The regulatory framework for managing invasive species such as feral deer, pigs and goats in Australia is complex, with various sets of legislation, policy and management responsibilities in place across three levels of government.
The Department of the Environment and Energy noted in its submission that, in Australia, biodiversity protection and conservation 'is delivered by the combined efforts of local, state, territory and Commonwealth governments, along with the actions of landholders, communities, traditional owners, the private sector and non-government organisations'. It stated that most biodiversity conservation successes are the product of effective partnerships between governments and non-government groups.
Broadly speaking, state and territory governments are responsible for regulating environmental matters in their respective jurisdictions, and are the primary regulators for pests and weeds affecting the environment and agriculture.
At the Commonwealth level, the Australian Government plays a role in providing national coordination through overarching strategies and through species-specific or site-specific plans. These strategies and plans are designed to allow all stakeholders, including state, territory and local governments, local groups, non-government organisations and landholders, to understand how their contribution fits into a broader picture and to provide best practice guidance on how to undertake appropriate management actions.
The Australian Pest Animal Strategy 2017–2027 provides a summary map of how the various elements of government and community management of pest animals occurs in Australia, as shown at Figure 3.1.
This remainder of this chapter outlines the legislative and policy frameworks in place across Australia for the management of feral deer, pigs and goats in Australia.
Figure 3.1: Overview of pest management governance in Australia
Source: Commonwealth of Australia, Invasive Plants and Animals Committee, Australian Pest Animal Strategy 2017–2027, p. 11.
Commonwealth legislation and intergovernmental arrangements
The Australian Government's involvement in the management of invasive pest species occurs through several mechanisms, including:
intergovernmental agreements with state and territory governments (primarily the Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity) and related strategies and governance arrangements;
Commonwealth legislation dealing with matters of national significance, primarily the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999; and
the provision of direct program and project funding for initiatives targeting feral species impacts.
The Australian Government also has obligations to protect and conserve biodiversity under various international conventions and treaties, including the Convention on Biological Diversity, which Australia signed in 1992 and ratified in 1993. Obligations under this convention include a requirement to 'prevent the introduction of, control, or eradicate those alien species which threaten ecosystems, habitats or species'.
Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity
The then Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) submitted that the goal of a national biosecurity system is:
…to minimise the impact of pests and diseases on Australia's economy, environment and the community, with resources targeted to manage risk effectively across the continuum, while facilitating trade and the movement of animals, plants, people, goods, vectors and vessels to, from and within Australia.
The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, alongside other agencies, is responsible for implementing the Australian Government's commitment to protecting Australia's biosecurity.
National biosecurity arrangements are coordinated through the Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity (IGAB), which is an agreement between the Australian Government and all state and territory governments. The IGAB 'defines the goal and objectives, and clarifies the roles, responsibilities and governance arrangements, that will guide the Commonwealth and States and Territories in supporting the national biosecurity system'.
The inaugural IGAB came into effect in 2012. Following an independent review undertaken in 2016–2017, a revised IGAB was signed on 3 January 2019.
National Biosecurity Committee
The IGAB establishes a National Biosecurity Committee (NBC), comprising representatives from relevant agencies in all Australian jurisdictions and New Zealand, which provides strategic management and oversight of the national biosecurity system and intergovernmental relationships. The NBC provides advice on biosecurity issues to the Agriculture Senior Officials Committee (AGSOC), which comprises the heads of the Australian, state and territory and New Zealand government departments with responsibility for primary industries. AGSOC in turn provides advice to the Agriculture Ministers' Forum, which comprises ministers with portfolio responsibility for primary industries.
The NBC is responsible for managing a national, strategic approach to biosecurity threats relating to plant and animal pests and diseases, and the impact of these on agricultural production, the environment, community well‑being and social amenity. It aims to ensure resources are targeted to manage biosecurity risks effectively from pre-border to post-border transitions, while facilitating trade and the movement of animals, plants, people, and goods to, from and within Australia.
Environment and Invasives Committee
Sub-committees within the NBC provide policy, technical and scientific advice on specific matters. National pest animal policy is overseen by the Environment and Invasives Committee (EIC) on behalf of the NBC. The EIC is responsible for 'providing national policy leadership on the identification, prevention and management of invasive plant, vertebrate and invertebrate species that adversely impact the environment, economy and community – including feral deer, pigs and goats'.
