Legislative Council: Wednesday, February 07, 2024


Matters of Interest

Feral Deer

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI (Leader of the Opposition) (15:28): I have risen in this chamber on many occasions to speak on the importance of feral animal control. Today, I want to talk about the feral deer culling program and the concerning trajectory of this program under the current state government. Recently, I attended a community forum in Naracoorte, where over 300 residents expressed dismay over the government's heavy-handed approach. The fact that no government minister or MP bothered to turn up to listen to these constituents is a sad indictment on this Labor government and highlights their arrogance and unwillingness to listen.

First, these communities are by no means against controlling deer numbers, nor are they against the use of aerial culling as part of a range of tools if it is carried out safely and humanely. What they are against is being forced to take part in the aerial culling program, being forced out of their properties for days at a time, sometimes for up to two weeks, and being forced to sign agreements that stipulate that they are liable for any other person or the public entering their properties during that time.

What is incredibly disturbing are the reports of bullying and intimidation by the government towards landowners who do not wish to participate in the aerial culling program. Understandably, given the media reports of concerns raised over the number of safety incidents associated with deer culling programs last year, one cannot blame landholders for being somewhat tentative.

Let me be clear, feral animal control is vital for our state, not just because of the damage they do to productive agricultural land and to the environment but because of the role they would play in the spread of an exotic disease incursion. I unequivocally support the feral deer culling program; however, aerial culling is only one tool in the toolbox—

The Hon. C.M. Scriven interjecting:

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: —if the minister could stop interjecting, that would be great—and should not be used in isolation for the control of feral deer populations. It should be used alongside and as a complement to other measures, such as the use of commercial, professional and recreational hunters. It should be a landowner's choice as to which tools they use to manage the deer numbers on their property because, as Liberals, we believe in individual choice and we will always seek to protect property rights—that is, the right to do what you choose with your private property here in South Australia.

To force landowners to sign up to aerial culling by threatening individuals with action orders and promising to send them a bill to perform the aerial cull is not a choice. It does not build up trust in these communities; in fact, it undermines trust and fails to collaborate with communities, and it is certainly not working with all landowners to tackle the problem.

It appears that every landowner in affected areas is required to have an action plan to control feral deer on their property. This initially seems very benign and reasonable, until closer inspection reveals biases favouring aerial culling over alternatives proposed by landowners. Within the government's own Strategic Plan for the South Australian Feral Deer Eradication Program 2022-2032, it states under 'Feral deer control tools', and I quote:

A range of control tools will be used to eradicate feral deer…depending on feral deer numbers, the local environment, needs of landholders and proximity to…communities.

Yet it seems that the needs of landholders are low on that priority list. Venison is fast becoming a popular protein. Venison steaks currently sell for approximately $45 per kilo. That is $15 more per kilo than lamb and is on par with the price of beefsteaks.

The Hon. I.K. Hunter interjecting:

The ACTING PRESIDENT (The Hon. D.G.E. Hood): The Hon. Mr Hunter!

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: If the government could stop interjecting and actually listen it would be much appreciated.

The Hon. I.K. Hunter interjecting:

The ACTING PRESIDENT (The Hon. D.G.E. Hood): Order! Please, leader, sit down. We will have silence.

An honourable member interjecting:

The ACTING PRESIDENT (The Hon. D.G.E. Hood): I will give you more time. We will have silence from that side, please. It is tradition that we have MOIs in relative silence. The Leader of the Opposition will continue.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: Thank you, Mr Acting President, for your protection. Venison's growing popularity and economic value make collaboration with commercial hunters a sensible option, especially for landowners not wanting to aerial cull. From the conversations I have had with some of these property owners, they would absolutely welcome collaboration with commercial hunters who also utilise a one-shot kill, which is preferable for animal welfare purposes.

Success and practical outcomes occur when communities, individuals and governments collaborate and work together to achieve these outcomes. It does not occur when government uses its big stick to wield power over individuals and communities, and it certainly does not occur when people feel their basic rights and freedoms are taken away from them. So I urge this current government to reassess their heavy-handed tactics and, rather than taking a big stick approach, work with individual landowners—

The Hon. C.M. Scriven interjecting:

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: —like we do with the fruit fly program, Clare—to use a range of control tools for feral deer, rather than using a blanket, one-size-fits-all-approach. If they do not, they will risk losing the community on this incredibly important program to cull feral deer.