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Environment and Parks – Swift Parrot Nesting Hollows

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Tags: Swift Parrot, Planning

Dr WOODRUFF - The Department of State Growth has sought to widen the road in the north of the state and they have already closed potential nesting hollows for the critically endangered swift parrot in six blue gums in the area south of St Helens. They have done that before they received an approved development application from the Break O'Day Council. Birdlife Tasmania has condemned this blocking of the nesting hollows of that critically endangered bird and they have called on the Department of State Growth and DPIPWE to not interfere with critically endangered habitat and to make sure that those trees are not chopped down.

I have an RTI here that provides information from DSG's community stakeholder engagement plan which, not ironically for DSG, is heavily redacted despite the fact it is a stakeholder and engagement plan. It provides the following advice -

The impact of the loss of large eucalyptus globulus ovata which provide a foraging resource for the swift parrot is significant. Sixteen globulus occurring in the construction footprint are large trees more than 750mms in diameter at breast height and three smaller ovata within the construction footprint.

And it also says -

The potential loss of these trees could impact local swift parrot breeding success through removing hollows and foraging resources. Swift parrots are listed under the EPBC act and DPIPWE advises that the proponent seeks advice from the Commonwealth -

CHAIR - Dr Woodruff, you need to ask a question because you have been talking for two minutes now. Please ask a question.

Dr WOODRUFF - DPIPWE have asked that the proponent seeks advice or advised that the proponent should seek advice. Minister, in your capacity as the minister responsible for protecting this critically endangered bird, have you advised the proponent, Department of State Growth, to seek an assessment for the EPBC regarding the blocking of the hollows and the removal of those eucalyptus species?

Mr JAENSCH - I am advised that, and again this is the State Growth proposal that we're talking about -

Dr WOODRUFF - They're just another developer.

Mr JAENSCH - Given the conservation status of the swift parrot, an ecologist was commissioned, on advice, to locate and map swift parrot habitat trees, and conducted a significant impact assessment for the project against the EPBC act to determine if a referral was warranted.

The ecologist's report included the following recommendations: that large hollow bearing trees are an important habitat component for the swift parrot as well as other threatened species, including the masked owl. Wherever possible it's recommended any large hollow bearing trees be left in situ. Should any large trees containing hollows require clearing, it's recommended that a qualified and experienced ecologist undertake an assessment of the hollow bearing trees prior to construction activities to determine their potential use. As fauna habitat, inactive hollows required to be removed should boarded up at this time. Where nest sites are identified for removal, a permit to take should be obtained. During clearing operations it's recommended that an ecologist assess the potential for the harvest and relocation of identified hollows suitable for threatened and protected species to be installed adjacent to the study area.

So, the ecologist accurately located potential swift parrot habitat trees within, and adjacent to, the proposed roadworks, but concluded that the loss of these trees would not constitute a significant impact to the swift parrot and did not warrant referral under the EPBC act.

The recommendations to cover hollows was assessed and deemed a valid approach that was consistent with the department's tree-felling protocol. In addition, mitigation measures for reinstating swift parrot habitat will be implemented as part of the project through landscape regeneration and planting. My advice here is that the procedures have been followed. Expert advice has been engaged, assessments have been undertaken in accordance with the relevant legislation and mitigation proposed as part of that -

Dr WOODRUFF - Can you answer the question about referring to the federal government for the EPBC act assessment?

Mr JAENSCH - I am advised that the assessment has been undertaken appropriately.

Dr WOODRUFF - At the state level, yes, but at the federal level, minister?

Mr JAENSCH - Could I ask Mr Crane for any further advice he may have in relation to the matter.

Mr CRANE - In this case, the advice that's been provided by DPIPWE to the Department of State Growth is standard advice that we provide to any proponent where a threatened species that's nationally listed occurs. That is, to make themselves aware of their obligations under the EPBC. Based on what we've now heard, the Department of State Growth has undertaken that exercise with an external consultant. It's their decision whether they choose to refer to the Commonwealth under the EPBC and refer.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you, Mr Crane. To clarify that, through you minister, the advice from DPIPWE to DSG was that it is a matter that ought to be referred -

Mr CRANE - No.

Dr WOODRUFF - and DSG is making their own mind up about whether they will do that or not?

Mr CRANE - No, that's not accurate.

Dr WOODRUFF - Sorry, I didn't understand then. I thought that you said that this was a matter that ought to be, should be referred?

Mr CRANE - No. Our advice to proponents always is that they need to make themselves aware of what their obligations are under the EPBC and determine whether they then need to refer. That is not saying that they should.

Dr WOODRUFF - No, I still have Chair's question, Mr Ellis

CHAIR - This is your last question, Dr Woodruff. This will be your fourth question in row.

Dr WOODRUFF - They were all points of clarification on that same question.

CHAIR - They are still questions.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, you were only talking about the tree hollow blocking. What about the fact that 16 large endangered eucalyptus globulus trees and three ovata trees are proposed to be removed through the road widening by DSG and the report that is redacted that I have a section of in front of me says -

The potential loss of these trees could impact local swift parrot breeding success through removing hollows and foraging resources.

Ms HADDAD - Chair, this has already been read into the Hansard.

Dr WOODRUFF - Ms Haddad, I get to ask my questions. When it is your turn you can ask your question. If you want to come and have a look at this RTI, I am more than happy to show you.

CHAIR - Dr Woodruff, can you please ask your question? You have two more minutes to go.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you, when I am not interrupted. It continues -

The trees may provide longer-term mitigation if they are replanted and that would be supported and encouraged but there will be a net loss of foraging habitat until these trees mature.

There is not time for trees to grow to provide food or habitat for critically endangered species. The critically endangered swift parrot does not have time for massive eucalypts to regrow, so will you provide advice to the Department of State Growth about the removal of those trees and make it clear, as this report shows in the RTI, that it would significantly impact the nesting habitat of that bird?

Mr JAENSCH - Dr Woodruff, as per the responses you have had, I understand that the department has been advised of its obligations under relevant legislation, it has taken action, has engaged expert advice and has put in place a response to that. That is what developers need to do, they are doing it every day around the state -

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, the previous question was about the tree hollows, now I am asking about the trees.

CHAIR - Dr Woodruff, the minister is answering your question and you cannot pre-empt him.

Dr WOODRUFF - With respect, he is not answering the question, Chair. He is blathering and it is unseemly.