Barely a squeak on one of nature’s biggest killers

Feral Herald |



What have we heard so far about tackling the growing threat from invasive species in the upcoming federal election?

So far, the two main political parties have been silent on environmental biosecurity – despite invasive species being rated by experts as one of the top two or three threats to Australia’s biodiversity. The Greens have released a policy with measures that would greatly strengthen Australia’s biosecurity capacity.

The Invasive Species Council has been calling for widespread reform of our biosecurity system: for a more precautionary approach to the entry of goods and species, prevention in-country sources of new invasive species and ecologically focused management of established weeds, ferals and other invaders.  Regular failures point to the need for change. The last few years have seen the arrival of myrtle rust, yellow crazy ants and Asian honeybees, and the unchecked spread of many other invaders.

At the centrepiece of the Greens’ national biosecurity policy is the establishment of an independent, science-based biosecurity authority supported by a commission of experts to make biosecurity decisions based on risks.

This would be a major improvement on the current system, in which the major decision-maker is the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, who also has a major role in promoting exports.  The current system lacks independence and transparency. Threats to the natural environment are often undervalued or ignored, and environmental biosecurity lags behind that for industry.

The Greens also support the Invasive Species Council’s call for a Parliamentary inquiry into Australia’s preparedness for new environmental invaders.

Labor has squandered a major opportunity to reform the biosecurity system, backing down on the key recommendations of a major 2008 inquiry to establish an independent biosecurity authority and better resource the sector. It introduced a Biosecurity Bill, now stalled in the Senate, that ignored our concerns and failed to reform decision-making processes to ensure transparency, independence, community involvement and consistently science-based decisions. The Labor government also assigned to a dusty shelf its target in the Biodiversity Strategy to reduce invasive species impacts on threatened biodiversity by 10% by 2015 – no plan, no costings, no meaningful progress. A Rudd Labor Government, if elected, has promised a modest $20m for a new Community Weed Management Fund to ‘eradicate Australia’s most noxious weeds’. These funds presumably replace the recently axed Weeds of National Significance program, but without the coordination.

The Liberal National coalition has had little to say on biosecurity during its time in opposition. However, their environment spokesperson, Greg Hunt, has indicated support for an Invasive Species Council proposal for Environment Health Australia, an institution to foster collaborative ecological solutions for invasive species.  It has not been announced as an election policy. The only relevant Coalition policy so far is $300 million over four years to develop a ‘green army’. Depending on its focus, this could help with some weed problems but for the Coalition to meet its stated goal to reverse environmental decline in five years it will need to do much more to respond to Australia’s massive invasive species threats.

The Invasive Species Council sent a questionnaire based on our election policy platform (below) to all the major parties and a number of minor parties and sitting independents. Only Labor, the Greens and Senator Xenophon have responded to date. We encourage all those who understand the threat posed by invasive species to email the parties to support our platform.

Our Reforms

The reforms below were presented to the major political parties contesting the 2013 Federal election. We believe the reforms will save big costs in the long-term, and stem losses of biodiversity and agricultural productivity.

  • Establish Environmental Health Australia. Collaboration is essential to meet the challenges of environmental biosecurity. To bring together governments, the community and industry to improve biosecurity preparedness, identify research and control priorities, and build capacity, establish a body called Environment Health Australia, modelled on the existing industry-government partnerships, Plant Health Australia and Animal Health Australia.
  • Work to achieve a strong invasive species target with a funded plan. Getting down to business on invasive species requires a national plan with meaningful targets. Commit to achieving within 5 years a net reduction in the impacts of invasive species. This requires a baseline assessment of condition, an assessment of the measures and funding necessary to achieve the target and a costed plan. Essential elements of achieving the target include measures to protect declining mammals of northern Australia, eradicate foxes in Tasmania and yellow crazy ants in Queensland and implement threat abatement plans for other invasive species identified as key threatening processes. Provide long-term funding to implement the plan.
  • Establish an independent biosecurity authority with an expert biosecurity commission. To ensure that biosecurity decisions are science-based, independent of politics, transparent and precautionary, an independent authority with an expert commission, as recommended by the 2008 Beale review, is needed. A new Biosecurity Act should be introduced to also foster a stronger environmental and community focus, which includes best practice elements of community engagement, a statutory role for the Environment Minister and a focus on environmental priorities such as islands (which are highly vulnerable to invasive species).
  • Conduct a parliamentary inquiry into Australia’s preparedness for new environmental invaders. Recent quarantine failings as exemplified in the establishment of myrtle rust, Asian honeybees and several infestations of yellow crazy ants demonstrate systemic failings in contingency planning, surveillance and responses for new environmental invaders.
  • Regulate movement of exotic plants. As identified by the 2009 Hawke review of the EPBC Act, there are major gaps in regulation of the movement of exotic plant species within Australia. If states and territories do not agree through COAG to amend their laws within one year to regulate plants consist with their invasion risks, this should be achieved by using existing provisions of the EPBC Act.
  • Restore national weed research capacity. Australia needs a research program to develop effective technical and policy responses to the great challenges of weed prevention, eradication and control equivalent to that of the former CRC for Weed Management.
  • Strengthen invasive species threat abatement. Many of our greatest threats require a collaborative approach to planning, research and control efforts. Effective action against major invasive species threats can be achieved by strengthening processes to systematically list and abate key threatening processes under the EPBC Act.

