Dog Fence rebuild | SPEECH


The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart—Minister for Energy and Mining) (11:09): I have to say that it is actually a huge pleasure on my part to speak on this report on behalf of the people of Stuart. This has been an enormous issue for a very long time for people in my electorate and other parts of the state as well. It is something that has been perhaps one of my highest priorities since becoming a member of parliament.

I am really pleased, incredibly pleased, that the state government, the federal government and industry have come together to share this $25 million investment. I give credit to the Minister for Primary Industries for pulling this together under a fairly tight time frame in the middle of this year. I also give great credit to Geoff Power, who was the president of Livestock SA and worked incredibly hard on this issue for many years. Of course, Rowan Ramsey had a part in it as well with regard to encouraging the federal government.

I would also like to give credit to a person named Heather Miller. As somebody who lived on stations, she also has a background in NRM and in wild dog control. She has shared a lot of detailed information with me in regard to the behaviour of dogs, their patterns of movement, their breeding times and other details I was not intimately familiar with and helped me build a stronger case and share more useful and more productive information with my colleagues in parliament and in cabinet.

It is always tricky, of course, because there are a lot of people who have been involved in this, who I will not mention for the sake of time. However, a person I really want to mention is Geoff Mengersen from Depot Springs Station, just east of Copley. Very shortly after I was elected in March 2010, he got in touch—I think it was in about April 2010—and said, ‘I really want you to come and sit down and have a talk. I need to explain this issue to you.’ Of course, I was very pleased to do that.

He was the first person, not the only but the first, to really explain—in greater detail than I was already aware of as a person living in Wilmington and having worked in the outback with lots of friends on lots of different grazing properties—what it means to a pastoralist to have a wild dog, or half a dozen wild dogs, on your property, what it means to a pastoralist to be surrounded by other land where the control of wild dogs is not enthusiastically undertaken, what it means not only in regard to the financial impact on your property and your business but also in regard to the very severe impact on the sheep that suffer from predation.

He also explained to me very well—and he was not trying to sensationalise it—the emotional impact on a grazier, who feels a responsibility for his or her stock, knowing that there is a wild dog in the hills, often coming nightly from somebody else’s property onto yours, and the very serious impact that that has. So I thank Geoff Mengersen for that.

There were others. In more recent times, Richard Treloar from Strathearn in the north-east, the Barrier Highway area, has been a strong campaigner on this. I want to mention Peter Litchfield, from Mundowdna in the Marree area, as another person, and of course there are many others. They are the ones who actually sat down with me and tried to explain the impact of this, in far more detail than I already knew as just someone living in a country town. It really spurred me on to make this an incredibly high priority.

At one level, it is about economics. We have an approximately $1 billion a year sheep industry. It is less than that at the moment because we are currently in drought, so people have sold off a lot of their stock. However, in round terms, that is a good number for MPs to keep in their mind: a $1 billion a year industry, and if 5 per cent or 10 per cent or 15 per cent of that is impacted, that is serious.

You also think about the impact on lambing percentages, so you get down to that individual farm or station impact. There are people who have lost in excess—in some cases, well in excess—of a thousand lambs in a year. What is the impact on the lambs? What is the impact on the ewes? What is the impact on that business, and what is the impact on the grazier, whose life is about looking after those animals, knowing that he or she has not been successful in this case because it was not possible?

Linking all that back to the dog fence, the dog fence will never be perfect, but it can be, and it will be, much better than it is today. We have had, not in the last few years but in the several years before that, good seasons and a massive breeding up of wild dogs below the fence. A few get in. Whether camels knock the fence over, a flood knocks the fence over or the maintenance is not quite right, dogs come in and then they breed up inside the fence.

They have no desire to go back north. Typically, the animals in the north of South Australia prefer to move south. It is where there is more to eat, it is where the climate is kinder and it is where there is more to drink, and the dogs are no different. They breed up inside the fence. They are not trying to bust through it to get back up north, and the problem just gets greater and greater, to the point where we have seen wild dogs in parts of South Australia that you would never have expected to, as far south on Eyre Peninsula as Port Neill. There have been a lot of dog sightings out from Waikerie in the Riverland and around the Laura area in the Mid North.

This is a problem for the entire state, so I really do appreciate the state government, the federal government and Livestock SA stumping up, because if you are running sheep in Port Lincoln, if you are running sheep in Mount Gambier, you may not feel an immediate pressure from wild dogs but you are still, to a lesser extent than your northern neighbours, a significant beneficiary from a robust dog fence.

This is incredibly important. It is not an exaggeration to say that this is state and nation-building work in the same way that it was when the previously privately owned fences were joined up to create what we know now as the dog fence. Notwithstanding the hard work that people have put in to keep it up to scratch, insufficient resources over the years have seen it fall into greater disrepair. To renew—not fix up, but actually replace—such a significant amount of the dog fence and to leave behind only what is already the very best of it is an incredibly important step forward for our state and for our whole grazing industry.

There are some significant vectors through the Marree area and the Roxby Downs area, and also through the Frome area, and I am sure there are other key vectors further west for dog incursions that I am not as personally familiar with. The member for Flinders would certainly know about those and the member for Giles would have some insight from his constituents as well. To take this step forward is critically important.

What we also need to do, though, is still work on the dogs that are already inside the fence. Over the next few years, we will renew the fence, but that does not mean that we can ease up in any way on the work to remove dogs from inside the fence. It is every landholder’s legal responsibility to remove wild dogs from their property below the dog fence. Whether they hold the land for grazing purposes or not, it is still the responsibility of every single landholder to put the effort into that so that all graziers below the fence can benefit as much as humanly possible from what we are doing.