Membership of the EIC comprises representatives from the Australian, state and territory primary industry and/or environment departments. Representatives from the CSIRO, Plant Health Australia, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES), Centre for Invasive Species Solutions (CISS), Wildlife Health Australia and Animal Health Australia are observers on the EIC.
The EIC has responsibility for overseeing and implementing two national plans that impact on the management of key vertebrate pest species: the Australian Pest Animal Strategy 2017–2027 and the National framework for the management of established pests and diseases of national significance.
Australian Pest Animal Strategy 2017–2027
The EIC manages the Australian Pest Animal Strategy 2017-2027 (APAS), which was endorsed by the NBC in June 2017. This strategy provides national guidance on best practice vertebrate pest animal management, and sets out national goals and priorities that aim to help improve Australia's overall ability to manage the negative impacts of established pest animals.
The vision of the strategy is that 'Australia's economy, environment and social amenity are protected from the impacts of pest animals', and the three overarching goals of the strategy are:
Goal 1 prevent the establishment of new pest animal species;
Goal 2 minimise the impact of established pest animals; and
Goal 3 improve leadership and coordination for the management of pest animals.
The strategy identifies national priorities for each of these goals. For example, national priorities to minimise the impact of established pest animals (Goal 2) are:
develop and implement national action and coordination plans for species prioritised as nationally significant;
continue to develop and improve best practice management methods and increase overall adoption of these practices among landholders; and
increase participation in coordinated management approaches across a range of scales and land tenures.
The APAS 'provides the policy foundation to guide and inform the actions of stakeholders, including landholders, industry, communities and government, rather than prescribing detailed on-ground actions and activities'. It sets out the general responsibilities of the various stakeholders involved in pest animal management in Australia, namely:
landholders (public and private) and co-existing land users;
state and territory governments;
Natural Resource Management bodies;
National framework for the management of established pests and diseases of national significance
The National Framework for the Management of Established Pests and Diseases of National Significance, endorsed by the NBC in July 2016, sets out a national policy approach for managing and identifying established pests and diseases of national significance. It aims 'to streamline cooperative efforts, promote consistency and transparency in decision-making, and ensure limited government resources are directed to best serve the national interest and provide the best return on investment'.
DAWR explained further in its submission:
As the control and management of pest animals can be costly, risk based prioritisation is needed to determine the best use of resources. The [Framework] is intended to guide the process of prioritising where national coordination, investment and action is most needed when a pest has been agreed as 'nationally significant. The Framework highlights that the sustainable management of established pests and diseases is resource intensive and requires shared responsibility and effective coordination among the key stakeholders.
The framework sets out seven policy principles to underpin a system whereby established pests and diseases of national significance (EPDNS) are recognised and managed:
Principle 1: Established pests and diseases of national significance are a particular part of the biosecurity continuum (and as such, management will often involve mitigating impacts rather than focusing on eradication).
Principle 2: The management of EPDNS is a shared responsibility between landholders, community, industry and government.
Principle 3: To achieve asset-based protection, government will give priority to supporting industry/community leadership and actions.
Principle 4: Government will work with stakeholders to support research and development for more effective pest and disease management.
Principle 5: Enforcement intervention should be kept to the minimum necessary to achieve the desired outcome.
Principle 6: Established pests and diseases assessed as nationally significant will have an associated national management plan or strategy.
Principle 7: The list of established pests and diseases that are deemed nationally significant must be regularly reviewed against the assessment criteria and principles.
Listing established pests and diseases of national significance
The framework sets out three criteria for assessing and listing (or de‑listing) pests and diseases as 'established pests and diseases of national significance', namely: the severity of economic, environmental, social and cultural impacts; the feasibility of management intervention; and the benefits from national coordination (through a specific national plan or approach).
The purpose of listing a pest species as an EPDNS is 'to facilitate a nationally‑coordinated series of actions', through the development of a National Action Plan. A listing would clearly signal to other stakeholders how government might respond to the established pest, as well as providing the opportunity to signal a role for other parties. In this context an 'action' would not only refer to the application of direct control techniques and enforcement tools, but may involve alternative tools such as education or research.
