QUEENSLAND Nationals Senator Ron Boswell has returned fire at comments from Greens rival Lee Rhiannon, in defence of kangaroo harvesting in Australia and its sustainability as a red meat industry.
In a Senate speech on February 12, Senator Rhiannon said two popular myths – that there’s a “super abundance” of kangaroos and the iconic animals are pests – were “so firmly entrenched in the Australian psyche that we do not think to question the science behind shooting kangaroos”.
“These myths are carefully nurtured by the industry via a well-honed communications strategy that has embedded itself into an unquestioning political framework that lobbies overseas politicians, the media, the market and the consumer,” she said.
“Scientific concerns are diminished by industry's advice to government as the work of activists and evidence of the cruelty to and suffering of regularly miss-shot kangaroos is labelled as 'extreme'.
“Meanwhile, the industry commissions its own work to produce explicitly industry-biased materials which are then presented as independent research to overseas governments and an unsuspecting Australian public.”
Senator Rhiannon said unquestioning acceptance of the “twin myths” had permitted nearly 90 million kangaroos and wallabies to be legally shot from 1975 to 2011 “for the commercial market alone”.
She said that number included an unrecorded estimated additional 24.3 million joeys “bashed over the head and that is actually allowed under the code of practice or left to die”.
From 2001 to 2011, collated national population estimates across commercial hunting zones in the four mainland states recorded a 40 per cent drop in kangaroo numbers, she said.
“We need to ask why this is not an issue of concern,” she said.
“Maybe it is because there were still an estimated 34 million in 2011.
“But this is down from 57 million in 2001, according to the department's own collated figures.
“These sorts of numbers still seem to correspond with early settler accounts of 'immense flocks' and 'swarms' of kangaroos across our landscapes.
“That is certainly the impression many people have.”
But in a Senate speech hitting back at the NSW Greens Senator this week, Senator Boswell said Australia had a self-replenishing resource of “superbly healthy red meat” in its kangaroo herds and “we must not let it go to waste”.
“The impression someone who knows little or nothing about this subject would take away from Senator Rhiannon’s speech is that kangaroos are heading for extinction because of commercial harvesting,” he said.
“In fact, nothing is further from the truth.”
The veteran Senator rejected the numbers quoted in Senator Rhiannon’s speech, pointing to a federal Department of the Environment report on kangaroo harvesting published in April 2013.
He said that report showed there were an estimated 57 million kangaroos in 2001 - in key harvested areas in Queensland, NSW, SA and WA - for four species of large kangaroos; the red kangaroo, western grey kangaroo, eastern grey kangaroo and wallaroo.
The report’s annual figures go back to 1999 but he asked “why did Senator Rhiannon select the 2001 figure as her starting point?”.
“Obviously because 2001 was an exceptional year for kangaroo numbers thanks to ideal seasonal conditions with respect to water and grass,” he said.
He said if Senator Rhiannon wanted to present the worst possible case, making kangaroo population figures look as bad as possible, “then 2001 was the place to start”.
“The population estimate for 1999, for example, was around 41 million; for 2000, 49 million; for 2001, 57 million; for 2002, 44 million; and for 2003, 28 million,” he said.
“Kangaroo numbers do fluctuate considerably from year to year in response to seasonal conditions.
“Like so many other species of Australian wildlife, kangaroos respond to the cycles of flood and drought, of boom and bust.
“Even including the exceptional 2001 population figure of 57 million, the kangaroo population shown in the annual Department of the Environment figures for the years 1999 to 2012 averages around 33 million.
“The 2012 population total is almost 36 million, higher than average and, in fact, the highest figure since 2002.”
Senator Boswell said by harvesting kangaroos in sensible, well-managed numbers, as happens now, “we can both sustain the physical health of meat-eaters here and overseas and also the economic health of communities throughout rural Australia that rely on the kangaroo industry for their livelihoods”.
“Kangaroo meat has helped provide Australians with a healthy, nutritious diet for more than 50,000 years,” he said.
“It is still doing so today.
“The figures gathered by government environmental agencies at the State and federal level point to a healthy kangaroo population.
“The population estimates, both long-term and short-term, all indicate a very healthy, very sustainable kangaroo population in Australia.”
Senator Rhiannon rounded out her speech saying there was a lack of independent oversight or peer-reviewed science on kangaroo numbers and a “closed shop” of industry-funded “scientific expertise”.
“It is time that federal and State governments actually engaged with this issue independently, scientifically and in good faith,” she said.