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Dog Control Amendment Bill 2019

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 31 October 2019

Tags: Penguins, Native Wildlife, Legislation

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Deputy Speaker, this is a bill that has been a long time coming and very welcome. It has been widely supported amongst people in the community we have spoken to. We sought people's views on this bill and the provisions within it broadly have been supported. That is not saying that the actions in it will be anything like enough. That is the very strong message we have received from people across Tasmania that this is a necessary but not sufficient response by this Government to the concerning increasing losses of little penguins around Tasmania. People from the University of Tasmania, BirdLife Tasmania and other expert conservationists are warning us that we are very close to losing all little penguin colonies in Tasmania altogether. The experts are telling us that they are really on a cliff, is what.

Dr Eric Woehler from BirdLife Tasmania has been a relentlessly present voice documenting the existence of colonies, personally walking the circumference of Tasmania, every beach in Tasmania. This is the work that he does on behalf of all of us who care about birds. He is alone, often, the person who has been collecting the evidence about where shoreline birds live, which birds are where around coastlines in Tasmania, how many birds there are in different seasons and how their population numbers are changing over time. I pay credit to a man who gets this exercise; it certainly keeps him fit. It is a big personal toll on somebody who does such work himself because he cares so much. All Tasmanians who love birds owe him and the other people in BirdLife Tasmania, conservationists around Tasmania, a debt of gratitude. They are observing and doing everything they can to keep beautiful little birds like penguins with us in the future.

People read in the Mercury today or yesterday the really concerning news that shearwaters have not yet arrived as expected in Tasmania. This is devastating news. For those of us who are watching the breakdown in climate systems around the world, this is sadly not a surprise. We do not know what has happened to the shearwater population, but they have not arrived here in the numbers they usually would. Usually by mid-September they would be flying in to nest and to make Tasmania their home and to continue their populations. It has been fully a month and the flocks of shearwaters have not arrived in anything like their usual numbers. We hear from the Arctic regions, North Alaska I believe, of dead shearwaters washing up on beaches. We are confronting a complete breakdown of the climate. Because of population pressures and so many other changes that are confronting planet Earth, we are looking at bird extinctions like we have never seen before.

In a wine-growing district, the New South Wales Department of Environment have four beautiful little birds listed on a plaque for tourists. 'Welcome to the wine region and these are the beautiful little birds who live here.' Three of the four are no longer around. They have always been present in that region have disappeared - extinct they believe. The last one is highly threatened.

Every time we take an action, approve a development, log a forest and every time we clear land of native habitat for farming, every time we put chemical pollutants into waterways, increase our carbon dioxide emissions and increase the heating of the planet, we are contributing to the disappearance of those birds. That is the way things are. But we can do something about it. That does not have to be our response; that we throw up our hands and go, 'Oh well, it's too hard and we will leave that development issue to someone else'.

The black-throated finch is yet another example of a beautiful bird that has been lost in the maw of the world's largest coalmine development. Approval for the mine went ahead despite all the evidence that it will cause the extinction of the black-throated finch. .

There is a cumulative effect here. Unfortunately, we are realising the cumulative impact of our decisions, far too late for many of these birds. We do have things before us in Tasmania that we can do today.

This bill is a tiny part of what is required. The majority of the submissions I have read that were made to the Government on this bill made a very clear point that without support for local councils and without surveillance, no increases in fines will make any difference whatsoever. There has never, so far, despite the fact that already it is the case that a person could be fined for having a dog in an area where they are not meant to be, no one has been fined. Despite the fact that dog owners could already be charged and dogs could be removed for killing penguins in the substantial numbers as they have done, no owners have been found to charge, no fines to be paid, because people cannot find the dog owners.

People see the dog, they cannot connect it with the dog owner. There is nobody there. There are responses to this. There is technology now. We have the option of putting a small amount of money into supporting local councils and communities to undertake surveillance of these areas. We have an opportunity to collect information. We need to put some resources into that if we decide that little penguin colonies are intrinsically valuable and beautiful. They are part of our natural environment that we have grown up with and love as Tasmanians and people come to see. Tourists come here. It is a really important part of the tourism industry for some regional parts of Tasmania.

I went to Bicheno recently and met with the Bicheno Penguin Group and spoke to people who work at the Bicheno Penguin Tours. That is a really important job provider in Bicheno. There are up to 50 jobs during the peak of the tourism season. That is a substantial number of jobs in a tiny little town like Bicheno. It is an important job provider. It will matter to them if they lose their penguin colonies. It is a big deal. First and foremost, it is a big deal for them because they love little penguins. It is not about the money, it is about the love.


Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I was talking about the great concern people around Tasmania have to keep the little penguin colonies with us into the future. I acknowledge the amazing, selfless work of a number of communities that have responded with care and passion, established groups and formal rehabilitation organisations in response to the number of attacks that have occurred around the state.