The framework notes that a process should be put in place for nominating and prioritising species for inclusion on the list of EPDNS, and that listings should be reviewed at least every five years. DAWR submitted in November 2018 that the EIC 'is currently in the process of classifying pest animals under the EPDNS'.
The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment stated further in March 2020 that the EIC 'has not, as yet, considered any species for listing under the EPDNS framework'.
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
The primary piece of legislation governing environmental matters at the Commonwealth level is the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). The EPBC Act provides a legal framework to identify, protect and manage nationally and internationally important flora, fauna, ecological communities and heritage places. These are defined in the EPBC Act as matters of national environmental significance. The EPBC Act also allows the Commonwealth to regulate actions on Commonwealth land or carried out by a Commonwealth agency.
Key threatening processes and threat abatement plans
The EPBC Act provides for the identification and listing of key threatening processes (KTPs), which are defined as processes that:
threaten or may threaten the survival, abundance or evolutionary development of a native species or ecological community, and:
could cause a native species or ecological community to become eligible for listing as a threatened species (other than conservation dependent); or
could cause a listed threatened species of ecological community to become eligible for listing in a higher category of endangerment; or
adversely affects two or more listed threatened species or ecological communities.
The Department of the Environment and Energy stated that a KTP listing under the EPBC Act: provides official recognition that a process is a key threat to biodiversity at the national level; raises awareness of how that threat is operating across Australia; and assists with understanding and prioritising management of the threat.
The EPBC Act provides that national Threat Abatement Plans (TAPs) may be developed in relation to key threatening processes that have been listed under the Act. A TAP identifies the research, management and other actions necessary to reduce the key threatening processes to an acceptable level in order to maximise the chances of the long-term survival of native species and ecological communities affected. As such, these plans establish a framework to guide and coordinate Australia's response to the impact of a KTP.
Feral pigs and feral goats have both been identified and listed as KTP under the EPBC Act, and have had TAPs developed. The impacts of feral deer have been recognised as part of a broader KTP listing relating to the impact of novel biota on biodiversity in Australia.
Feral pigs listing
In 2001, 'Predation, habitat degradation, competition and disease transmission by feral pigs (Sus scrofa)' was listed as a KTP under the EPBC Act. This listing initiated the development of the first TAP for feral pigs, which was finalised in 2005. This plan was reviewed in 2011, and an updated TAP was released in 2017, the Threat Abatement Plan for predation, habitat degradation, competition and disease transmission by feral pigs (Sus scrofa) (2017).
The overarching goals of the 2017 TAP are to prevent further species and ecological communities from becoming threatened or extinct as a result of feral pig impacts, and to improve protection for EPBC-listed species and ecological communities currently threatened by feral pigs.
The 2017 TAP lists six objectives, each of which is accompanied by a set of actions for implementation over a period of five years. These objectives are to:
prioritise key species, ecological communities, ecosystems and locations across Australia for strategic feral pig management;
encourage the integration of feral pig management into land management activities at regional, state and territory, and national levels;
encourage further scientific research into feral pig impacts on nationally threatened species and ecological communities, and feral pig ecology and control;
record and monitor feral pig control programs, so their effectiveness can be evaluated;
build capacity for feral pig management and raise feral pig awareness amongst landholders and land managers; and
improve public awareness about feral pigs and the environmental damage and problems they cause, and the need for the feral pig control.
Feral goats listing
Competition and land degradation by unmanaged goats is a listed KTP under the EPBC Act, with an initial TAP adopted in 1999. Following a review in 2004–05, an updated TAP was released in 2008, the Threat abatement plan for competition and land degradation by unmanaged goats. The objectives of this plan are to:
prevent unmanaged goats occupying new areas in Australia and eradicate them from high-conservation-value 'islands';
promote the maintenance and recovery of native species and ecological communities that are affected by competition and land degradation by unmanaged goats;
improve knowledge and understanding of unmanaged goat impacts and interactions with other species and other ecological processes;
improve the effectiveness, target specificity and humaneness of control options for unmanaged goats; and
increase awareness of all stakeholders of the objectives and actions of the plan, and of the need to control unmanaged goats.
