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Estimates: Environment and Communications Legislation Committee: Environment and Energy Portfolio: Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 16 Mar 2018

Monday, 26 February 2018

Platypus diplomacy

Senator RHIANNON: Thanks very much. I just want to move on to asking some questions about platypus in Australia and platypus diplomacy. I understand that under the IUCN red list platypus are still considered to be of least concern; that's their category. Platypuses are not listed on any threatened species schedule in Australia except in South Australia. That's what I understand. If that's wrong, please let me know, because the questions are relevant to that. First off, with regard to South Australia, what work is being done to protect platypus in their habitat in South Australia, considering they have a different listing?

Ms Jonasson: That's really a matter for the South Australian government.

Senator RHIANNON: So your work doesn't intersect with that at all?

Ms Jonasson: They're not nationally listed, so it's a South Australian issue.

Senator RHIANNON: With regard to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, all the changes in the Murray-Darling Basin can have an impact on platypus habitat. Is that another area that might intersect with your work? I'm trying to understand where you—

Ms Jonasson: Again, it would be a matter for the South Australian government what actions— Senator Birmingham: When contemplating certain environmental water event impacts, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder may well take into account what may assist platypus breeding or the like. The water holder appears with other aspects of the water portfolio at an integrated hearing on Friday.

Senator RHIANNON: There is a Platypus Conservation Initiative. That's not something that comes under any of you?

Senator Birmingham: It's a broad-ranging title.

Senator RHIANNON: They're actually capitals. It is actually a program that Taronga Zoo et cetera have something to do with, and I come across it in different areas. I'm literally trying to understand, but I'm gathering that it's not—

Ms Jonasson: It's not an initiative that is run on the side of government.

Mr Knudson: You may wish to ask the question on notice, and then we can try and provide what information we may have on it.

Senator Birmingham: If you can give a little bit more information, it may be supported by federally funded research or the like.

Senator RHIANNON: I'll come back to that one. Thanks. Have you put any resources into determining whether the platypus should be listed as threatened under the EPBC list?

Mr Richardson: It's not currently under assessment. I don't have the information with me at the moment. I believe it may have been assessed sometime in the past and found not to be eligible. I'll correct that on notice if that's not the case.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for that. Moving on to some of the platypus diplomacy issues—we've touched on some of these in the past—I want to ask you some questions following on the responses that you gave to my questions previously. This is question No. 40 with the date of 3 November 2017. I asked about Australian wildlife exported to overseas zoos, specifically about platypus, and your answer said, 'The department is not actively'—and I'm emphasising the word 'actively'—'considering the leasing of native species.' If you take the word 'actively' out of that sentence, are you considering the leasing of native species?

 Ms Jonasson: No.

Senator RHIANNON: So you're not considering it in any way?

Ms Jonasson: No.

Senator RHIANNON: Have you previously considered it?

Ms Jonasson: No.

Senator RHIANNON: There is no consideration of any exported platypus?

Ms Jonasson: No.

Senator RHIANNON: I want to move on to this project—and this is question No. 38 on the same date, 3 November 2017. It's about the program with San Diego Zoo. There had been reports that the San Diego Zoo was going to pay half a million dollars to import platypuses for display. Your answer was, 'San Diego Zoo Global is not paying $500,000 to import platypuses.' Is it paying any money to do anything else with either platypus or other wildlife?

Ms Jonasson: Yes, it is. It is not paying anything at the moment, but the arrangement is that they're having a conversation. There are two separate issues. The first is that they are talking to Melbourne Zoo about whether they can get access to a platypus. Mr Murphy can potentially talk a little bit more about that. The second issue, which is separate to that, is that the San Diego Zoo has also identified that they would like to—because they think the platypus is an important species—donate some money to support platypus habitat in Australia in the wild. That's a conversation that's ongoing, and there's nothing being finalised at this stage.

Senator RHIANNON: So the first one was importing a platypus possibly from Melbourne Zoo.

Ms Jonasson: Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: And the second one was putting money into conservation.

Ms Jonasson: Correct.

Senator RHIANNON: If anybody could expand on that, it would be appreciated.

Mr Murphy: The department has an application not from Melbourne Zoo but Taronga Zoo to export platypus. That's the application we've talked about before.

Senator RHIANNON: Yes.

Mr Murphy: We haven't issued any permits for platypus export. The conditions of transfer need to be formulated to ensure the welfare needs of the animal are met during transfer. They also include conditions for receipt of the animal at the destination facility and for the care of the animal. Taronga Zoo is drafting those conditions. They held a workshop in November last year with platypus experts. Some officers from the department attended that workshop. They're drafting those conditions now.

