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Adjournment speech: Wombats

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 13 Apr 2018

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (20:52):

 On another matter, today The Guardian had this information at the head of an article about Australia's extinction crisis:

More than 1,800 plant and animal species and ecological communities are at risk of extinction right now.

I was recently in South Australia meeting people who work with the southern hairy-nosed wombat. I've got to say, having heard their story and read that article, I became so concerned that this wonderful marsupial might be one of those animals becoming extinct.

In 2016 the southern hairy-nosed wombat's IUCN listing was changed from 'least concern' to 'near threatened'. When you look at what's happening to them in South Australia this is so real and so serious. Bulldozing wombat burrows is a favoured means of management in the mid-north of South Australia, because ideally it destroys wombats and burrows in one activity. It kills them by burial. They can die through injury, they can die because they're crushed or they can die a slow, excruciating death because of lack of oxygen as they are literally buried under the soil. People say they can dig out. They do not dig upwards. These animals are dying, and dying in large numbers.

This method of killing wombats—and this is legal—also destroys complete ecosystems. The burrows or warrens of wombats have become home ecosystems to so many other species. Bulldozing burrows has been used to remove what are called the 'outlying populations' and supposedly to encourage their movement away from farming land. That's the excuse. But the loss of the outlying populations leads to a whole number of problems. We lose the vital connectivity between populations, which can result in isolation, cause inbreeding and further endanger the species. Also, there is no evidence that the wombats are going to escape if their burrows are bulldozed. These animals are more likely to die. Those burrows are their homes, and they are their homes, in most cases, forever. Their innate response when they are in danger is to go to their burrow. That's where they seek protection, but now that has become a death trap. Bulldozing burrows has been known to occur at times when the juveniles are still totally dependent on the burrow for their survival. After approximately six months, young wombats are no longer carried by their mother and are most likely to stay in their burrow for another two to three months—again, putting them in such a vulnerable situation because of the way they are being killed, legally. I'm saying that again, because this clearly needs to be thoroughly investigated and, I would argue, stopped.

The dependency on the burrow is what has enabled the wombat to survive—it is estimated by experts in this area—for 55 million to 65 million years. That's how long they've been on this continent. The burrows have become part of their adaptation to the dry and changing environment of Australia. Now that is being destroyed at a rapid rate. There is an urgent need for more research into this animal, the southern hairy-nosed wombat. It is a unique wombat. It is a species that is only found in this country.

Extinction is entirely avoidable. Professor Lesley Hughes from the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University, when commenting on the whole extinction crisis that is occurring in this country, said: 'I think the whole system is completely broken.' I endorse those comments. I did want to inform the Senate tonight of how serious this extinction crisis is. That wombats, which are so closely identified with Australia, could be suffering and that there is the possibility of their extinction is surely something we should deal with and at least get more research going into this species.


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