A review of this plan was conducted in 2013, which concluded that the 2008 plan 'has not achieved the goal of minimising the impacts of feral goats'. It found further that the problem of the impact of feral goats is complex, and as feral goat numbers rise the problem is increasing.
Feral deer listing as part of novel biota key threatening process
There is no standalone listing for feral deer as a KTP under the EPBC Act; however, the impacts of feral deer are recognised under the overarching KTP listing Novel biota and their impact on biodiversity, which came into effect in 2013.
The term 'novel biota' for the purposes of this KTP listing refers to organisms that are introduced to an ecosystem whether by natural or human introduction, particularly the latter. Six major groups of novel biota of concern were identified in the KTP, namely vertebrate pests (including the six species of feral deer found in Australia), invertebrate pests, terrestrial weeds, aquatic weeds and algae pests, marine pests and pathogens.
No specific TAP has been developed in relation to the novel biota KTP listing, however threat abatement guidelines were released in 2013 alongside the KTP listing, which state that in the absence of a fully developed TAP, targets contained in Australia's Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010-2030 provide a first step in managing and reducing the impact of novel biota in Australia.
Alternate mechanisms to achieving threat abatement for feral animals
The department noted that it also uses mechanisms beyond the EPBC Act to achieve effective threat abatement for KTPs. In particular, the department stated that the development of National Action Plans under the EPDNS framework of the Australian Pest Animal Strategy may be a suitable alternative to a TAP for deer, pigs or goats.
Statutory review of the EPBC Act
A statutory review of the EPBC Act commenced on 29 October 2019, undertaken by Professor Graeme Samuel supported by an expert panel. The review's final report was delivered to the Minister on 30 October 2020, and made public in February 2021.
The report found that coordinated national action to address key threats, such as feral animals, 'are ad hoc, rather than a key national priority'. It stated that the current systems for managing threats under the EPBC Act, including the process of listing KTPs and developing TAPs, 'are not achieving their intent', with many environmental threats in Australia worsening.
The review stated that 'strategic national plans should be developed for 'big‑ticket', nationally pervasive issues such as the management of feral animals and adaptation of the environment to climate change':
These plans should guide the national response and enable action and investment by all parties to be effectively targeted to where it delivers the greatest benefit. National-level planning should also ensure that the capability and processes are in place to quickly and effectively deal with acute threats to the environment. The current Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity provides a model for this type of preparedness planning to enable rapid and coordinated responses. National-level plans will support a consistent approach to addressing issues in regional plans or to inform activities in areas where there is no regional plan.
The report noted further that such strategic national plans can:
provide a national framework to guide a national response;
direct research (for example, feral animal control methods);
support prioritisation of investment (public and private); and
enable shared goals and implementation across jurisdictions.
Programs delivered with Commonwealth funding support
The Australian Government provides funding for a number of programs and initiatives that aim to address impacts of feral species including deer, pigs and goats. Many of these programs are delivered in partnership with governments and other stakeholders at state and regional levels.
Programs delivering on-the-ground projects addressing feral species impacts
The Australian Government provides funding towards a number of programs that deliver local and regional projects addressing the impacts of feral species.
In evidence to the committee in July 2020, Mr Ian Thompson, Chief Environmental Biosecurity Officer at the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, summarised departmental funding as follows:
We are continuing to provide funding to leverage solutions through on‑ground and research programs under the agriculture white paper, the National Landcare Program, the National Environmental Science Program, drought funding and bushfire recovery funding, and ensuring that the department's response to last summer's devastating bushfires across Australia includes a component for feral herbivores and pigs, as they have the potential to significantly hamper recovery efforts through direct damage to regrowing vegetation, the potential to spread soil borne plant pathogens and diseases to native and farmed animals. Ensuring governments undertake effective prevention and preparedness work to ensure Australia is taking all precautions possible to prevent African swine fever entering Australia and establishing in the feral pig population is also included.
Last financial year, and through to 2023, the department is spending around $29 million on projects that include components of feral deer, pig and goat control action. This is broken down into $4.4 million towards deer and $9 million towards pigs. Between 2015 and 2019, funding of around $74 million over a four-year period was provided for the control of a range of pest animals, especially feral deer, pigs and goats.
