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Resources – Swift Parrot

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 8 June 2023

Tags: Swift Parrot, Native Forest Logging, State Budget

Ms O'CONNOR - Given that you won't answer that question, perhaps you could give the House an update on the fate of the critically endangered swift parrot, which has been driven to the brink of extinction, principally by native forest logging, habitat loss.

Mr ELLIS - Thank you, Ms O'Connor. The swift parrot is endangered under Tasmania's Threatened Species Protection Act 1995 and critically endangered under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, the EPBC Act. The swift parrot breeds only in Tasmania in the summer, migrating north to overwinter in southeast mainland Australia. A range of factors impact the long-term survival of the swift parrot across its range, including sugar glider predation and the effects of collision, competition and predation.

Ms O'CONNOR - What about habitat loss?

CHAIR - Order.

Mr ELLIS - Habitat loss is recognised as a threat. The current approach to swift parrot management under the forest practices system is complex and swift parrot conservation requires ongoing review.

The Department of Natural Resources and Environment initiated the swift parrot forestry management project in late 2022. I'll pass over to the team to add further to some of my remarks. Habitat loss happens when, for example, there's the clearing of forest for land in Victoria for houses. It also happens with land clearing. Deforestation is not practised on our public forest estate managed by STT, because that is the business model. It is to harvest and regrow forests. That is the way forestry operates in this state under our sustainable forest practices system, so -

Ms O'CONNOR - How long do you think it takes a swift parrot breeding tree to regrow?

CHAIR - Order, Ms O'Connor. Thank you, minister.

Mr ELLIS - I'll pass over to Deidre Wilson to add further to my remarks.

Ms O'CONNOR - Brief comments would be good, thanks, Ms Wilson.

Ms WILSON - I think, for context, minister, it is important to understand how the swift parrot is managed in the forest practices system. I'll ask the director to take us quickly through that.

Mr MORETON - The forest practices system is an independent regulator. The way threatened species are managed is through the agreed procedures between Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania and the FPA. The swift parrot management prescriptions include the identifying of breeding management range boundaries, protection of known nests with associated buffers and retention of areas for breeding and foraging habitat.

In accordance with the agreed procedures, the FPA provides management prescriptions through a range of planning tools, including the threatened species advisor, which provides specific and endorsed recommendations. Those recommendations, when they are picked up and put in a forest practices plan, become a legally binding thing. If they don't do that, under the forest practices plan they've committed an offence under the act.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, was your agency within Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania a contributor to a new recovery plan for the swift parrot?

Mr ELLIS - Yes, perhaps I will pass over to the team to add to my remarks regarding the swift parrot. Obviously we work closely across a range of different portfolios to manage threatened species in this state. We are strongly committed to protecting swift parrots as those opposite know, there are a whole range of factors impacting the long-term survival of the parrot.

Our reserve system in Tasmania protects half of all Tasmania's forests and that is of significant importance, because it protects more than one million hectares of old growth and areas recognised in the importance with the swift parrot nesting and foraging habitat. Over and above this the Swift Parrot Public Area Management Agreement signed between STT and NRE in 2020 or DPIPWE as it was then.

Ms O'CONNOR - It does not exist anymore, isn't that true?

CHAIR - Order.

Mr ELLIS - An additional 9 300 hectares of swift parrot nesting habitat from wood production. STT has maintained a moratorium on forestry operations on Bruny Island because it is recognised as a critical breeding habitat, because there are no sugar gliders in the area. As part of the 2021-22 budget, we provided $1 million over four years for swift parrot recovery actions.

This builds on other actions we have taken to protect swift parrots, including project to trial methods, $150 000 of trapping sugar gliders which predate upon young swift parrots, a swift parrot forestry management project currently underway to review the current approach to habitat management with a view to identifying potential improvements. Further, the Forest Practices System protects identified nesting habitat and ensures special areas of breeding, foraging habitat in our production forests are maintained. Over and above the requirements of the Forest Practices System, STT undertake a range of additional management measures to protect the swift parrot in our production forests.

I will pass over to the team, but our Government is committed to a responsible and sustainable forest sector that protects our threatened species.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, but before we pass to the team, minister, and this might help your agency provide a full answer, can you confirm that within your agency, there was a threat that the state may withdraw its support for the Swift Parrot Recovery Plan. This was unless it was re written to address what your agency advisers called an 'imbalance in narrative' that placed too much weight on the role played by the forestry industry, that is, the agency was more concerned with protecting the industry than the parrot? This is confirmed in freedom of information documents by the way.

Mr ELLIS - Science is really important on this. I mentioned the vast reserves of which much of the swift parrot habitat is on. It is on private land and has been impacted -

Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Chair. Would you please ask the minister to answer the question? It is quite a pointed question.

CHAIR - I will ask the minister to be relevant to the question that has been asked of him. As I have said before, Ms O'Connor, I cannot direct the minister to answer a question in a particular way.

Mr ELLIS - I thought it was a pretty blunt question, to be honest. Even sugar glider suppression, with Bruny Island as a place that there are no sugar gliders currently. An introduced species and there are a whole range of factors impacting the long term survival of the swift parrot -

Ms O'CONNOR - Could you answer the question, please.

Mr ELLIS - Recent research shows the swift parrots to be under significant threat from the sugar glider as they prey on

Ms O'CONNOR - Chair, point of order. First of all, the swift parrot was listed as critically endangered because of habit loss but I am asking you minister, to confirm your agency made a threat to withdraw support for the Swift Parrot Recovery Plan because basically it placed too much emphasis on the parrot's survival and not the industries?

Mr ELLIS - There is a range of factors impacting -

Ms O'CONNOR - That is not the question and you are being contemptuous.