There have been an extraordinary number of deaths from dog attacks in Tasmania in a little over the last year. In 2018, 12 little penguins were killed at Low Head in June and 58 were killed at Low Head in November, and 30 penguins were killed in Bicheno in November last year. Another four little penguins were killed in Bicheno in January this year, 12 little penguins killed at Low Head in March, 18 little penguins were killed at Picnic Point in May, and 42 penguins were killed at Doctors Rocks in August. I do not have the figures but I believe there were something in the order of 14 and 8 little penguins killed again at Bicheno on two occasions in September.

The areas where we know there have been intense colony breeding activity have suffered great losses. More than 180 little penguins have been killed in the past year alone and this puts those colonies at very tenuous risk. In response to that, a group established the Friends of Bicheno Little Penguin Group and it has some very outspoken and strong members, [TBC] Lyn Hatton, Lucy Langdon-Lane and Barbara Townsend amongst them. Another strong group meeting regularly and do what they can to alert the council and the community and work with the penguin tour company in Bicheno to try to hold back, I suppose, the dog attacks and to come up with creative solutions.

Near Wynyard, in response to the attack in September, the penguin rehabilitation and release facility swung into action and rescued orphan chicks. Sondra Roberts was one of the people who spoke about this work and the hectic few days they had trying to keep vulnerable little chicks alive. She said they discovered them standing at the edge of their burrows calling for their parents, struggling, vulnerable and not being able to fly. They managed to successfully house and release nine orphan chicks. One other that they tried to care for died. It is the tireless work of people around Tasmania who care for wildlife, wildlife carers, who keep little native animals alive when they are struggling and they have either been hit by cars, attacked by dogs or attacked by feral cats.

We cannot talk about attacks on wildlife in Tasmania without considering the role of feral cats, mostly domestic cats that were either dumped or have escaped. This is a problem and the Government is failing to take up the very obvious response that the greatest number of people in Tasmania are calling for, which is cat confinement. That has such broad support in the community amongst cat owners, wildlife carers, conservationists and people who are not in any of those categories. They simply understand that there is an imbalance in our system in Tasmania and, because of the loss of Tasmanian devils and the extinction of the Tasmanian tiger, we have predatory, top of the food chain animals as vicious as cats, and as capable of climbing and hunting and stalking as cats are, that are threatening little penguins and almost all of the other native wildlife we have in the state. We are seeing losses around the state.

This is something the minister responsible can make changes toward. The cat management plan that was widely consulted and strongly supported across the community called for cat confinement and the Government dodged that responsibility. Obviously, the Government saw it as something they decided was going to be too difficult to introduce. I do not understand why. It makes no sense. Everyone was on board. It is a clear derogation of responsibility not to introduce laws to mandate cat confinement. People who are cat owners and vets attest that it is a far more humane thing to do, to keep a cat confined. They are not comfortable having territoriality or living with other cats around them and they find it very stressful. It is a win/win solution to a problem and we should be implementing it straight away.

Back to dogs, and I want to read through some of the comments people have made about this Dog Control Amendment Act to reinforce the point that we welcome what is in this act. Increased penalties are a necessary part of a response to the issue of dogs attacking penguins but are not going to prevent more deaths unless they are also accompanied by stronger policing efforts. That work cannot be left to local councils, who are spread very thin in this area. There must be support from DPIPWE to provide surveillance and monitoring, to coordinate signage and to require better information to be given to tourists on the Spirit of Tasmania. Tourists force themselves into little penguin colony spaces to take photographs because they want to be up close and friendly with little penguins but they threaten the very existence of those birds and their chicks by trampling around in their breeding spaces, whether they realise it or not.

There is much work that can be done. The solutions are there but we cannot leave it to the community or even to local councils to do this. LGAT made a submission to this bill and noted that councils support the amendments in the proposal. There were no councils arguing against the amendments in the bill, so that is good news to hear. A couple of recommended changes were made and I will discuss them and ask the ministers in question about these in the committee stage.

I wanted to reinforce comments made by Friends of Little Penguins about the importance of the Government supporting local communities and supporting local councils. They also reinforce that the Government has to commit to increasing resources to council for monitoring and policing colonies so there are enough funds to provide staffing and equipment to carry out those responsibilities.

The Friends of Burnie Penguins in a submission from Dr Pervis Marker, who is a penguin ecologist, also made the point that the compliance area needs to be strengthened with more funding for land managers to be able to enforce the legislation. In this instance, it is both Parks and Wildlife Service and local councils. Legislation is meaningless without the capacity for enforcement. Dr Marker also points to the need for frequent surveillance and monitoring of habitats with sensitive wildlife habitat. Dr Marker also argues the case for much stronger penalties. They would like to have seen jail time for owners who keep repeating offences of injuring or killing wildlife. That argument was also made by Dr Eric Woehler from BirdLife Tasmania who also argues there should be jail time for dog owners who are involved in repeated offences.