National Landcare Program
The National Landcare Program is 'a key part of the Australian Government's commitment to natural resource management'. Around $1 billion is being invested in the National Landcare Program Phase Two over the period 2018–2023, continuing on from the $1 billion invested from July 2014 to June 2018.
Phase Two of the program 'will include a range of measures to support natural resource management and sustainable agriculture, and to protect Australia's biodiversity', delivered in partnership with governments, industry, communities and individuals to deliver conservation outcomes and support the productive and sustainable use of Australia's natural resources.
The National Landcare Program has provided funding to projects specifically mitigating the impacts of one or more of deer, pigs or goats. The department highlighted several specific case studies in this regard, including:
Feral deer monitoring and control measures delivered as part of a project to provide improved habitat for the endangered helmeted honeyeater and Leadbeaters Possum in the Yarra Ranges of Victoria. The second phase of this project received $768,800 from the National Landcare Program between 2015 and 2018, and has been delivered as a partnership between the Australian Government, Parks Victoria, local land managers, and Landcare and community groups.
The Nest to Ocean Turtle Protection Program, which has successfully helped reduce the threat of predation by feral pigs and other species on marine turtle nests on the Queensland coast. The Australian and Queensland governments have committed matching funds of nearly $4.9 million since 2014 to this program, which has utilised methods including aerial culling of feral pig populations and on-the-ground nest protection activities.
Funding for the National Landcare Program and several other environmental programs is delivered under the auspices of the Natural Heritage Trust (NHT). The department provided details of 21 projects that had been funded under NHT programs targeting the impacts of feral deer, pigs and goats since 2011, with total funding of $18.5 million. It noted that there have also been additional projects delivered using Commonwealth funding that have included some measures targeting these species:
There are approximately 32 additional projects (completed from 2016 onwards) funded through the Biodiversity Fund, 25th Anniversary Landcare Grants, 2014-15 to 2017-18 National Landcare Program Regional Funding stream and Threatened Species Recovery Fund which have invested a portion of funding in the management of feral deer, pigs and/ or goats as part of a broader project. It is not possible to identify the specific amount of project funds that have been invested in managing these feral herbivores.
Management of feral species in national parks and heritage areas
Feral deer, pigs and goats impact on the values of at least 19 World Heritage and Australian Heritage listed sites. World and National Heritage sites have management plans in place that identify actions to limit the impact of these species, including:
Deer are contained and where possible eradicated from sites.
Pigs controlled using trapping, aerial shooting, ground shooting, selected poisoning.
Goats are controlled using trapping, aerial and ground shooting, mustering, poisoning and fencing.
Artificial watering points, such as ground tanks, can be strategically used to trap goats.
Soak areas fenced off in in new areas to alleviate damage caused by goats.
The department submitted that dealing with the impacts of feral animals is part of the ongoing management programs in place in Australia's six Commonwealth co-managed National Parks. Specifically, Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory is impacted by feral pigs (and other herbivores such as buffalo), while deer represent a potential threat to Booderee National Park in New South Wales.
Feral species control measures in Kakadu National Park
There are estimated to be more than 12 000 feral pigs present in Kakadu National Park. The Park's Feral Animal Strategy aims to address threats to the park's values, and includes actions to reduce the impacts of pigs and buffalo in priority areas of the floodplains, and in and around priority rainforest patches. This strategy also includes monitoring of the density and spread of invasive species density and of the effectiveness of control actions.
A park-wide feral animal control exercise was conducted in 2008–09. Since then most feral animal control programs have focused on strategic areas of high risk, with the control of feral animals funded from the Park's operational budget. The department noted that a total of 4057 feral pigs were controlled across the park between August 2015 and October 2017.
Commonwealth investment in research science targeting invasive species
The Australian Government invests in pest animal management and research and development activities through a variety of mechanisms. This includes through: Rural Research and Development Corporations; the CISS; other research organisations such as Wildlife Health Australia; and investment in R&D activities by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.
Centre for Invasive Species Solutions
The Australian Government is a member of the CISS. The centre is one of the world's largest pest animal research, development and extension collaborations, involving 17 government, industry and research provider partners.
CISS was established in 2017, underpinned by $20 million in funding over a five year period from the Australian Government. It continues work previously undertaken by the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, which operated from 2007–2017.
