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Victorian Labor’s environmental policy amnesia - political opportunism trumps principle

The Andrews Labor government has just failed a crucial test of its integrity in relation to threatened species listings and biodiversity governance. Immediately prior to losing office in December 2010, the Brumby Labor government had finalized listing the dingo as a threatened native taxon under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act.

The current Labor government’s virtual trashing of that listing, through the reinstatement of a ‘wild-dog’ bounty, which directly panders to the Victorian Upper House Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party members, who were voted in on a relative handful of first preference votes, now casts a shadow over the Victorian Government’s commitment to biodiversity conservation.

The broader significance of the dingo listing relates to the dingo’s pivotal ecological role as apex predator. Ecologists around the world are increasingly pointing to the importance of top predators for ecosystem stability at a time of environmental dislocation and accelerating species loss.

The bounty is nothing more than a publicly subsidized membership recruitment drive for recreational hunting organizations because membership of such organizations is a precondition for permission to kill 'wild-dogs'/dingoes and receipt of the bounty payment.

While Jaala Pulford, the Agriculture Minister, against strong advice from peak environmental organizations and environmental experts, has obstinately persisted in reintroducing the bounty, the Environment Minister, Lily D'Ambrosio has remained invisible. No environmental defence of the bounty has been forthcoming, nor could there be.
This reflects a disturbing, environmentally destructive imbalance of ministerial responsibilities established under the previous Coalition government, whereby the Minister for Agriculture has shared responsibilities for key sections of the Wildlife and Flora and Fauna Guarantee Acts.

Labor is now demonstrating its willingness to continue the environmental dirty work of the Coalition government with little acknowledgement of the environmentally progressive legacy of the Brumby government's dingo listing and the arrangements then put in place to ensure a balanced approach to dingo protection and farm stock protection.

By reinstating the bounty, Victorian Labor has displayed serious environmental incompetence and party leaders seem unable or unwilling to do anything about it. Victorians deserve better.

Attached are two media releases, one by the Humane Society International (HIS) and the other by the National Dingo Preservation and Recovery Program Inc. (NDPRP). The HSI emphasises that there is no sound pest animal control justification for the bounty and that it will be environmentally harmful. The bounty of $120 per scalp will make no significant contribution to protecting farm stock from wild-dog predation.

The NDPRP Inc. highlights how the Andrews Labor Government has been captured by extreme elements of the farming lobby and recreational shooters organizations in the misguided belief that the ALP can win over a greater share of the rural vote to compensate for the likely electoral gains of the Greens at the next Victorian election.

Victorians need to ask where such extreme anti-environmentalism by Victorian Labor is heading. There is now a concerted push by the gun lobby for increased access to public lands and the advocacy of ‘community involvement’ in ‘pest animal’ management is providing the rhetorical basis for greater access. Victorians can expect that their national parks will become a focus of this push. At the moment, it is illegal to carry a firearm into national parks. However, given its present reactionary policy trajectory, Labor will likely continue to dump environmental principle in favour of political expediency.

Val Morgan

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Victorian Labor destroys legacy with backflip on dingo bounty
26th October 2016

Humane Society International (HSI) is incensed by the announcement that the Victorian Labor Government has destroyed its dingo conservation legacy with “a bigger, better bounty” than the Coalition program they scrapped just a year ago. A far cry from the previous Labor Government’s landmark listing of the dingo as a threatened species in 2008, the move signals a new era where Labor is beholden to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party with the state’s wildlife considered nothing more than collateral.

An abundance of reasons this regressive and misguided bounty program is bound to fail at the expense of Victoria’s environmental health were outlined by HSI and echoed by experts last week. They include: leaving the Government exposed to fraud; an inability to determine genetic purity in the field; and ‘wild dog’-dingo hybrids playing the same ecological role as genetically pure dingoes, including suppressing feral cat and fox populations to the benefit of countless native species.

"The Victorian Government is using taxpayer money to incentivise the killing of a threatened species with the ecological fallout to impact dozens more, it’s inexcusable and the public should be outraged. An opportunity to reform management to the mutual benefit of farmers and the environment has been ignored for purely political purposes, and we’re left with short-sighted investment in outdated methods that have repeatedly been tried and failed," said HSI Senior Program Manager Evan Quartermain.

Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford’s justification that a bounty of $120 per ‘wild dog’ scalp will be introduced “In recognition of the role hunting can play in supporting the management of wild dogs” is in stark conflict with expert organisations such as the Invasive Species Council, who have determined that shooting is a highly ineffective control measure for canid species. Similarly, Minister Pulford’s claim that “One less dog roaming on people's farms is a good outcome” demonstrates an alarming lack of ecological understanding. The latest research suggests that such control programs in fact increase stock predation due to pack disturbance altering behaviours.

“Alternative stock protection methods such as guardian animals have proven to be effective and are ripe for Government investment. Yet against all evidence the Labor Government has turned their back on the iconic and threatened dingo, bowing to shooters groups and trashing their conservation legacy by mimicking Coalition policy. They should instead be focused on strengthening the dingo’s threatened listing, with the voice of Minister for the Environment Lily D’Ambrosio conspicuous in its absence,” Mr Quartermain concluded.

