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Estimates Reply – Ellis

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 21 June 2023

Tags: Swift Parrot, Native Forest Logging, Environment, Threatened Species, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR - Mr Deputy Chair, I endorse Dr Woodruff's contribution. I did not have the displeasure of spending a very long time in Mr Ellis's budget Estimates, but we did have an interesting conversation across the table about forestry and mining.

Tonight, I particularly want to focus on the plight of the critically endangered swift parrot. As the House knows, because the Greens regularly remind the House, the swift parrot is down to an estimated 300 individual birds. Is that correct, Dr Woodruff?

Dr Woodruff - That is an old number now.

Ms O'CONNOR - Who knows? The Minister for the Environment, who is responsible for the swift parrot recovery plan is out to lunch while forestry Tasmania continues to log swift parrot habitat. This beautiful bird, the fastest parrot on Earth, is listed as endangered under the Threatened Species Protection Act and critically endangered under the EPBC act. When I engaged the minister and asked him for an update on the fate of the swift parrot in Tasmania's forests, I was gaslit. This is a talking point run by loggers and others who have very little regard for critically endangered species. To pretend that it is solely sugar glider predation which is leading to the loss of this beautiful bird is insulting to our intelligence. We recognise that the sugar glider is an issue, but the reason that the swift parrot has been listed as critically endangered is because of habitat loss.

The primary driver of habitat loss of the big old eucalypts that the swift parrots need for nesting and feeding and foraging is logging. The primary driver of this beautiful bird's pending extinction is Forestry Tasmania. We were really disappointed that the minister could not acknowledge the impact of Forestry Tasmania on this amazing bird.

We talked about the 9300 hectares of swift parrot nesting habitat which have allegedly been protected, but what we know - in fact, we have got information now from out in the forests - is that Forestry Tasmania is actively logging known swift parrot habitat. That is why the GBE cannot get Forest Stewardship Certification.

About a month ago now, I gave Mr Ellis a beautiful book of photographs that were taken by Rob Blakers, an outstanding photographer and a great Tasmanian. The book is called Lathamus which is a nod to the scientific name of the swift parrot. The photographs of the swift parrots that are in that beautiful book - which the minister did promise to read - are primarily from the north-east forests; last year, those forests were the primary meeting point for swift parrots that had come down here for breeding.

I really hope that this minister, who has copped a bit of a smacking today, understands what a unique opportunity he has in this job to save the swift parrot. Would he want to be the minister who is allowing this species to disappear from the face of the Earth on his watch, when he has the capacity, as Minister for Resources, to engage with Forestry Tasmania, to make sure they are not logging any swift parrot breeding and feeding habitat?

We had some fairly shifty language at the table, I have to say, about the attempts by some bureaucrats within the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, about an effort that was made to change the swift parrot recovery plan, and a threat that the state would withdraw its support for the swift parrot recovery plan unless it was rewritten to address what agency advisers called an 'imbalance in the narrative' - that is, it placed too much weight on the role played by the forestry industry.

That can only be a political interpretation of the agency's responsibility to make sure we have a swift parrot recovery plan that actually focuses on the recovery of the swift parrot. We had the deputy secretary, Ms Deidre Wilson, and when we tried to understand that, and I asked what happened with the agency doing this, Ms Wilson said to the minister, 'It is an operational matter'. I said, 'Oh, it is an operational matter' - that the agency, on behalf of the Tasmanian Government, would threaten to withdraw from the swift parrot recovery plan because it placed too much emphasis on the swift parrot's recovery.

Ms Wilson was keen to point out that the minister was not involved with that. I guess that is somewhat reassuring, but there are still question marks. For example, over the status of the Public Authority Management Agreement, or PAMA, which was finalised in late 2020, and was intended to be an agreement between different entities, including Forestry Tasmania, to set aside 9300 hectares of native forest on land managed by FT and provide for its retention. Our understanding is that the PAMA itself is in abeyance. That is, although it is an instrument that was signed onto by agencies and FT - and we had this confirmed at Estimates - it is currently under review. So, we are very concerned that there may not be that cooperation happening between government agencies to protect this beautiful bird.

I know sometimes when other members in this place hear Dr Woodruff and I talking at length about the swift parrot and other critically endangered animals, there is probably a sense of frustration, or I do not really care - but we all should care about the fate of the species that we share this planet with. The swift parrot is one of the most miraculously beautiful and exuberant of birds. It is something that we should treasure. We should recognise we are the custodians of this species, and its survival depends on us and the decisions that we make. Its survival, right now, depends very much on minister Ellis. That is why, when I gave him Rob Blaker's book, I really hoped he would allow himself to read it with an open mind.

There is a picture in that book called '1.5 Per Cent of the World's Remaining Population of Swift Parrots'. It is a group of about eight swift parrots on a dead tree stump. It is a very moving image, to have a species in such a precarious position. I do not want to think that it is the intention of Government or Forestry Tasmania to log its habitat so that it does go extinct, and it stops being a problem for the Government. We do not want to think that the intention is to eradicate swift parrot habitats so that you are not troubled by this critically endangered bird anymore.

I hope minister Ellis understands that our time in these jobs and in this place, in the context of our lives, can be quite fleeting. The Greens would very much like him to take an active interest in saving this species from extinction - a species that has been here since Tasmania was part of Gondwanaland, and it is only in the last 200 years that it has been pushed to edge of extinction.

We call on minister Ellis to help save the swift parrot.