CISS currently facilitates 40 collaborative projects involving environmental, community and agriculturally based invasive species issues across the entire invasion curve. It has been a significant facilitator of large-scale collaborative deer and pig management research, and to a lesser extent goat research.
Specific initiatives are discussed further in Chapters 4 and 5.
National Environmental Science Program
The National Environmental Science Program (NESP) is 'a long term commitment by the Australian Government to applied environment and climate science, supporting world-class collaborative and practical research that informs decision-making and on-ground action'. The department noted that two research hubs under the NESP, the Threatened Species Recovery hub and the Northern Australia Environmental Resources hub, are delivering projects related to feral deer, pigs and goats.
In particular, the department highlighted that the NESP Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub is undertaking a research project titled Defining metrics of success for feral animal management in northern Australia, utilising NESP funding of $814 000:
This project will determine the impact of feral pigs, horses and cattle across aquatic systems in the context of regional and local feral animal control, local aspirations and government priorities. The project will also evaluate metrics used to assess how well control measures work in mitigating threats to aquatic ecosystems. These outcomes will be communicated using a reporting system that compares investment in control with consequent impacts on environmental values.
National Coordinator roles for feral pigs and feral deer
During the course of this inquiry, significant announcements were made in relation to the establishment of national coordinator roles for the management of both feral pigs and feral deer.
National Feral Pig Management Coordinator
On 8 November 2019, the Minister for Agriculture announced the establishment of a National Feral Pig Management Coordinator to address the feral pig population in Australia as a result of the threat of African swine fever. The position is based with the producer-owned pig industry body, Australian Pork Limited, and was established with $1.5 million in Commonwealth funding over a 3.5 year period. In February 2020, Dr Heather Channon was appointed to the role.
Following stakeholder consultations and research work through 2020, a draft National Feral Pig Action Plan was released in January 2021. The plan is discussed further in Chapter 5.
National Deer Management Coordinator
On 2 October 2020, Dr Annelise Wiebkin was announced as the first National Deer Management Coordinator, as part of CISS's National Feral Deer Coordinator Project. Dr Wiebkin will 'lead coordinated action to tackle feral deer populations and reduce the damage feral deer cause to Australia's agricultural businesses and environment', with the Commonwealth Government providing up to $550 000 over two years towards the new role.
The position hosted through the South Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regions, and will 'expand on a successful model employed by South Australia to facilitate more coordinated control of feral deer and establish links between farmers, commercial harvesters and processors'.
The position will also 'facilitate stakeholder co-development of a National Feral Deer Action Plan'. This is discussed further in Chapter 5.
State and territory legislation and governance frameworks
State and territory governments are responsible for regulating environmental matters in their respective jurisdictions, and are the primary regulators for pests and weeds affecting the environment and agriculture.
This section outlines the relevant legislation and regulatory arrangements in place at state and territory level for the management of feral deer, pigs and goats. The majority of evidence received in this area related to feral deer, with submitters and witnesses raising fewer issues around the regulatory arrangements for pigs and goats.
The committee received specific evidence about the state legislation and management arrangements for deer in Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania, where deer are still in some instances classified as a game animal rather than as a pest species. In all other states and territories, wild deer are classified as pest species.
In Victoria, several pieces of legislation deal with the status of deer, namely:
the Wildlife Act 1975 (Vic), which defines the six major deer species as game animals that can be hunted by licensed hunters;
the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994 (Vic), which defines all other species of deer as prohibited pest animals;
the National Parks Act 1975 (Vic), which requires the extermination or control of exotic fauna (including deer) in National and State parks, Wilderness Parks and other reserves; and
the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 (Vic), which recognises that Sambar Deer pose a significant threat to the survival and evolutionary development of numerous plant taxa and ecological communities.
Mr Philip Ingamells, Park Protection Officer, Victorian National Parks Association, commented on the situation in Victoria:
With regard to the state, it's an interesting one actually. There are conflicted laws in Victoria. You have the Wildlife Act, which effectively protects deer as a game species, requiring an authorisation if you are going to control them. Then you have the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act, which lists deer as a potentially threatening process, but that's a fairly toothless Act. However, you do have the National Parks Act. The National Parks Act is actually a very strong and very powerful act. It's been around since 1975, and it quite specifically empowers the park agency to control or eradicate exotic species. If this ever went to court, the Wildlife Act would be seen to be weak in respect of the very clear obligations under the National Parks Act.
