Local, Independant and Effective

Dung beetle research - Government needs to continue funding

Posted November 24, 2014


CATHY McGOWAN (Indi) (12:09):  No flies on us today! I rise today to support the motion put forward by the member for Canning, and I call on the government to ensure the continuation of the dung beetle program. It is your job. I am really pleased to speak on this topic today because it brings together so many of my passions: passions for agricultural research, biological agents, the link between country and city, and cooperative research. It is very practical research that is undertaken and at a very insignificant amount of money.

I am a sheep producer, and I am very sad to see that the member for Parkes has left. He constantly talked about the farmer 'he'. I just wanted to remind him that many of us farmers are 'she', and I suspect dung beetles are not all 'he' either; so I am sorry about that the member for Parkes.

But in talking to this topic, which I too agree with is a very important topic, I want to say it is such a small amount of money; it is $250,000. Why can't the MLA, CSIRO or someone else find the money to do this? I have been approached by my constituents who have actually asked me to lobby the government and state ministers for agriculture to see if we could do something about this.

In particular, I would like to acknowledge members of my community Peter Serpell, Lachlan Campbell, Belinda Pearce and Joe [Jos] McAlister—members of the Kiewa Catchment Landcare Group—for taking this issue up. On behalf of the community of Indi, it is fantastic to have such strong Landcare groups who understand how important these research projects are, and how such a little bit of money will make such a big difference. I support what my colleagues have said about the great environmental and climate benefits that dung beetles have delivered.

I want to particularly emphasise today, and it seems many of my colleagues laugh when they talk about the dung beetle debate, that this has such importance for urban Australia—it is the great barbecue tradition. It is within our ability in rural Australia to solve the problem of the fly that enables so many of our friends in the city to have their afternoon barbecues on the weekend and to go outside on the patio and enjoy the beautiful weather. Many people in my community have said: 'Haven't you noticed there are no flies around now? It is getting hot but where are the flies? Haven't we enjoyed the fly-free afternoons and evenings.' To think that would go, and to think our city friends would again be attacked by flies for the sake of $250,000. I rest my case. There is no argument for it.

To bring the words of my constituents to the debate, the Kiewa Landcare group tells me that we need to introduce a further 20 beetle species. In south-eastern Australia, we only have one species that operates in winter. So to put all our eggs in one species basket, as they tell me, is not a strategy. The original CSIRO dung beetle project was closed before all the desired introductions were made, so there is a huge opportunity waiting for us. It is my hope that through this debate—and I again congratulate the member for Canning for bringing it to our attention—the original dung beetle project will be realised, and we will say, 'No, it's not just this one; we actually need to open up the 20 different species that we know we need right across Australia.'

If I could make my comments more pertinent to the bigger picture of what we are talking about, this is about our agricultural research. This is about applied agricultural research that has direct benefits to our communities, farmers and economics. I ask my colleagues opposite: what can we do in rural and regional Australia to give you the power you need to take this really important battle up to where it needs to be done?

Up to the cabinet minister, if we need, but certainly to MLA—the board of MLA—to say we need more research; we need more money invested in research; and we need more money invested in biological agents, because we have been hearing that they are the ones who do all of that magic work.

They are so important because they do not take outside chemicals to solve problems; they enable nature to do what it does so well. In this particular instance, it is a project that I think has just grasped the imagination of so many people, because they can actually see the symbolism of $250,000 solving the fly problem and doing all of this other good work for our environment. It might end for lack of political knowledge, I think, or political ability.

Anything that we can do, or I, as a crossbencher, can do to support the government to actually make a case, I am right behind. So, a matter of urgency, $250,000 in the scheme of things it is not a lot. I urge the government to investigate expansion of the program and all biological programs in Australia. I particularly congratulate the member for Canning for bringing this really important matter to the attention of the House.