Authorised by Andrew Cox, 88B Station Street, Fairfield 3078 Victoria.

Share this post


Other posts

Email Updates

Sign up for our ebulletin the the Feral Herald and regular campaign updates.

Recent Stories


Help protect NSW!

Our expert team has written a list of policy asks detailing exactly what the next NSW government needs to do to stamp out some of the worst invasive species impacts across the state. But they will only become a reality if every key political candidate at the 2023 NSW state election hears about it from you!

Dear National Deer Management Coordinator,

Please accept this as a submission to the National Feral Deer Action Plan.

[Your personalised message will appear here] 

I am very concerned about the spread of deer and am pleased that a national plan has finally been developed. Without urgent action, funding and commitment from all levels of government it is clear that feral deer will continue to spread and damage our environment.

The feral deer population in Australia is growing rapidly and spreading across the country, damaging our natural environment, causing havoc for farmers and foresters and threatening public safety. Unlike much of the world where deer are native, our plants and wildlife haven’t evolved to deal with these heavy hard hooved animals with a voracious appetite.
With no natural predators and an ability to adapt to almost all environments, they could occupy almost all of Australia unless stopped. Despite this, state and territory governments have been slow to respond and in Victoria and Tasmania they are still protected by law for the enjoyment of hunters.

This plan should be adopted by all governments but must also be underpinned by dedicated funding and clear responsibilities. A plan without funding or accountability is a plan that will fail and Australia cannot afford for this to fail.

In order to prevent the spread of feral deer and reduce their impact on our native wildlife, ecosystems and agriculture, I ask that the following recommendations be adopted for the final National Feral Deer Action Plan:

1. All federal, state and territory governments should adopt the National Feral Deer Action Plan and declare feral deer to be a priority pest animal species.

2. All federal, state and territory governments should commit to:

  • Contain deer to the existing large population areas.
  • Reduce and eradicate smaller and isolated populations.
  • Protect important environmental assets such as world and national heritage areas.
  • Develop and fund regional plans and strategies to manage deer populations which involve land managers across all tenures.

3. In order to drive action and the success of this plan, there should be dedicated Commonwealth funding and support for:

  • A permanent national feral deer coordinator position.
  • A permanent federal feral deer action committee with representatives from the commonwealth and state and territory governments and the environmental and agricultural sectors.
  • An ongoing public education campaign on feral deer.
  • A network of regional feral deer coordinators to drive local action across tenures.

4. The expected outcomes for the plan need to be more ambitious, with clear interim targets including:

  • Within one year, all States and Territories should have in place arrangements to implement the National Feral Deer Action Plan, including allocating dedicated funding for implementation.
  • Within one year, feral deer management plans should be developed for key environmental assets of national significance, including the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, the Greater Blue Mountains, the Australian Alps, the Gondwana Rainforests and the Wet Tropics of Queensland.
  • Within five years coordinated landscape scale management should be in place where land owners, land managers, government and community are demonstrably working together.

5. A national feral deer containment map with three zones should be adopted. It should be more ambitious than the zone map in the current draft plan and there should be greater clarity in the naming of the zones. Improvements that should be adopted include:

  • Renaming the zones to better reflect the management intention to ‘Containment Zone 1’ (the current large population zone), ‘Containment Buffer Zone 2’ (the current buffer zone) and ‘Eradication and prevention Zone 3’ (the current small isolated population zone).
  • The NSW northern rivers area should be in the eradication and prevention zone as there are few feral deer currently in this region and eradicating isolated populations and preventing spread into this area is still possible.
  • The whole of South Australia should be in the eradication and prevention zone as eradication is the goal of the SA Government.
  • The Tasmanian region in the containment zone should be smaller to reflect greater ambition and potential for eradication of deer populations.
  • In eastern Victoria areas such as Wilson’s Promontory, Westernport islands and the Mornington Peninsula should be in the eradication and prevention zone.

6. There should be consistent laws and regulations across all states and territories that:

  • Recognise feral deer as a pest animal and treat them as such.
  • Establish a clear responsibility for all landholders and managers to be involved in feral deer control programs.
  • Set clear penalties to stop the wilful or negligent release of feral deer.
  • Prevent new deer farms in areas where no feral deer are present and phase out all deer farms in the eradication and prevention zone.
  • Enable enforcement of compliance, including on government land.

I support the follow principles being adopted in the final National Feral Deer Action Plan:

  • Feral deer are a pest and should be treated as such on all tenures, except on approved deer farms.
  • Federal, state and territory governments have a responsibility to fund the outcomes under this plan.
  • All land managers in areas where feral deer are present have a responsibility to be involved in feral deer control programs.
  • The focus of management efforts should be on eradication of isolated, satellite populations, protection of key environmental assets currently impacted and stopping the spread to new regions.
  • Feral deer control should be undertaken humanely, safely and professionally according to agreed protocols and all tools which meet this criteria should be adopted, including aerial control.
  • Funding for coordination, regional planning and community engagement is necessary for effective feral deer management.
  • Ongoing management and follow up control efforts are required to achieve long lasting results.
  • Rules and regulations should be consistent across jurisdictions and land tenures.
  • Recreational hunting is not an effective strategy for feral deer control and should not be relied upon.
[Your name]
[Your email address]
[Your suburb], [Your state]