Ms Amanda Smith, Coordinator, Biodiversity Conservation, Yarra Ranges Council, told the committee that listing all deer as pest species would provide clarity about where the responsibility lies for their management. Ms Smith pointed out the current lack of alignment among current state legislation:
Currently, there is conflict between two departments at a state government level around how deer are managed as a species that is protected under the Wildlife Act. The Wildlife Act is administered by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, yet they are also listed as a potentially threatening process under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act. So you have conflicting legislation managed by the same department. Consequently, we believe there is a lack of funding towards the management of deer because of this contradiction in the legislation, and it makes it very difficult for local government to advocate certain actions because there isn't a single body leading the charge for how to manage them.
Victorian Deer Control Strategy
In October 2020, the Victorian Government released the Victorian Deer Control Strategy, with the aim of providing a coordinated and priority setting framework to guide how to get the best result in the control of wild deer, particularly by:
reducing the impact of deer on key environmental, agricultural and Aboriginal cultural heritage values and public safety;
making deer control more effective through partnerships and community collaboration; and
increasing the awareness, understanding and capacity to manage deer.
Under the strategy, the Victorian Government 'will work with land managers and the community to develop Regional Deer Control Plans' which will 'set priority locations for deer control or other management measures to address current and potential impacts on values'.
The Victorian Government announced that an initial $1 million in funding has been allocated 'to manage the growing problem of deer in the outer northern and eastern suburbs of Melbourne' by developing and implementing a Peri‑urban Melbourne Deer Control Plan – the first regional deer control plan to be delivered under the strategy.
The Victorian Deer Control Strategy proposes several changes to the existing legislative classifications of deer, but does not propose to declare all deer species as pest animals. Under the strategy:
[E]stablished species of deer (Sambar, Fallow, Red and Hog) will remain classified as 'game' under the Wildlife Act 1975. But that doesn't mean they cannot be controlled if they are causing damage.
These four species of deer are already established in the wild in Victoria and cannot be eradicated using current control methods.
Chital, Rusa, Wapiti and Sika are the deer species not present or established in the wild in Victoria.
The Strategy proposes to review their classification and investigate their transition to pest animals under the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994.
The Strategy includes actions to make it easier for public land managers, such as Parks Victoria, to control deer by removing the need for authorisation to control them under the Wildlife Act 1975.
Fallow deer are classified as partly protected wildlife in Tasmania by the Nature Conservation Act 2002 (Tas), under which deer may be hunted under a licence in specified autumn hunting season. Crop Protection Permits (CPP) are required for controlling problem deer on private land, with permits generally only authorised for specific time periods and with restrictions on the number of deer that can be culled.
As noted in Chapter 1, the Tasmanian Government is currently undertaking a state-wide census of the wild fallow deer population, as part of its response to a 2017 report of a Tasmanian Legislative Council committee.
In releasing the results of the first phase of this census in August 2020, the Tasmanian Minister for Primary Industries and Water, the Hon Guy Barnett MP, announced that a Wild Fallow Deer Management Plan will be developed 'to ensure the Government can continue to balance the impacts of wild deer on agricultural production, conservation areas and forestry, while maintaining deer as a traditional recreational hunting resource'. Public information sessions to inform the development of the plan were held in November 2020, with the release of a draft plan for public comment expected 'in early 2021'.
The Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water & Environment (DPIPWE) noted that it has also undertaken recent changes to the CPP and game license regime for fallow deer:
Commencing this year  the Tasmanian Government removed restrictions on the number of antlerless (female) fallow deer permitted to be taken under Crop Protection Permits and game licences as well as extending the antlerless deer season to encompass the period 15 March to 15 November. Crop Protection Permits for antlerless deer are now being issued for five years to reduce regulatory burden on landholders and hunters. Quotas and tagging requirements on antlerless deer were also removed. Holders of Crop Protection Permits and recreational hunting licences are required to provide annual take returns to enable long-term monitoring of deer numbers and the impact of deer management strategies to be assessed. Take return data will also complement the outcomes of the wild fallow deer census currently being undertaken.
