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Fallow Deer

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Tags: Deer, Environment, Invasive Species

Fallow Deer: Cassy O'Connor MP, 6 May, 2020


Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, I want to talk tonight about a problem that reaches back almost two centuries in Tasmania to the 1830s when the original colonists decided to import fallow deer onto this island for hunting purposes. We are now in a situation in 2020 where the Department of Primary Industries, Parks and Water and the Environment Game Management Branch really has no idea how many fallow deer there are in Tasmania. The most recent research from 2016 indicates there could be anywhere up to 25 000 to 30 000 fallow deer in the landscape. These animals do not belong in Tasmania and they are having a profoundly damaging impact, not only on the wilderness but on the lives and livelihoods of our rural producers and our farmers.

I have an email from the Saralco partnership, which is a Tasmanian producer of traditional superfine merino wool, and this is after a statement I made recently supporting the Invasive Species Council's call on our Primary Industries minister, Guy Barnett, to have a plan in place to deal with fallow and feral deer. This email reads -

I am a wool grower in the northern midlands. The financial impact on my small operation - I employ just one person - is the equivalent of $1000 each week.

A few years ago, the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers conservatively estimated the annual cost to agriculture to be $25 million. It is probably double that now and how do you put a value on the damage to our natural values?

There are social issues such as road safety as well and we have been encouraged to continue to press Mr Barnett, who is also of course a member for Lyons, to develop a plan to control and contain and, ultimately, we must eradicate fallow deer from the Tasmanian landscape.

Together with Victoria we are the only jurisdiction that does not treat fallow deer like the pest species that they are. In fact, we provide enormous resourcing to the Game Management Branch in DPIPWE to keep a population of fallow deer going in order to supply landowners and the hunters who can shoot deer only in a particular season on their land.

We have an incredibly well-resourced Game Management Branch in DPIPWE and meanwhile over here is the Threatened Species Branch in DPIPWE, which I think has about 1.2 human beings dedicated to looking after threatened species in Tasmania. More public money is going into protecting a pest species than our native species in Tasmania. I have here images, and I am not intending to use them as a prop, but these are images of fallow deer footprints in a cushion plant in the Walls of Jerusalem National Park.

The Tasmanian Invasive Species Council talks about the commercial use of deer, and this is an idea that has been put forward by some in the industry and indeed the minister himself, to create the game meat industry, but we know that has issues because for producers there is an incentive to encourage the population to grow. This statement says:

Commercial use of deer will provide an added incentive not to reduce deer numbers. We saw this when rabbit control was commercialised in the 19th and early 20th centuries and we are seeing it now on the mainland with feral goat control. Limited available control options and legislation that protects deer in Tasmania as a resource for hunters is also hampering containment and control.

Of course that legislation is the Nature Conservation Act of 2002, which makes a feral animal - that is right, a pest species - protected under the Nature Conservation Act. Every other state and territory in Australia, with the exception of Victoria and Tasmania, recognises fallow deer as a pest species. We have a government and an official policy which fosters increase in population of fallow deer. According to UTAS research, since the 1970s Tasmania's population of fallow deer has more than tripled to at least 20 000 - and this is dated research - and the area they occupy has increased fivefold to some two million hectares.

This paper says that fallow deer is a recognised invasive biosecurity risk within Tasmania. The species is protected for recreational hunters and UTAS estimates that modelling using a conservative of growth rate suggests that the population could increase by 40 per cent in 10 years, and that was in 2014, and exceed one million by mid-century.

When Mr Barnett goes out and talks to farmers in his own electorate of Lyons, surely he is hearing from them that they are desperate to have a plan in place, a government plan, to control fallow deer. I went on to a property out near Cressy a few months back and the landowner there said it is a nightmare. He had tried some tree planting and fences but the deers eat the trees and destroy the fencing.

We need to have a better system in Tasmania where we are not allowing an increase in population of fallow deer which do not belong here to run down agricultural productivity and degrade the wilderness. They are in the Walls of Jerusalem and other protected areas because of government policy that prioritises hunters and their desire to shoot deer over the protection of farmers' interests and the natural environment.

Unfortunately, there is no other way to look at it because that is what is happening here. Where deer populations are out of control farmers can only shoot them within a certain confined season. They are a protected species under the Nature Conservation Act. Massive resourcing goes into the Game Management Branch in order to keep that population going and issue the licences, but whatever revenue government gets from those licences is dwarfed by the estimated cost to the agricultural sector of $25 million a year from a failure of government policy - and it is not just this Government, it is successive governments - which prioritises hunters.

This is a failure of government policy which is degrading Tasmania's natural environment and impacting on farmers. It is costing taxpayers enormously because it is taxpayers who fund the Game Management Branch, and it is unjustifiable in 2020. We need to be supporting our farmer, we need to be protecting our wilderness and we need to move away from a completely outdated form of thinking about fallow deer in the landscape. Mr Barnett, the member for Lyons, needs to deliver a plan for the farmers he represents.