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Environment - Robbins Island

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Tags: Tasmanian Devil, Threatened Species, Wind Farms, State Budget, Penguins

Dr WOODRUFF - Robbins Island is an important ark for about 150 disease-free Tasmanian devils. It is an insurance population. The colony is better situated on Robbins Island than the Maria Island devils, which are taking a terrible toll on penguin life.

Have you considered the importance of Robbins Island as a colony for the Tasmanian devil? Perhaps the director of the EPA might have some comments to make about this. There have been so many dead Tasmanian devils up in the north-west.

Mr JAENSCH - I will call to the table Rachel Alderman who is the manager of threatened species in conservation programs. Robbins Island and the proposed development there will be subject to all the normal planning and environmental assessment processes that apply to a project of that nature, particularly if it is one that intersects with natural values or threatened species and relevant Commonwealth legislation. The protections that exist for threatened species there are the same as apply elsewhere. The project will go through all the relevant assessments and approvals.

You referred to the Maria Island population. Where we have a population of devils, they are going to eat things. The population that has been put on Maria Island is managed as a non captive insurance population which was established in the early days of our response to ensure that the devils did not become extinct. It was in the knowledge that there would be an impact on the local flora because they are carnivores.

Dr WOODRUFF - All the penguins are dead, 3000.

Mr JAENSCH - The point is that was a risk that was understood and it was factored in to the decision making about creating a wild insurance population there and in managing it ongoing. I am not aware that Robbins Island has been considered as an insurance population, I'll ask Dr Alderman to comment on that.

Dr ALDERMAN - When Maria Island was selected, that was selected on the basis of a comprehensive assessment of all the Tasmanian offshore islands and various pros and cons were weighed up. I wasn't part of that assessment and don't know if Robbins Island was considered. We could look that up. One of the considerations at Robbins Island is that devils can cross at very low tide so it wouldn’t be a complete barrier, which is what you need for an island ark.

The devil program is currently undergoing a comprehensive review in collaboration with its research partners, looking at all the information we've collected over the years, the current status of the devil. That will inform whether we need a different type of insurance population or whether what we have at the moment is sufficient to help protect the devil in the long term.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, you might not be aware that in 2002 a conservation assessment of beach nesting and migratory shorebirds in Tasmania was undertaken by Dr Sally Bryant from the Nature Conservation branch of DPIPWE. She found that the Boullanger Bay Robbins Island Passage meets all the Ramsar criteria. Despite that, it has not been formally listed.

She notes that it contains the largest area of tidal mud and sand banks in Tasmania and it's an international bird area that's the most important shorebird site in Tasmania. Her conclusion was that Tasmania has 10 Ramsar sites of the 57 on the planet, that Boullanger Bay Robbins Island Passage meets those criteria, but has not formally listed. Why hasn't it been listed for Ramsar? And will you look at having it listed, given biodiversity impacts on birds and flight passages and other things being impacted everywhere around planet?

Mr JAENSCH - Andrew Crane, branch manager, Policy Advice and Regulatory Services. I ask Mr Crane to provide advice on that. I don't have information in front of me regarding the Ramsar listing status.

Mr CRANE - I can't speak directly to reasons why or why not in the period since 2002. Obviously, there's been a succession of governments and the capacity to consider that. The process itself, though, is extremely complicated and also extremely costly. The work that is required to meet the requirements of data for the Ramsar Convention for nomination and the nomination has to be to the Australian Government as the party which then nominates internationally.

Those requirements are extensive and I know that we looked at the potential costs and we were asked to do this not for Boullanger Bay but it is a general sense of what is required for an assessment for Ramsar. It is in the order of between $100 000 and $150 000. That is, as I said, for the requirement to accumulate the necessary information for Ramsar listing.

That is a key issue and it is one that I sit on with the national working group of Ramsar colleagues throughout the country. That has been a key consideration in terms of an impediment to listing. It is simply very expensive and the time that is taken is also critical. It takes a long period time to accumulate the necessary information. I am aware of the report which you cited and there has been subsequent work done in that area but that is the principal reason that there is a barrier to Ramsar listing generally and one of the considerations.

The state government and any jurisdictional government needs to approve that and then provide all of that information to the Commonwealth for listing. It is not something that a state government can do in and of itself.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you, Mr Crane. Minister, I am perplexed because my understanding is that a Ramsar listing for Boullanger Bay, Robbins Island, was prepared and all the substantial materials that Mr Crane referred to were brought together. It was on the cusp of being signed off as a Ramsar-listed site but the then Labor minister, Mr Llewellyn, decided not to at the last minute. That is at least what I have been told.

I also understand that since then there has been substantial evidence collected of birds and threatened forested communities on the site prepared by people from UTAS and people from Birdlife Australia and their records are extant and continuous. While I do not dispute the general terms that Mr Crane said it might cost, given it has already been prepared once and the material has been collected continuously since then, that would be very small. It seems as though what Mr Crane is talking about is an impediment for him to be able to have sufficient resources. That would be something you, as minister, could fix. Would you enable those resources to be made available and to work with people like Dr Vishnu Prahalad from the university and Eric Woehler from Birdlife Tasmania to look at the preparation of a Ramsar listing for Robbins Island?

Mr JAENSCH - Aside from what you have heard today, I do not have any current briefing material on previous work done towards a listing proposal. The Government will, at any time, be informed by its department on the need and the process and all elements of embarking on that sort of proposal. I do not have that information -

Dr WOODRUFF - Could I forward it to you?

Mr JAENSCH - You could forward me anything, yes. Happy to receive anything that you have but I am certainly not prepared to commit to any new listing effort off the back of this conversation. It would be something that would need to be guided by up to date contemporary advice from our department. Is there anything else you would like to add, secretary?

Mr BAKER - Obviously, this is a historic piece of work that has being done and I do not dispute anything that you have said so I would be happy if we were to go away, have a look at it and come back and let you know about what decisions were made.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you.

Mr BAKER - We are talking about decisions that were made well before mine and even, if it is possible, before Mr Crane's time in the department.

Mr JAENSCH - To be clear, I will speak to my department and seek to get some briefing for myself on that as a first step.

Dr WOODRUFF - I think the case for it is much more compelling than it was 20 years ago.