The impact of these changes is yet to be evaluated as take returns relevant to them are not yet due. The next aerial survey will enable the impact of these changes to be quantified as will results from annual spotlight transect surveys which indicate trends in abundance.
Ms Danielle Poirier, Acting General Manager, Agriculture and Water Division at DPIPWE, told the committee:
The Tasmanian government is taking a balanced approach to managing wild fallow deer to deliver often competing outcomes that are desired by stakeholders… These include farmers, foresters, conservationists and traditional recreational hunters. Balancing all interests is never simple. The government is taking a proactive management approach based on the principle of measuring and being able to manage. It is about understanding the geographic distribution of the deer population, quantifying it through the first-ever state census, which has been undertaken, and then developing the wild fallow deer management plan for the state.
Mr Simon Cameron, a woolgrower from central Tasmania, commented that the CPP system makes it difficult for farmers to control deer populations on their land, noting that control measures are still not allowed for four months of the year:
Within each year, there is a time frame for which you are allowed to shoot antlerless deer, and that is from 15 March to 15 November, so you do what you can within that period and then, after 15 November, they have free rein.
[From] 15 November through to March [there's] not a lot that we can do, and it's funny how the deer seem to know that. It is an absolutely critical time for deer control because that's when a lot of the grass is growing. It's an important time for cropping. It's an important time for the reproduction of the native grasses, herbs and other plants in the bush as well, and yet our hands are tied… The other frustration is that, during that time, the population rebuilds. Come March, we start all over again, doing what we can to try and get the population down.
New South Wales
In NSW, deer species are classified as 'game animals' under the Game and Feral Animal Control Act 2002 (NSW). Hunting deer on public land in NSW requires a restricted hunting license. Prior to September 2019, a general hunting license was required to hunt deer on private land in NSW, however this requirement was removed in September 2019 to assist landholders in controlling deer on their properties, as explained by the NSW Department of Primary Industries:
Removing the licensing requirement for feral deer allows landholders more options for control. It also supports landholders by allowing individuals who hold a firearms licence and an appropriate combination of firearm and ammunition, and skilled bow hunters using an appropriate bow and arrow, to target them on private property where they have permission to hunt.
This means [that] deer may be managed in the same way that rabbits, foxes, pigs and goats are controlled on private land.
However, deer remain a game animal for the purpose of regulated hunting on public land by NSW Restricted Game Hunting Licence holders.
Despite this change, a formal control order has not been made declaring deer as a pest species under NSW legislation. This means that while private landholders may control deer on their properties without a hunting licence, and have a general duty to take action where populations of deer are on their land, they will not be subject to penalties for not taking action or be obliged to totally eradicate those herds.
State and territory regulation of feral pigs and goats
The committee received limited evidence on the regulatory frameworks for the management of feral pigs and goats in Australian state and territory jurisdictions.
All states and territories have legislation or policies that provide for the management of feral pigs as established pest animals. The committee did not hear any concerns that regulations were significantly impeding efforts to control feral pigs. For example, the Australasian Wildlife Management Society submitted that 'the main factors constraining the effective control of feral pigs are probably insufficient knowledge and effort, perceived and actual expense, not the absence of enabling legislation'.
There is some variation among states and territories as to how wild goats are classified. The Australasian Wildlife Management Society noted:
[I]n South Australia, under the Natural Resources Management Act 2004, goats are listed as declared species (Class 14) and as such cannot be released, and need to be controlled by landholders. Goats are also regarded as livestock in some States (e.g. Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales), and therefore State legislation regarding livestock (e.g. the Livestock Act 1997 South Australia, NSW Biosecurity Act 2015) is relevant for movements registration and disease control of goats as livestock.
Regional and local management of feral species
It was noted that in addition to federal responsibilities and state and territory regulation, regional Natural Resources Management (NRM) bodies and local councils also play a significant role in managing feral deer, pigs and goats. This can include managing local and regional control programs, in some cases utilising grant funding from federal and state government initiatives.
Examples of the activities undertaken by NRM bodies in managing feral species are included in subsequent chapters. The role of local government is discussed further in Chapter 5.