Scot MacDonald
Adjournment Debate on Pilliga Saving Our Species Project
8th Aug 2017


Mr SCOT MacDONALD ( 21:51 ): Last week I visited the site of the Pilliga Saving our Species project, which is in the early stages. The aim is Reintroduction of Locally Extinct Mammals [RoLEM], and the site is south of Narrabri in the Pilliga State Conservation Area. The project is a partnership between the Australian Wildlife Conservancy [AWC] and the New South Wales Government through the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Its goal is to re-establish species that have been lost to New South Wales. The species that will be reintroduced in the Pilliga are the greater bilby, the bridled nail-tail wallaby, the brush-tailed bettong, the Western barred bandicoot, the Western quoll, the plains rat, and possibly the northern hairy-nosed wombat. AWC staff told me they hope their work will also support the Pilliga mouse population.

This project represents a very different approach to conservation and species protection. Its aim is to reverse species extinction in this State by building wildlife refuges. These species may be lost to New South Wales but are still found in other parts of Australia. The strategy is to build an enclosure free of the devastating predators that largely caused their extinction here—that is, the cat and the fox. The Pilliga fenced-off refuge will cover 5,822 hectares. Across the three RoLEM sites—the other two sites are in the Mallee Cliffs National Park and the Sturt National Park—a total of 17,000 hectares will be fenced off. All up, the RoLEM program is targeting 13 species for reintroduction to New South Wales.

I very much enjoyed my visit to the Pilliga. Most of the Pilliga is heavily forested with low variable rainfall. It is a tough environment with ephemeral water systems, but the landscape carries that unique Australian semi-arid beauty.

I was shown where the fence will be built and where an operational base will be established. A number of planning and regulatory processes must still be worked through, and I commend the local National Parks and Wildlife Service staff for their collaboration. This is new ground for those teams as well.

Everyone hopes that work on the fence can commence in less than 12 months. Narrabri Shire Council is excited. I spoke to Mayor Cathy Redding and they are anticipating benefits from eco-tourism. The member for Barwon, Kevin Humphries, has been a consistent supporter. The Australian Wildlife Conservancy staff told me about their plans to develop facilities and interpretative centres for the public to visit, to learn about, and to appreciate the RoLEM work and the biodiversity of the Pilliga. With the new air link to Sydney, they hope to increase visitation from domestic and international travellers. I admire Narrabri Council's efforts to build a diversified economy on top of its strong agricultural foundations. Utes down the main street of Narrabri have resource company names on them, and utes off farms, and now Land Cruisers, have "Australian Wildlife Conservancy" plastered on their doors.

This is the second AWC operation I have visited. I called into Scotia on the New South Wales-South Australian border a few years ago. It was one of the original fenced refuges. I witnessed what is possible when cats and foxes are removed. Previously extinct mammals, including the bilby, numbats, the bridled nail-tail wallaby, and bettongs were thriving in the 8,000 hectare enclosure, and vegetation was returning to something like its original condition.

These are expensive and intensive undertakings that require a great deal of maintenance, ecological field work, and on-going research to make them work. However, given our pest pressure and the killing ability of feral cats and foxes, there does not seem to be any realistic alternative. We will never replace the State’s extensive national park reserve system, but these wildlife enclosures and the reintroduction concept delivered through partners such as AWC, Bush Heritage, and the University of New South Wales have an important function. I appreciate that Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton has taken a close interest in the project, the concept of which was shaped in 2012 under Minister Robyn Parker. The Pilliga Saving our Species program was developed and funded with an allocation of $100 million over the next few years. It is exciting to be on the verge of seeing it come to fruition.

I look forward to calling into the Pilliga Reintroduction of Locally Extinct Mammal project when it is open and operational. The New South Wales Liberal-Nationals Government should be proud of that project. It is innovative and it draws on the best of the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the non-government conservation partners. It will be tightly managed and monitored. It must be environmentally effective and be value for the taxpayer, and we are on the way to achieving that. I thank the Office of Environment and Heritage, the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, and Narrabri Shire Council for their assistance with my visit.