SUBJECT: Parliamentary Committee inquiring into the impact of flying foxes.


HOST:  A committee investigating the impact of flying foxes on our communities have tabled their report in Federal Parliament. The Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon kick started the inquiry last year in response to the severe impact that flying foxes have on towns in the Hunter. They have now tabled their report and they are asking for a flying fox working group to be established to deal with the problem. Joel Fitzgibbon, Federal Labor MP is on the line. Joel, good afternoon.


HOST: Now I’m not surprised about this because I have spoken to a number of people in various towns, including Singleton from memory, where they have almost had to give up and said righto, the main park in the centre of town is now controlled by flying foxes and it’s not safe for humans to go to.

FITZGIBBON: That’s right Ben and you know the region well. Singleton is in my electorate. For the last six years, and the cenotaph is in that park- Burdekin Park, we used to have the most beautiful and solemn ANZAC Day services there and we haven’t been able to do that now for six years because of the flying foxes. I have towns like Cessnock, Blackalls Park and up in Raymond Terrace there’s a problem too. These are communities which have literally been under siege. You have to see it to believe it.

HOST: The humans are being told no, you’re not able to go into that park for those kind of commemorations because the flying foxes have won, they have taken over.

FITZGIBBON: Well it’s not just the bat droppings, it’s the safety because what they eventually do, the flying foxes, is destroy their own habitat and as they chip away at the trees the branches become free and tend to fall on people so it’s a real issue. People in places like East Cessnock in my home town literally can’t walk out of their homes and can’t hang washing on the line. Visitors stop coming because if there’s no car shelter, they are not prepared to park their cars in the area. As you know the droppings do enormous damage to the paint on cars so, they are under siege. The noise is amazing and can be deafening. The smell of course is a factor too and worse, people are taking the law into their own hands by trying to burn the habitat and of course when people start doing that, public safety becomes a real concern.

HOST: I know that they have tried all different solutions including loud screeching noise to try to get rid of these things but I have spoken to people in your electorate before who say hey, there’s one simple way of dealing with this and that’s a cull.

FITZGIBBON: You can’t do it Ben. I’ve looked at this very closely and people say to me rightly, well what’s more important? The people or the bats? That’s a understandable approach but the committee inquiry process confirmed again that these bats are in decline and they do play a very critical role in our ecology and environment. They pollinate a whole range of native plants and trees that we simply wouldn’t have in the future without them. Culling is a huge call given all the circumstances. I was hopeful that the committee, someone giving evidence to the committee smarter than me would come up with a middle ground or a solution but that hasn’t really happened. There were four recommendations that will be helpful particularly the one that tries to cut through the complex web of Commonwealth and State regulations so they are seeking some harmony there. They have asked the Government to put some more money into research. I say you can’t fix a problem until you fully understand. That’s all welcome but there’s no magic solution. At the moment in my region, the pressure is off. The heat has been and the bats have moved on but I do fear they will be back and do fear that at some point someone will take the law into their own hands and we will have a real problem on our hands. By the way the firies have been called to some of those incidents and they are obviously concerned about their own health and wellbeing so there is an occupational health and safety issue there. I don’t have all the answers. I wish I did but I will continue to fight and will see where it takes us. Certainly we need more money, more research and we have to sort out this Commonwealth State stuff. It’s ridiculous. Councils trying to fix the problem can’t possibly be expected to make their way through the complexities of those regulations and laws.

HOST: Alright you have a challenge on your hands. Good luck, we’ll talk to you again soon.

FITZGIBBON: Good on you Ben.

HOST: Joel Fitzgibbon the Federal Labor MP who started that inquiry- the report was tabled yesterday.


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