I would like to understand why the minister has not adopted these sensible suggestions. Why are we continually making these tokenistic bills instead of going the full monty and doing what needs to be done? The solutions are there. We have it within our powers to make the changes we need at the legislative level and Government has it with its ability to decide to protect little penguins and to put some resourcing into DPIPWE to help groups. That is what needs to happen.

The Penguin Advisory Group, which has been constituted, is a good start. There are so many willing members in the community. This point needs to be made. There are so many people around Tasmania willing to put their hand up to do the work on this. It is not a case of expecting government to do everything. People need some basic mechanisms and structures to be in place. Penalties are a little part of that story but fundamentally they need surveillance cameras, which are cheap pieces of equipment these days. They need some guidance to help work with council officers in their placement. There are people who are willing to do the work, to go and talk to people. They need the legal structure and support. Also, they need feet on the ground so that when there is camera footage of a dog that is known to people in the local community it is followed up and an owner is charged before little penguins get killed.

There are so many tourists and holiday-makers who go to coastal areas. Bicheno is a case in point. The community said that the tourists that come in buses are far more manageable. It is shack owners who go down there for a week or two at a time, itinerantly, who are not in tune with what is happening in their local community. They drive in, drive out, bring dogs, are not attentive to changes in signage or attentive to information that is being circulated in the community about penguin colonies. Often, they are the ones who are guilty of not restraining their dogs, of not paying attention to what needs to be done.

The Penguin Advisory Group has to be properly funded to map the rookeries around the state. That map still does not exist. I found it extraordinary when Dr Woehler told me that. We do not have a map in Tasmania of penguin rookeries. We have some obvious colonies but there may or may not be penguin rookeries elsewhere. We do not have up-to-date information about the demographics of little penguins. There has to be proper funding to coordinate monitoring and surveillance and to target what the protection measures need to be around the state.

I would like to hear from the minister why they did not take up the proposal for including jail for owners who repeatedly disregard the law. Why is there not some prospect of a jail sentence at the end of it?

Ms Archer - She doesn't like prisons.

Dr WOODRUFF - The minister says we don't like we prisons. What a stupid thing to say, honestly. Is that the base level of your conversation?

Ms Archer - Sorry. I have been listening to your contributions in this place for a number of years now. You would sooner get rid of prisons, not build them.

Dr WOODRUFF - Because you do a revoltingly poor job of managing the Risdon Prison complex, you think therefore we do not think there should be prisons? Unreal.

Ms Archer - No. You have actually said don't build prisons.

Dr WOODRUFF - You demean yourself. Yes, do not build prisons; deal with the issue underlying it.

Ms Archer - If you keep locking them up, you get to capacity.

Dr WOODRUFF - Anyone who is a parent, will understand there needs to be consequences and there needs to be support for people to understand what the consequences of their behaviour will be.

Ms Archer - You do not understand the issues.

Dr WOODRUFF - Maybe you do not understand what consequences involve. It is a twopart responsibility.

The Central Coast Council also made a specific submission through the Local Government Authority. They noted that it is difficult to identify the responsible dogs and that it is difficult for them, as a council, to gather enough evidence to be able to successfully prosecute a case in court. That comes down to the need for visual materials, and that, again, is for more support for councils. They believe there needs to be better planning through consultative dog management policy development and increased surveillance, improved community education and more rigorous enforcement, including sampling.

Declaring restricted and prohibited areas is part of developing a new dog-management policy. Councils around the state reply heavily on the Parks and Wildlife Service to direct them and support them in this work. They cannot do it on their own. The responsibility must be taken up by the Government who has the responsibility to coordinate these efforts. This Government is responsible for keeping little penguin colonies with us and directing and supporting local councils to do their part of the work and enabling communities to do what they will.

I would like to hear what the budget for the Penguin Advisory Group will be for the next year and what it is going to be spent on. That is what people who are listening to this debate would like to be reassured of; that there will be support at the DPIPWE level, as well as what this bill enables.

I will finish by making a comment about the submission by Animal Liberation Tasmania. It is something that this Government that holds dear. The animal activists in Animal Liberation Tasmania have at their heart, care for the wellbeing of animals. Thank you to them and their hard work. They shine a light into the dark places of the mistreatment of animals.

The Greyhound Industry in Tasmania is a terrific example of where there has been, and continues to be, gross mistreatment of greyhounds that have spent their lives running their legs off to make money for their owners and are so cruelly treated when their owners have finished with them.

These amendments in the bill concerning taking the muzzles off greyhounds are important as it enables them to be exercised in areas with other dogs. Greyhounds should be free to be exercised in appropriate designated spaces like all other dogs. When they are socialised correctly, they are an incredibly gentle breed, despite the terrible treatment that racing greyhounds have received in their previous life. They live out beautiful lives with people who care for them, so we support the amendment that allows for greyhounds to be exercised in designated areas with other dogs. That is overdue and very important. We also reiterate the call that Animal Liberation Tasmania makes to strongly legislate for the control of domestic cats. I will be making more comments on the clauses in the Committee stage of the bill.