HSI is currently seeking legal advice on the legality of the Victorian ‘wild dog’ bounty announced today.

Media Contact:
Evan Quartermain, Senior Program Manager: 0404 306 993 or (02) 9973 1728

HSI concentrates on the preservation of endangered animals and ecosystems and works to ensure quality of life for all animals, both domestic and wild. HSI is the largest animal protection not-for-profit organisation in the world and has been established in Australia since 1994.

https://www.hsi.org.au/go/to/2866/26th-october-victorian-labor-destroys-legacy-with-backflip-on-di.html#.WBF_ofS8-So

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Media Release

National Dingo Preservation and Recovery Program (Inc. A0051763G )
Date: Monday November 7 , 2016

Does Victoria have an Environment Minister? –
Agriculture Minister continues to trash threatened species listing

The National Dingo Preservation and Recovery Program Inc. (NDPRP) today expressed dismay that, as the Victorian Minister for Agriculture, Jaala Pulford, appears to have run amok with environmentally damaging ‘pest animal’ policy, the Victorian Environment Minister seems to have resigned herself to a junior minister role over crucial biodiversity decision making.

It is extraordinary that at the very same time as the Minister for Agriculture has announced a ’wild dog’ bounty, she has announced a review of the same policy in 12 month’s time by a newly established ‘Wild Dog Management Advisory Group’. The NDPRP urges the public to ask why a policy that has so little to recommend it was adopted in the first place.

Having been strongly advised by peak environmental organisations, environmental experts and progressive elements within the Victorian ALP itself that bounties are an ineffectual means of pest animal control, would undermine Victoria’s listing of the dingo as a threatened species and would be environmentally harmful, the Agriculture Minister has persisted in imposing the bounty, for which recreational hunters will receive $120 dollars for each dingo scalp. President of the NDPRP, Dr Ian Gunn, today stated:

“The announcement of a review of the bounty decision in one year’s time is clearly a concession that the Agriculture Minister has been forced into by more environmentally responsible elements within the Victorian Labor Party. However, if the justification for the bounty policy is so spurious, why was it reinstated at all? Why would the Victorian Labor government allow the Agriculture Minister to dictate poor policy that is known to have no environmental or pest management validity?”

Part of the answer is the presence of two Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party members in the Victorian Legislative Assembly, with whom political horse trading has become a priority – in this instance at the expense of good environmental management.

Dr Gunn added:

“Unfortunately, the Victorian Government is endorsing what amounts to a publically-funded membership recruitment drive for recreational hunting organisations, as membership of these organisations is an eligibility requirement collection of the bounty.”

“At present the Victorian Labor government is in a race to the bottom with the Liberal-Nationals Opposition to show that Labor can implement the toughest wild-dog policy, regardless of the environmental consequences.”

This is evident in the second stated purpose of the ‘Wild Dog Management Advisory Group’, which is to review the central pillar of the dingo threatened species listing – that lethal control for dingoes/wild dogs not be permitted beyond a 3 kilometer buffer at the interface of public and private land (on public land). This buffer was put in place by the Brumby Labor government to ensure equitable protection for both farm livestock and the threatened dingo population.

Dr Gunn stated:

“The NDPRP considers that, on being forced into a review of the flawed bounty policy before it has even begun, the Minister for Agriculture has countered by including a review of the key protective element at the heart of the dingo threatened species listing, which had been put in place by the Brumby government in 2010 – the 3 kilometer limitation on lethal control.

It appears that the Minister is effectively using her privilege of having shared responsibilities for wildlife and biodiversity conservation legislation to undermine measures previously put in place to protect Victorian biodiversity. ”

Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of the Victorian Labor Government’s treatment of the ‘wild-dog’ bounty issue is the invisibility of the Victorian Environment Minister, Lily D’Ambrosio.

Dr Gunn stressed:

“Any review of the terms of the dingo threatened species listing should be led by the Victorian Environment Minister and state biodiversity officers, not the Department of Agriculture. It is extraordinary that a review of key aspects of the dingo threatened species listing, arrived at through extensive stakeholder consultation with the Department of Sustainability and Environment in 2009, should now be subject to review by the Department of Agriculture. The public might be forgiven for asking whether Victoria has an Environment Minister at this point in time. ”

The NDPRP calls upon the Premier, Daniel Andrews, to ensure that any review of the terms of the dingo threatened species listing be conducted by the Department for the Environment and led by the Minister for the Environment. The primary focus of any such review must be biodiversity conservation, not pest animal management. The Department of Agriculture has shown itself to be incapable of responsible, balanced decision making on this issue. The current approach is quite perverse and is damaging the Victorian Labor government’s environmental credibility.

Dr Ian Gunn BVSc. FACVSc. President NDPRP, 0427 387778 (mob.) ian.gunn@monash.edu

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