2014

May 15, 2014

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland—Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence) (09:39): I begin by recognising the participants of the Rotary Adventure in Citizenship who have joined us in the Federation Chamber today. It is terrific to see so many young people in the chamber and I look forward to catching up with some of the participants later on this afternoon.

My concerns today are in relation to a population of grey-headed flying foxes which are roosting alongside a residential area in Bairnsdale in my electorate of Gippsland. I want to highlight some concerns with the extraordinarily slow process to achieve any prospect of resolution for the nearby residents, who have had their quality of life and overall health impacted by this colony of flying foxes over several years. Over the past three years, I have been involved with correspondence to the former federal ministers and the local East Gippsland Shire Council trying to raise residents' concerns and resolve this problem for them.

The reason it has been so difficult to get a result is that the grey-headed flying fox is listed as an endangered or threatened species under the EPBC Act. This week, I have written to the new Minister for the Environment to seek his support in reviewing that status. I believe more research is required into the grey-headed flying fox populations in our nation. From anecdotal reports, this species is causing problems right along the east coast of Australia, where it impacts on residential communities, school communities and public places. There are many sites, and, from a layman's perspective, given the prevalence of the grey-headed flying fox and the impact it is having on communities, I find it hard to believe that it is that endangered or that rare.

My constituents have been extraordinarily patient as they have gone through this process with the development of draft plans, and the wheels of bureaucracy have turned remarkably slowly. We need a one-stop shop for environmental approvals for activities such as this. But the residents have had enough. They have formed their own National Bat Solution Group. I quote from a media release sent out last week:

Following years of intolerable conditions and struggle to deal with the tens of thousands of bats now seasonally taking up residence for up to 8 months of the year, an established group of residents in Bairnsdale are stepping up their efforts and going national.

The comments from people who have written to my office include:

From an immediate health perspective, the constant 24/7 noise and putrid air quality, both of which exceed … OH&S standards, have put many residents in a state of constant ill-health.

Another states:

Enough is enough if I don't get a full night's sleep soon I'm likely to kill someone.

Between the dog barking at the bats, the incessant noise and the stink from bats I can't put up with it any more.

And another states:

On our regular early Sunday walk this morning the noise was massive and the smell was putrid as usual, and it extended throughout the CBD. With rain forecast in the imminent future one wonders how much worse the sickening smell can get.

This is a big issue for the people in the immediate community but also for the nation as a whole. I will be working with the Minister for the Environment. I thank his staff for the support they have provided already in support of the National Bat Solution Group and the East Gippsland Shire Council in their efforts to seek a review of the conservation status of the flying foxes and to seek changes to both state and federal legislation to allow some balance in this debate so that the rights of people are well considered and there is some more balance in terms of the dispersal of flying foxes from some of these residential areas and these large roosting sites.

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