Senator RHIANNON: What's your timeline? They draft the conditions, they come to you and you approve them. Is that what we're talking about?

Mr Murphy: We'll assess the conditions against the EPBC Act.

Senator RHIANNON: But do you have to approve them or do you just get a copy?

Mr Murphy: We'll assess the conditions against what we know about the science and the criteria under the EPBC Act before we'll approve those conditions. We have similar sets of conditions, for example, for koalas and wombats—they would have the same sort of status as them—and we'd put those conditions on the website.

Senator RHIANNON: Is there a timeline for when you will receive this from Taronga Zoo and when you have to approve it by?

Mr Murphy: Their application is outstanding. It'll remain outstanding until they provide that information. Really, the timing is in Taronga's hands.

Senator RHIANNON: I want to come back to the issue of what the benefit to the platypuses is. I think, Ms Jonasson, you mentioned Melbourne Zoo, and the answer I just got was about Taronga Zoo.

Ms Jonasson: I stand corrected.

Senator RHIANNON: So we were talking about Taronga, not Melbourne.

Ms Jonasson: Yes. I'd also like to correct one of the things that I mentioned about San Diego Zoo and expand on that a little bit further for you. The $500,000 that has been mentioned is a project that was identified under the Threatened Species Prospectus. The Threatened Species Commissioner will be here later today after lunch, and Ms Box would be happy to provide further information on that for you. Essentially, it was a project listed under the prospectus to help us understand and model key threats to the platypus and five threatened fish species in south-eastern Australia. Its aim is to help ensure the long-term survival of the platypus. San Diego Zoo did indeed, in early 2017, contribute $500,000 to that project. They're also—and this is where Melbourne Zoo comes in—currently negotiating a partnership with Melbourne Zoo in relation to that project, which is separate to what Mr Murphy was talking about.

Senator RHIANNON: So that's a correction to answer No. 38, what you've just said. In that one, you say that San Diego Zoo Global is not paying $500,000 to import platypuses.

Ms Jonasson: No. It's not a correction; it's a clarification. They are not paying $500,000 to import platypuses. The funding is to a Threatened Species Prospectus project that was in the prospectus.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you very much for that clarification. We've got a platypus—or maybe more than one platypus. Firstly, is it just one?

Ms Jonasson: It is one project, yes.

Senator RHIANNON: That is to go to San Diego Zoo.

Mr Murphy: I'm not sure. I'd have to take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: What's the benefit to the protection and conservation of platypus by sending it to San Diego Zoo?

Mr Murphy: Generally, the act provides for the trade of live animals between zoos, but it's a bit difficult to comment on this particular application until we've received all the information.

Senator RHIANNON: I wasn't asking for a comment on the application. I'm asking on the benefit. That's the section we're up to now—all aspects to do with these unique species that are only found in Australia. It isn't about the application; it's about what the benefit is to the protection and conservation of these animals by exporting them overseas.

Senator Birmingham: The officials may have some specifics; they may need to provide some on notice. Obviously, there are general activities around breeding programs, research programs and otherwise that many institutions participate in. San Diego Zoo would be one of the world's leading institutions, I think, when it comes to the types of research and breeding programs they generally undertake. I can't speak specifically for what they might do in relation to platypus, but—

Senator RHIANNON: I didn't think they already had a platypus.

Senator Birmingham: As I said, you asked about—

Senator RHIANNON: And they're only sending one, so the justification of breeding seems a bit rich.

Senator Birmingham: They may have others. I don't know. Do you?

Senator RHIANNON: I beg your pardon?

Senator Birmingham: They may have others. I don't know. I'd need to check. Do you know?

Senator RHIANNON: I'm asking questions so that I and others can understand what's going on. The status of some of these animals is very serious, and you're giving the justification of possible breeding programs, and we've been told only one is being sent there.

Senator Birmingham: And research programs. These are common undertakings in institutions like the San Diego Zoo. As I think you've heard, all of the details of this application appear not to have been provided yet. However, we can certainly take further questions in that relation on notice, unless officials have anything particular to the San Diego Zoo that they can add.

Senator RHIANNON: Minister, would you see this is a form of platypus diplomacy?

CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon.

Senator RHIANNON: We've had panda and koala diplomacy, where it's less about the animal—

CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon.

Senator RHIANNON: and more about the development of the relations between different countries.

CHAIR: Excuse me, Senator Rhiannon, can I just seek an indication from you how much longer you need? You've been going for over 20 minutes and three other senators, including two of your colleagues, have questions in this area and we are running well over time.

Senator RHIANNON: Okay, I'll come back to it.

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