Inquiry into the spread of cane toads - ABC Radio interview

February 13, 2019




 SUBJECTS: Cane toad inquiry, asylum seeker medical evacuation bill.

JENNY MARCHANT, CO-HOST: Today, there’ll be a public inquiry into controlling the spread of cane toads. Interesting, considering I feel like we are on that border that is somewhat under threat. Pat Conroy is the MP indeed who is doing that and chairing a hearing today. Good morning, Pat.

PAT CONROY: Good morning there.

MARCHANT: Why hold a Parliamentary inquiry into controlling cane toads. Have they not taken hold in some parts already?

CONROY: Well, they’re certainly very prevalent in Queensland and they’re advancing down the north coast of NSW and across in WA. They’re moving into zones that haven’t traditionally seen them. We’ve had a sighting at Metford and one at Summerland Point last year and in fact a couple in Sydney and one in Canberra, which was I think clearly a hitch-hiker. So, it is an issue that is getting bigger and bigger. We thought it would be timely to have an inquiry to bring across the best knowledge from every state so that we can make recommendations on how the Federal Government can actually play a role in stopping the spread of a very invasive species.

DAN COX, CO-HOST: Is Queensland doing a good job of stopping it. They’ve had issues for years. Can we learn from them?

CONROY: I think we can learn from them, but clearly we haven’t succeeded in Queensland, otherwise we wouldn’t be seeing them in NSW and WA and the Northern Territory. But some things can be effective and also when they move into different climactic zones, my understanding is that’s when there is a genuine opportunity to control them. So, we’ll be talking to people, for example there’s an interesting proposal to basically form a defence line in the north-west of WA along one particular beach, which is the only place they are advancing in WA, to hold them there. So it is really an opportunity to bring together Australia’s leading experts to see if there are some recommendations that can play a role in controlling this horrible, horrible species.

MARCHANT: Is it inevitable that they will end up in the Hunter?

 CONROY: I think, to be frank, without getting to another bigger issue, as the climate changes we’re going to see warmer temperatures in our area which will help them and obviously more rain in summer, which will help them, but they are a very flexible species. They can adapt from dry heat to wet heat to even cooler, temperate conditions, as long as there’s a bit of water to survive they’ve shown a real propensity to go anywhere. It’s inevitable, without trying to scare people, it is inevitable they will reach the Hunter in proper proportions unless we take real action now.

COX: Pat, Why are you chairing this hearing?

CONROY: I am the deputy chair of the House environment and energy committee, partly related to my role as the Shadow Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy, and unfortunately we’ve lost a couple of National Party MPs who traditionally chair the inquiries. So, we had Andrew Broad, who obviously had a bit of an issue with an online dating site, and when he left the Ministry the National Party chair Andrew Gee got promoted, so traditionally these committees are chaired by Government members but I’m acting in that role until they find someone to appoint to the committee. But it’s a good opportunity and this is a committee that’s very bipartisan in nature. We haven’t issued a dissenting report in three years. The recommendations are usually signed off by both Labor and Liberal and that’s really important because that makes it much harder for any government to ignore the recommendations if both sides of politics are saying this is what you should consider doing.

MARCHANT: With the hearing on today, I just wonder how much attention is on cane toads in Canberra today, given the extraordinary scenes yesterday.

CONROY: Well I must confess, I don’t think too much to be honest, but it’s an important issue and obviously what happened yesterday was very historic and it’s something that I think was a very positive thing for the nation in terms of demonstrating Parliament at its best, showing that we can be humane to sick refugees, we can be compassionate to sick refugees, while maintaining border security and being strong on national security.

MARCHANT: Well, the political implications of the Government losing that vote on the medical evacuation bill continue. Thank you very much, Pat Conroy.