COLORFUL Queensland LNP Senator Barry O’Sullivan has slammed the Australian Greens during a heated debate over the commercial kangaroo industry.
NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon accused the Nationals of misleading the Senate on kangaroo numbers and job benefits, a stance that left Senator O’Sullivan hopping mad.
He subsequently challenged Senator Rhiannon to drive at night between Longreach and Winton in Queensland and then decide whether kangaroos are endangered.
Debate between the two Senators was sparked after Senator O'Sullivan moved a motion last week, which was agreed to, asking the Senate to “recognise Australia's ability to develop and expand the kangaroo meat and hide industry, which can create jobs and build wealth for communities across rural and regional Australia”.
But Senator Rhiannon said by “blindly supporting” the motion about developing and expanding the commercial shooting of kangaroos, “the Liberal, National and Labor parties have shown they know little about the kangaroo industry”.
She said the Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia claimed the industry was worth $270 million per year and supports 4000 jobs.
However, she said independent peer-reviewed research about to be published in the Journal of Ecological Economics showed the kangaroo industry was valued at $88 million per annum maximum.
“The research uses the same input-output analysis used by economists and governments to infer the number of jobs created is just 880 per annum,” she said.
“Senator O’Sullivan’s assertion that the plagues of kangaroos across Australia necessitates an expanded commercial industry is contradicted by government kangaroo data.
“In Senator Sullivan’s own State of Queensland this year’s quota report shows an up to 50 per cent decline in most areas from the previous year.
“Analysis of NSW government count data obtained under FOI (freedom of information) is showing up to 64 per cent of NSW western survey transects are returning zero counts of kangaroos.”
Senator Rhiannon said it was biologically impossible for kangaroo populations to ‘explode’.
She said they are slow-breeding, slow-growing marsupials with 73pc juvenile mortality.
Senator Rhiannon also said kangaroo population growth sits at 3-10pc in good years and crashes up to 60pc during drought.
“The major parties should learn the facts about the commercial kangaroo industry and about kangaroo reproductive biology and ecology before perpetuating the myths of abundance and super-fecundity,” she said.
Green 'conspiracy theories': O'Sullivan
However Senator O’Sullivan said the Greens’ claim that kangaroo numbers were in decline and were an ‘at risk’ species, “only further illustrated the environmental movements’ disconnect from the everyday reality of people in rural Australia”.
He said grazing pressure from kangaroos was taking up to half of the pastures on some drought-stricken properties across Western Queensland.
Senator O’Sullivan said “ridiculous comments” from the Greens about kangaroos facing extinction proved its party members “never left their air-conditioned, inner-city offices to investigate rural issues for themselves”.
“Senator Rhiannon embarrasses herself by sharing conspiracy theories about kangaroo numbers being in terminal decline,” he said.
“She only has to drive between Winton and Longreach at night to see the plagues of roos.
“Unfortunately Senator Rhiannon won’t be able to see the thousands of roos littering the roadside when she flies home this weekend from Canberra to her home in inner-city Sydney.
“And, anyway, she also wouldn’t know what to do if she found herself in the bush if there wasn’t a pristine walking track with coloured markers leading the way.
“After the Greens have saved the kangaroos from extinction maybe they can save feral dogs or cane toads by taking them to the capital cities to find happy homes.”
Senator O’Sullivan said he had spent his first year in parliament driving to every corner of Queensland talking to constituents about the current drought.
“I have been driving the rural roads across my State for my whole life - I have seen how the land changes and the impacts of drought and flood and fire,” he said.
“Like pretty much all rural people, I don’t need to read an academic study to know what the reality is.”
During a Senate speech in August last year after a lengthy tour of western Queensland, Senator O’Sullivan raised concerns about long-term profitability issues in some segments of the agricultural sector, namely beef cattle production.
But he also pointed out survey work on a property he visited during the tour which showed it had 26,000 kangaroos on 110,000 acres.
“It is professionally estimated that they are eating up to 50 per cent of the pasture,” he said.
“The cattle are competing with this and they are competing with the dogs.”
Senator O’Sullivan said available data “clearly showed” the number of Red, Eastern Grey and Wallaroo kangaroos in Queensland had more than doubled from about 12 million to more than 25 million over the past decade.
“The Kangaroo meat and hide industry is an important program for the government to progress – it will create jobs and build wealth in rural and regional areas – something the Greens’ policies seem to want to stop,” he said.
“The Greens are just economic vandals who are hell-bent on destroying every industry in rural and regional Australia.
“Their economic strategy would end in us all standing naked and cold in a virgin forest eating wild berries.”
Senator Rhiannon also engaged in a vigorous debate on kangaroo numbers and the industry’s value with former veteran Queensland LNP Senator Ron Boswell last year.
In a Senate speech last February, she 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”.
NOTE: An earlier version of this story quoted the number of full time equivalent jobs created as 211 - Senator Rhiannon has clarified this figure to 880 on Wednesday afternoon.