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Estimates questions on Wombats to Minister Rockliff

8 June 2017
Ms  DAWKINS  - Have you reassessed your cull permit system, considering the outbreak of mange in the wombat population and the localised extinctions?
 
Mr ROCKLIFF - The cull permit system was recently reassessed by the Minister for Environment and Parks.  I am now responsible for wombats as a result of the changes we made recently.  Mr Groom announced funding of around $105 000, divided into three main categories concerning wombat mange.  It is a parasite that burrows into the skin, a mite.  It causes symptoms that include itching, hair loss and exposed wounds that risk infection.  It has been around for some time.  It is not a new issue for wombats per se.  I can remember seeing them when I was farming 20 years ago.  They look terrible.  It is not good.  It is present in wombat populations around the state, most particularly in Narawntapu National Park.
 
Long-term data from the department's annual spotlight survey has shown that wombat populations are not declining at a state level, but I am informed that in fact Tasmania-wide numbers have been increasing in recent years.  However, it is true to say that in Narawntapu National Park and the surrounding local area wombat numbers have declined, likely due to an increasing prevalence of mange.  We are committed to addressing the issue of wombat mange, including determining the factors contributing to localised population declines and the most appropriate management strategies going forward.
 
In March this year we announced a $100 000 program of additional activities to address this issue, with $35 000 to be spent on the monitoring statewide wombat populations and assessing the prevalence and extent of mange.  Conservation Volunteers Australia will be contracted to undertake this work shortly, and $35 000 will be used to contract the University of Tasmania to undertake research into mange treatment methods, while $30 000 will be allocated to provide financial support for wombat community groups and individuals to treat mange-affected wombats.  I have had a lot of engagement with people on Facebook and many emails about this issue.  The department has started administering grants to individuals and groups who meet the criteria to access funding assistance.  Funding of up to $3000 is available per individual or group for infrastructure or consumables to assist with treating mange-affected wombats.  To date, one application has been received from an east coast community group, so well done to them. 
 
We have also established a working group comprising officers across the department and the University of Tasmania.  This group meets every two months and communicates regularly with a community-based reference group.  It is focusing on reviewing the population status of the common wombat in Tasmania and its offshore islands; improving knowledge of the distribution of mange-affected wombats and the scale of impacts and factors contributing to increased prevalence or increased mortality; reviewing and facilitating research on sarcoptic mange management tools; and developing guidelines for the treatment of wombats affected by mange.
 
When it comes to crop protection permits - and I know this is the crux of your question - as a result of the issues around the impacts of mange, the responsible minister at the time, Mr Groom, asked the department to conduct a review of the process around issuing crop protection permits for wombats.  From this review the process has been changed so that permits can only be approved by senior managers from within DPIPWE, and where serious adverse material impact can be demonstrated to a farming business.  The responsibility for approval lies within senior managers, but approval is only given where it can be absolutely seen that it is having an adverse impact on a farming business, for example. 
 
Since 2010 the department has issued an average of 34 crop protection permits for wombats per year.  Since the review I am advised that three permits have been issued statewide.  Notwithstanding this, I am aware of community concern about this issue and the issue of crop protection permits for wombats, particularly when I hear populations around Narawntapu National Park have declined in localised population.  West Tamar is an example of an area suffering the effects of mange, and I am currently considering potential options in going forward, particularly in the interim while we gain a stronger understanding of the full extent of mange and its impacts.  We will work with our primary producers to ensure that their businesses and business conditions are taken account of when it comes to crop protection permits.
 
I have given this issue a lot of thought.  I have taken and have been provided with a lot of feedback from individual constituents.  There is a stronger system in place which has clearly resulted in less permits being issued to date.  Bearing in mind this is only three months into the process, I am expecting a reduced number from the 34 on average permits that have been issued since around 2010, but I will be guided by evidence as well.  I also recognise the community concern on this issue and the work school groups have done such as the wombat doors, for example.  School communities are very involved in tackling this problem as well.  I understand the concerns around the issue of mange, the work that has been done to address that and the issuing of crop protection permits for wombats.  We have to balance all that up.  If we can tighten the rules to protect the wombats, particularly in those areas of decline, we should be doing that.