Liberal MLC Steve Thomas slams ‘lack of funding’ for pest management in WA

Headshot of Adam Poulsen
Adam PoulsenCountryman
A sustained and successful trapping program in Hedland has led to declining numbers of feral animals, such as this fox.
Camera IconA sustained and successful trapping program in Hedland has led to declining numbers of feral animals, such as this fox. Credit: West Regional/Port Hedland Port Authority

Damning new figures show farmers are spending about 333 times more per hectare to control feral animals on their own properties than what the State Government is spending on the same cause on unallocated crown land.

The figures were laid bare after Liberal MLC Steve Thomas made a series of enquiries to a Senate estimates committee regarding the management of WA’s pest plant and animal species.

The enquiries revealed the McGowan Government spent $6,216,202 last financial year on controlling introduced animals on State-managed lands, and $3,035,934 on controlling introduced plants.

Dr Thomas, who lives in Donnybrook and is the member for the South West Region, described the funding as “a pittance”.

“This just demonstrates what I’ve said repeatedly: that the biggest non-performer in terms of biosecurity is actually the State Government,” he told Countryman.

“The neighbour that’s causing the greatest infestation — the worst neighbour — is the Government, and because of this lack of investment in biosecurity, private landowners are being inundated by pests from State-controlled lands.”

The funding was split between categories including State forest, national parks, unallocated crown land, and “other” lands managed by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.

Across the entire State, funding for controlling feral animals equated to 12.9c per hectare for National Parks, 3.06c per hectare for State forests, and 0.24c per square hectare for unallocated crown land.

Meanwhile, Australian farmers were spending on average 80c/ha controlling feral animals on their properties, according to a 2019 national survey by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences.

Based on those figures, farmers were spending 333 times more per hectare on managing pest animals than the State Government was on unallocated crown land.

Farmers were spending about 26 times more per hectare than the Government was in State forests, and 6.2 times more in national parks.

Scott Mills uses a helicopter to check on feral camels at his Pilbara cattle station, Warrawagine.
Camera IconScott Mills uses a helicopter to check on feral camels at his Pilbara cattle station, Warrawagine. Credit: Nic Ellis/WA News

“Ultimately, the Government needs to be spending significantly more; the difference is phenomenal,” Dr Thomas said.

“The best the Government can do is control vector animals on land that they manage, and it’s obvious they’re not doing that.

“This is why local communities get so angry about the biosecurity levy; it’s not so much that they don’t want to contribute, but they get so angry because the State contributes so little by comparison.”

Under the Biosecurity and Agriculture Act 2007, Recognised Biosecurity Groups are funded by rates levied from property holders by the Office of State Revenue, with the WA Government equally matching all funding collected under the declared pest rate.

Critics of the system say the onus is increasingly falling on landowners — via RBGs — to fund activities the State should pay for.

“The State used to spend more... but it’s been getting away with spending less and less,” Dr Thomas said.

“If there’s a role for the State Government, it’s to invest in biosecurity and feral animal management in particular, for those animals that are already present. That is the one significant contribution they can make.

“If (WA Agriculture Minister) Alannah MacTiernan wanted to demonstrate a genuine commitment to agriculture, she would be throwing resources at the removal and control of feral pests.”

Dr Thomas’s enquiries also revealed that, since January 2018, the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development had not prosecuted a single landholder for pest control non-compliance, and had only issued one infringement.

He said this showed the Government and DPIRD had “not the slightest interest in enforcing biosecurity” and had “put it all in the too hard basket”.

“That’s a bigger risk to the State, ultimately, then people coming back from Bali (and spreading foot-and-mouth disease),” Dr Thomas said.

Hon Dr Steve Thomas MLC, talks to the media on the economic state of WA, the State Budget and COVID.
Camera IconMember for the South West Region Steve Thomas MLC says the State Government should be spending more on managing pest plant and animal species. Credit: Daniel Wilkins/The West Australian

According to DPIRD’s regulatory protocols, the Department “applies education and cooperative engagement” as the first step in compliance, followed by a series of warnings, remedial action, and ultimately legal proceedings.

Mr Thomas accused DPIRD of simply “not enforcing the rules that currently exist”.

Countryman contacted Ms MacTiernan for comment but instead received a response from a State Government spokeswoman.

The spokeswoman said biosecurity was “everyone’s business”, with Government, industry and the community all having a role to play in minimising the impact of pests.

“The DPIRD budget for invasive species control and management is approximately $21 million per annum,” she said.

“In addition, the State Government forecasts in 2022-23 just over $6m in funds will be raised from the declared pest rate and matched by the State. This all goes into the community for the control of declared pests.”

The spokeswoman said DBCA managed vast areas of the State with an emphasis on conservation and recovery of native plant and animal species.

“DBCA applies a prioritisation process to identify weed and pest animal species that are a priority for action across DBCA managed lands,” she said.

“DBCA also undertakes other complementary land management and biodiversity conservation activities, such as actions for the recovery of threatened species, monitoring, research and prescribed burning, which contribute to the impacts of weeds and pest animals.

“The State Government’s approach to widespread and established species is to support landholders to fulfil their legal responsibilities to control declared pests through provision of best practice advice and tools, and by supporting Recognised Biosecurity Groups and the declared pest rate.

“Investment is focused on preventing the entry and establishment of new pests and on key species control programs and initiatives, such as the Wild Dog Action Plan, State Barrier Fence and Esperance Extension, Skeleton Weed control, European House Borer control, European Wasp control and invasive ant eradication, such as Red Imported Fire Ant.

“Where new high priority pests enter the State, State Government resources are focused on detecting, containing and eradicating the incursion before it establishes.

“The State Government also provides $7.75 million of NRM (Natural Resource Management) funding per year which is focused on eliminating animal and plant pests.”

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