Flying-foxes are a keystone species within Australia’s mammal populations and the ecosystems that they affect. They are an integral part of the ecosystem and are important dispersers of pollen and seeds of a wide range of Australian native plants across the eastern seaboard.
Two species of mainland flying-foxes currently have a protected listing under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act)—the Grey-headed Flying-fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) and the Spectacled Flying-fox (Pteropus conspicillatus).
While very important to the ecosystem within the eastern states of Australia, the population of flying-foxes coincides with a large proportion of the Australian human population, inevitably leading to tensions. Flying-foxes also have an increasing tendency to roost in urban areas, or congregate in large ‘camps’ for short periods of time in urban areas, or close to urban areas. This behaviour has significant impact on residents, business owners and the local government bodies left responsible for dealing with the impacts of these animals. Similarly, the fruit-eating nature of the flying-foxes causes tensions with agricultural elements of the community as well.
About the inquiry
The Minister for the Environment and Energy, the Hon. Josh Frydenberg MP, wrote to the Committee in mid-October 2016 regarding representations to his office about the impact of flying-foxes in the eastern states of Australia, and asked the Committee to consider including the issue in its work program.
The Committee received private briefings on the issue, including from the Member for Hunter, the Hon. Joel Fitzgibbon MP.
Recognising the importance of the issue for affected communities and the requirement to hear consolidated evidence from expert stakeholders, the Committee decided to conduct a short inquiry and wrote to the Minister requesting relevant terms of reference.
On 10 November 2016, the Committee adopted the terms of reference for the inquiry into flying-fox management in the eastern states (the inquiry) referred by the Minister.
Conduct of the inquiry
The inquiry was advertised on 10 November 2016 by media release and on the Committee’s web page. Submissions were invited from organisations and individuals, addressing one or more of the terms of reference, with a closing date of 18 November 2016.
The Committee, keenly aware of community concerns about the impacts of flying-foxes and wishing to ensure timely identification of a way forward, sought to commence work on the inquiry before the end of the parliamentary year. A short timeframe for submissions, and the inquiry as a whole, was therefore necessary.
The Committee received 68 submissions and 4 supplementary submissions, which are listed at Appendix A. The Committee also received one exhibit, which is listed at Appendix B.
The Committee received correspondence from several individuals in affected communities, detailing their personal experiences with flying-foxes in proximity to their homes and businesses. This correspondence helped to highlight the impacts that flying-foxes can have on homes and families, and the importance of wider understanding of the behaviours and ecology of flying-foxes across all sectors of the community.
The Committee held a roundtable public hearing in Canberra on 24 November 2016, inviting experts in flying-fox ecology, distribution and management, representatives of some relevant communities, and government agencies responsible for the protection and management of flying-foxes. The witnesses who gave evidence at the roundtable hearing are listed at Appendix C. Submissions received and the transcript of the roundtable public hearing are available on the Parliament of Australia website at: <www.aph.gov.au>.
The report is comprised of four chapters and outlines the evidence received by the Committee, as well as the comments and recommendations of the Committee in relation to the issue of the management of nationally protected flying-foxes in the eastern states of Australia. Specifically:
Chapter 2 provides background on flying-foxes and their impacts across the eastern states of Australia.
Chapter 3 outlines the current regulatory framework for protection and management of flying-foxes at a Commonwealth, state and local government level, as well as some examples of management actions that were brought to the attention of the Committee.
Chapter 4 concludes by considering potential areas for future investment, research and action regarding flying-fox management in the eastern states of Australia.