The inquiry process has made it clear to the Committee that there does not appear to be an immediate solution that could safely and effectively eradicate cane toads from Australia, particularly in places where fresh water is generally available. We cannot undo their introduction to Australia or completely eradicate them. However, the Committee received evidence on a range of practical measures that could slow their spread and disrupt cane toad populations.
As discussed in the previous chapter, there are many control methods and avenues of potential research into how to control cane toads. The viability of each option begins with research and field experiments and, once an option becomes viable, there is a clear responsibility for government agencies to assist with implementation, coordination and monitoring the results. Private sector investment could be encouraged.
The Committee considers that there is an urgent and important opportunity to prevent cane toads from spreading further into Western Australia, by restricting their access to artificial water sources along the narrow corridor of coastline between Broome and Port Hedland (as described in chapter 2). This same approach has potential application in other arid areas, where strategic water sources could be modified or fenced to exclude cane toads. This could prevent them from spreading, given that without access to water cane toads succumb to dehydration.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government contribute funding for the modification of artificial water sources to prevent the spread of cane toads along the northern coast of Western Australia between Broome and Port Hedland; in cooperation with the Western Australian Government, land holders, traditional owners and volunteer groups.
The Committee heard evidence about the effectiveness of community efforts to trap and collect cane toads in areas across Australia where they are already present. The Committee acknowledges evidence that trapping adult toads is effective in limited circumstances and when combined with other methods, such as trapping their tadpoles and excluding them from breeding sites. Cane toads reproduce quickly and can travel vast distances relative to their size. Trapping devices that target fertile adult females could assist with disrupting cane toad populations.
The Committee supports trapping cane toad tadpoles. Refinement of this process may be needed, to avoid the potential for any unintended outcomes.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government make funding available to support projects for trapping cane toad tadpoles, including the production of bait, and optimising trap deployment at locations suited to this control method.
The Committee commends the valuable role played by Indigenous rangers and volunteer groups across Australia in implementing measures to control the spread of cane toads, including those above. The local knowledge and ready workforce offered by these groups is a significant asset. The Committee believes that they warrant recognition and support as allies and implementing partners of governments in controlling the spread of cane toads.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government and the State and Territory governments provide support to Indigenous rangers and volunteer groups involved in measures to control cane toads.
Biological or genetic controls could offer eventual solutions on a larger scale than current efforts to control toad populations can achieve. The CSIRO drew attention to the potential for genetic controls to be developed, such as reducing cane toad toxicity or interfering with reproduction. The Committee acknowledges that there are potential risks associated with these types of measures, which need to be carefully assessed and managed. However, the Committee supports continued research into biological and genetic controls, which have the potential to be game-changing in the fight against cane toads.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government provide additional funding to relevant organisations such as the CSIRO, universities and other bodies for research into suppressing cane toad populations using biological and genetic controls.
Cane toads have the potential to establish away from their main population. There was once an outbreak in Sydney and islands in northern Australia are at risk. Cane toads have reached some Torres Strait islands. There is continued need for biosecurity, quarantine and early detection. In particular, the Committee urges State and Territory governments to focus adequate attention and resources on ensuring that cane toads do not reach our islands.
For example, sniffer dogs have been operating successfully in south east Queensland and this approach could be replicated.
The Committee recommends that affected State and Territory governments improve internal biosecurity and quarantine measures to protect coastal islands from cane toads.
The Committee agrees that existing approaches (together with emerging control methods) need to be factored into comprehensive strategic planning, which should be adjusted to local conditions as new research findings become available.
Cane toads are among many pests already in Australia and there are limited resources. Taking a strategic approach is important to ensure available resources are effectively and efficiently utilised. The Committee supports continued investigation of long-term solutions.
The Committee recommends that in cooperation with affected State and Territory governments, the Department of the Environment and Energy develop a process to monitor whether overall progress is being made to control cane toads.
The Committee is concerned about views suggesting that the Federal, State and Territory governments may not be according sufficient priority to strategy, coordination and support for controlling the spread of cane toads.
On balance, evidence received suggests that until recently, limited resources have been invested in the cane toad problem. The Department of the Environment and Energy could not clearly articulate how much funding is available or the projects currently being supported.
The Queensland and New South Wales governments did not lodge submissions to the inquiry. The absence of submissions from these governments stands in contrast to submissions received from the Northern Territory and Western Australian governments and, in particular, the WA Government’s efforts to implement its cane toad strategy.
The Committee is of the strong view that controlling the spread and impact of cane toads is of national significance, requiring commitment from the Commonwealth and the affected State and Territory governments. To that end, we urge all governments, including Queensland and New South Wales, to accord priority to addressing the threat posed by the spread of cane toads.
The Committee recommends that the Department of the Environment and Energy, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and relevant State and Territory departments ensure that they:
develop and coordinate plans and strategies to control cane toads;
identify priority actions, including:
establishing procedures for responding to potential outbreaks of cane toads on islands or at other isolated locations away from the main population;
preventing cane toads from spreading into unaffected areas;
contribute adequate funding to projects and programs to control cane toads; and
publicly report on the progress achieved against the objectives identified in their plans to control cane toads.
While responsibilities are shared with the States and Territories, the Federal Department of the Environment and Energy has a leadership and coordination role.
The Department is currently reviewing the national cane toad threat abatement plan. In addition to support for the measures recommended above, issues that the Department could examine and incorporate into an updated national cane toad threat abatement plan include:
Identifying locations where cane toad control is both feasible and necessary for conserving biodiversity, based on analysis of how the effectiveness of available control techniques correspond with particular geographic conditions.
Assessing the costs, benefits and risks arising from options available to control adult cane toads, cane toad tadpoles or cane toad eggs, with a view to determining where resources should be invested. This could include traps that specifically target fertile female cane toads likely to be bearing eggs.
Establishing a process to coordinate cane toad control efforts among governments, research institutions, Indigenous communities and volunteer groups.
Issuing advice and updating the cane toad threat abatement plan when substantive new research and scientific evidence becomes available.
Improving public awareness, by providing information on matters including:
Safe handling and cane toad disposal.
Correct species identification.
Riparian modifications to encourage frogs and deter cane toad habitation.
Maintaining and making available maps and information on cane toad distribution in Australia.
Using a mobile phone application for volunteers to collect data on frog and cane toad distribution and prevalence.
The Committee recommends that the Department of the Environment and Energy expedite its review of the cane toad threat abatement plan and, as part of this process, take into consideration the measures outlined and recommended in this report.
It is of concern to the Committee that the Department did not appear to take adequate notice of emerging control solutions and has allowed its threat abatement planning to become out of date. The Committee concludes that an external audit may be warranted in due course to evaluate progress.
The Committee recommends that prior to the expiry of the next review period of the cane toad threat abatement plan in around 2024, the Australian National Audit Office conduct a performance audit to ascertain whether the Department of the Environment and Energy has fulfilled the plan’s requirements and any related statutory obligations.
Hon Dr David Gillespie MP
25 March 2019