Cane toad inquiry first public hearing - radio interview

February 13, 2019




SUBJECT: Cane toad inquiry first public hearing.

TRACEY MCKELLIGOTT, HOST: Joining me on the line now is Pat Conroy, Member for Shortland. Good morning and welcome, Pat. Having a fun day down there today by the sounds of things?

PAT CONROY: Yes, there’s plenty happening, that’s for sure.

MCKELLIGOTT: So, you’ve had the first of the meetings this morning. What was discussed?

CONROY: So, we had public roundtables with scientific experts, first on how do we control the issue of cane toads, and we had a second roundtable with local cane toad eradication groups who are on the ground trying to deal with this menace.  It’s been a very interesting issue, an issue that impacts all Australians, directly if you live in northern NSW, Queensland, Northern Territory or the Kimberley region, or if you just care about our flora and fauna because obviously these cane toads kill our wildlife, they impact on our beautiful biodiversity in this country and they actually have an economic impact on crops like market gardens and so forth. So it’s actually a really important issue.

MCKELLIGOTT: And look they are definitely travelling south, they’ve been in southern Sydney they’ve been in Canberra, they’ve been found here in the Hunter. Are they hitching rides to the Hunter? How are they getting here?

CONROY: At this stage it looks like they are hitching rides. So obviously there was the Metford sightings and one down at Summerland Point and a couple made it to Sydney and ironically as far south as Canberra. But they’re mainly just hitching rides. So unless they can find a very warm spot to survive winter they’re unlikely to be a major menace. At the moment the spread in NSW is confined to northern NSW – the north coast and the rivers region – but if things don’t change they are gradually moving south and if we don’t solve this problem we can expect them to be in the Hunter sometime in the next decade or two.

MCKELLIGOTT: How do we stop them?

CONROY: Well, there’s some very interesting things happening – and that was the point of today’s inquiry. So one thing is a waterless barrier in arid regions, less important for us, but in the Kimberley region and the north-west of Western Australia, that’s really the last chance to stop them spreading through the Pilbara and down to Perth. So, what we had some great testimony around is basically creating barriers around the very few water sources next to the Kimberley region before they get to the Pilbara because there’s a desert inland, which means they can’t come through the desert, Just one very narrow stretch of coastal beachline that we need to block off and we can actually stop them heading around WA. In our neck of the woods, in NSW, we don’t have sandy deserts; we’ve got lots of water, so it’s going to have to be a combination of things like capturing tadpoles, using natural predators such as amoebas that are killing the cane toads, and ultimately we’re going to have to look at either more biological controls, another animal that kills them, or some sort of genetic modification. So, we’re not there yet, but academics are actually quite positive that with more research and more integrated planning we can slow or stop the spread of the cane toad.

MCKELLIGOTT : The first thing that came into my head when you said we’ll bring in something else to kill it is – you’re the same generation as me – that Simpsons episode where they brought in the snakes to fix something else and then they brought in the bears – I just had that flashing through my head.

CONROY: And this is the irony, and we discussed this today, that we have to be very careful. Because the cane toad was the ultimate example of that biological control because it was brought in from South America to take care of the cane beetle that was affecting the sugar cane crop in North Queensland. And it was brought in to control that, and because it has no natural predators, it led to it infesting northern Australia. So most of the researchers are looking at other options such as either genetic modification using natural diseases in Australia that are affecting the cane toads and then working out how we can spread them a bit further. We need to find a solution to this problem, but obviously not at the expense of making a bigger problem.

MCKELLIGOTT: Absolutely. The next public hearing is Wednesday, 20th February, and I’d love to catch up with you after that one.

CONROY: Thank you.