those who care for them. With that, I commend the motion.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. M. El Dannawi.

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