Legislative Council: Wednesday, April 10, 2024


Wild Dog Management

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI (Leader of the Opposition) (16:48): I move:

That this council—

1. Acknowledges the livestock industry's longstanding contribution to the South Australian economy;

2. Notes that changes to the policy for wild dog management by the Victorian state Labor government have resulted in an immediate threat to livestock along the affected border of South Australia;

3. Acknowledges that the impact of policy decisions transcend state boundaries;

4. Notes that the reappointment of a Cross Border Commissioner continues to be delayed to the detriment of cross-border communities; and

5. Calls on the Malinauskas government to show leadership on this issue to ensure the Victorian state Labor government continues to manage their wild dog and dingo populations into the future.

Ripped throats, faces torn off, back legs missing, gouges to the belly, raw bleeding, weeping in agonising pain, screaming and left to bleed, and stressed, to die, surrounded by other terrified livestock. It might be confronting and it is certainly gruesome, but that is the reality of wild dog attacks on a working farm. The majority of mauled animals do not survive. Whether they be native animals, sheep, cows, alpacas, poultry or domesticated working dogs, a single wild dog can cause mayhem on a farm. A pack of wild dogs hunting together can be catastrophic. An InDaily article from last year opens:

Farmer Nathan Redpath recalls moving 2000 pregnant ewes into a northern Flinders Ranges paddock and within eight months losing 500 of them to wild dogs and dingoes. No lambs survived.

Wild dog incursions cost Australian farmers millions of dollars per annum. Travis Tobin, CEO of Livestock SA, estimates that, prior to the 2019 wild dog fence upgrades, that figure would sit at around $4 million per annum for sheep exclusively.

I myself as a country veterinarian have seen the aftermath of multiple wild dog attacks on agricultural lands, particularly on flocks of sheep. By the time the landowners were able to alert our clinic and I arrived on the farm, these animals were usually in shock, often covered in blood and were hugely susceptible to their wounds becoming infected or flyblown into the future, if they survived at all. To be blunt, mostly our job and my job was to euthanase these animals so damaged and torn and so far gone in shock and pain that all we could do was ease their suffering.

Wild dogs—that is, dingoes and mixed-breed dingo mongrels—are known to not only hunt for food but for sport, for the chase. They often attack from behind. Many of the wounds I attended to were on the rear legs and tails of the livestock attempting to run away. The Minister for Primary Industries knows this grisly reality and we the opposition applaud the plan to continue the improvements and maintenance of the wild dog fence in South Australia to protect our livestock, native animals, farmers and their working animals. As already noted, the major investment began on that program in 2019, and we intend to continue this important bipartisan approach to wild dog incursion.

But we are one land, and wild dogs do not care about state boundaries. Whilst we have responsible landowners across the country, they cannot and should not have to bear the brunt of bad policy by city-centric bureaucrats. What we have seen from the Victorian government recently is reckless, irresponsible and flies in the face of both animal and community safety. What we are witnessing is a winding back of the 'unprotected status' of wild dogs in western Victoria at a time when we know there are wild dog incursions in South Australia from the Victorian border.

The Ngarkat Conservation Park is fast becoming an expressway for wild dogs between privately owned and managed lands. The Victorian government's recent decision to end wild dog control programs in the state's north-west has created concern for livestock producers and hobby farmers on both sides of the South Australian-Victorian border.

Livestock SA have stated publicly that they have real concerns about the potential impact of this decision. It is noted that it is not only the cost of lost livestock but the very real added personal and social trauma of dealing with the aftermath of wild dog attacks as well as the obvious animal welfare concerns.

National industry information site Sheep Central notes that the Allan Labor government is also investigating concerning recommendations in the parliamentary report into ecosystem decline in Victoria that included removing the order-in-council with its three-kilometre livestock protection buffer, reintroducing dingoes in some parks such as the Grampians and phasing out 1080 baiting.

According to the National Wild Dog Action Plan Coordination Committee, the government's choice has left livestock producers in the area vulnerable to wild dog attacks, with insufficient resources for prevention. This will certainly leak across the border into South Australia. Geoff Power, the committee chair, expressed deep disappointment at the lack of industry involvement and consultation in this decision, emphasising its potentially severe consequences for livestock producers in the north-west region.

It strikes me as incredibly shortsighted that conservation and animal rights groups and some First Nations corporations have welcomed the dingoes' protection, yet are willing to see a plethora of livestock, hobby farm animals and domestic pets mauled ferociously for sport by these now protected hunting packs.

It should be noted that, according to wild dog management coordinator Greg Mifsud, Museums Victoria has updated the taxonomy of the dingo to bring it in line with the Australian Faunal Directory and the recommendations of the Australasian Mammal Taxonomy Consortium. Mr Mifsud has said:

This change in taxonomy within Victoria means that the dingo is no longer considered a subspecies of wolf (Canis lupus), but actually an ancient type of domestic dog (Canis familiaris), bringing into the question the need to change the Victorian Wild Dog Management Program at all.

As the dingo is now considered a wild living dog, there is no longer need to have special provisions for their control—they can and should be managed as wild dogs on private property without further restrictions.

He then goes to state that:

This change in classification poses a new consideration for the Victorian government as it reviews wild dog control in the state.

This shows the complete inconsistency between the Victorian government's policymakers and its own state museum, which must be called out by the leaders in this state.

CEO Travis Tobin of Livestock SA is quoted in the Stock Journal as saying, 'You can't make these decisions in isolation when your decisions are going to have severe impact on others.' The opposition completely agrees. This issue absolutely underlines the importance of the role of the Cross Border Commissioner in facilitating communication about cross-border issues. Communication between state governments is imperative on issues where decisions have the almost instant impact across state lines.

I note that the minister is quoted as noting that she has written to the Victorian agricultural minister Ros Spence multiple times regarding the potential impact of altering wild dog management strategies in South Australia's livestock industry. Writing is a start, but a letter is too easy to downplay or ignore. Trust me, I have written plenty of letters to the current minister and a number of her colleagues on various issues, only to be provided with the standard 'thanks for writing' response, with no practical outcomes.

These farmers need practical outcomes and they need it fast. They need a minister who will stand up, who will be the leader they deserve and who will fight to ensure the wild dog and dingo populations are managed appropriately into the future. They need a Cross Border Commissioner who can 100 per cent focus on this issue as a priority. Farmers on the ground are begging for a line into PIRSA—they want to deal with someone who understands regional cross-border realities.

Our farmers should not have to suffer the incompetence and repercussions of terrible policy decisions and six-monthly reviews and research periods at the behest of animal groups that would see the entire livestock industry dismantled. I commend this motion to the chamber on behalf of the South Australian producers now at risk from these decisions across the nearby border in Victoria.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. J.E. Hanson.