CHAIR - Order, Ms O'Connor.

Ms O'CONNOR - Confirm it or not.

Mr ELLIS - There are a range of different factors that impact the swift parrot and we will work through that in a sensible process. I have outlined some of those processes and I will pass over to the department if they want to add anything further to my remarks.

Ms O'CONNOR - Perhaps, before you do that, you could confirm. That is all I am asking you to do, confirm what role your agency advisers had in the Swift Parrot Recovery Plan and having it rewritten so it better favoured industry.

Mr ELLIS - I will pass over to the team to add to my remarks.

Ms WILSON - NRE Tasmania is regulator and is on the record with regard to what was released under the RTI. This is actually not a matter for the matter for the minister for Resources, it is a matter for the minister for Environment

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Ms Wilson. Just a final clarification about those freedom of information documents. Through you, minister, is it Ms Wilson's testimony that it was the environmental scientists, not the resources section, that threatened to withdraw support for the recovery plan unless it was rewritten?

Mr ELLIS - I'm pretty sure this has been answered.

Ms WILSON - It's an operational matter.

Ms O'CONNOR - Oh, it's an operational matter?

Ms WILSON - Sorry, I mean in the terms of the response of - the minister was not involved with the comments that were made in the RTI. Through you, minister, I wasn't making any observation about where the comment came from, or even about the comment. My observation was that the information is on the public record under the RTI. I don't have anything more to say.

Ms O'CONNOR - Okay. I will be back, Ms Wilson, because I find that a very poor answer.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, can you confirm that the Public Authority Management Agreement (PAMA), which was set up to ostensibly help to save the swift parrot has fallen over? That it is no longer a document that's in force. So, this is the Public Authority Management Agreement that I've discussed with your predecessors across the table.

Mr ELLIS - I understand. I'll pass over to the team from the department to add to my remarks. In August 2020, the now Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania and STT finalised a Public Authority Management Agreement (PAMA) for the protection and management of swift parrot habitat on permanent timber production zone land in the southern forests. The PAMA identifies 9300 hectares of native forest on land managed by STT and provides for its retention. The approach was informed by sophisticated modelling of nesting habitat using Lidar technology, as well as advice from swift parrot researchers and extensive ground truthing. STT is also committed to maintaining its moratorium on forest operations on Bruny Island, which is recognised as a critical breeding habitat due to the absence of sugar gliders on that land. I'll pass over to the team to add further to my remarks.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, and perhaps to answer the question about whether or not the PAMA is still in existence or whether it's been ditched because it's unlawful under the code.

Mr MORETON - A PAMA or a Public Authority Management Agreement is a statutory thing under the Threatened Species Protection Act. As the minister said, it's between NRE Tas and STT. It's still signed. It's being reviewed in the light of new information. It's still active, it's being reviewed.

Ms O'CONNOR - So t's still a living document that is in force. Effectively an agreement that is existent.

Mr MORETON - It's an agreement that exists between NRE Tas and STT.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, we're hearing from people within the broader environment movement and scientists who work to it, that NRET staff have been told not to talk to environment groups, conservationists and scientists working in forests. Can you confirm that?

Mr ELLIS - I can't confirm other people's conversations. I meet and speak regularly with people like that myself.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, good on you and so you should.

Mr ELLIS - I take a very close interest in consulting widely. I think if the environmental movement was less interested in ideology and more interested in our forests and regional communities then perhaps they would have a stronger understanding of the importance of the timber industry.

Ms O'CONNOR - Are you disparaging all the environment movement that's been part of protecting this island and civil society for decades and decades?

Mr ELLIS - As I mentioned, Ms O'Connor, I think there is an important need for environmentalists to understand regional communities and the forests they've managed for generations.

Ms O'CONNOR - You do not think they do. Plenty of these people grew up in those regional communities.

CHAIR - Order, please let the minister answer.

Mr ELLIS - If you look at the tears on the faces of young children in Victoria at the moment in regional communities, Chair -

Ms O'CONNOR - You who went to an elite private school, disparaging people in the environment movement.

CHAIR - Order, Ms O'Connor.

Ms O'CONNOR - You are fake working class.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, do not make me name you at the end of Budgets Estimates.

Ms O'CONNOR - No that would be a bummer, thank you, Chair.

Mr ELLIS - To shut down a sustainable industry that has provided jobs in regions for generations but also more than that in an environmental sense.

Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Chair. If the minister does not know the answer to the question he could say, 'I don't know whether my department is telling its workers not to talk to the environment movement. Next question, please'.

CHAIR - I can ask the minister to be relevant but I can't put words in the minister's mouth for you. I'll ask the minister to please be relevant to the question Ms O'Connor has asked you.

Mr ELLIS - I meet regularly and hear regularly from environmental activists. I know in the production of the State of the Forests report significant consultation has happened with environmental NGOs and a range of other stakeholders. We work really closely. STT has significant stakeholder work that happens with environmental groups. We want to be consulting broadly and widely. That is important. Ultimately, we may have a disagreement of views. I find it curious when environmentalists look upon our regrowth forests in awe and wonder and fail to understand that replanted forest has come from the hands of our foresters and helped to be managed over generations.

We want to have groups talking with everyone and consulting widely as they regularly do, as is evidenced by the State of the Forests report.

Ms O'CONNOR - Can I just say, I had two questions -

CHAIR - You have had five questions, Ms O'Connor.

Ms O'CONNOR - I had the question about, sorry -

CHAIR - I am not here to argue, Ms O'Connor. I have handed the call to Mr Young. My recollection of the questions you have asked is five.

Ms O'CONNOR - I have asked two questions.

CHAIR - I am asking Mr Young now to go.