COUNCIL DISCORD: Eurobodalla Mayor Lindsay Brown and Councilor Milton Leslight after Cr Leslight dismissed Cr Brown's comments as "a load of rubbish."
Mayor Lindsay Brown copped the wrath of many of the hundreds of people who filled the hall to capacity, for a perceived lack of will to deal with the exploding flying fox population.
Perhaps appropriately, the bats in the neighbouring Water Garden could easily be heard and smelt at the meeting.
Mayor Brown talked about council being in the process of developing a dispersal plan, saying it could involve industrial noise broadcast to the bats for three hours a day, starting at 4am, and also the use of smoke.
“The Office of Environment and Heritage has told us there are 100,000 plus bats here, which is 20 per cent of the Australian population,” he said.
Of the Eurobodalla Shire Councilors, only Councilors Brown, Milton Leslight and Liz Innes attended, and Batemans Bay businessman Adam Pike drew a chorus of approval when he expressed his disappointment at the absence of the other councilors.
Lucas Gregory of Batehaven accused the mayor and council of spending money on research when what the community wanted was action.
“You stand there with that pretentious smile,” he said.
“Do you hear that noise out there? That’s the bats laughing at you.”
When compere Ian Campbell told the crowd that the bat questions had to stop and other issues raised, half of those gathered walked out.
Those gathered heard the concerns of people affected by constant blackouts caused by the bats, particularly in Malua Bay.
One resident said there had been bat-caused blackouts nine of the past 12 nights, sometimes three times a night.
The council has been under increasing pressure to act on the bat population in the Water Garden of Batemans Bay.
“I have instructed the General Manager to do whatever it takes to have the plan ready by next Friday (May 6),” Cr Brown said.
“This will give the community and the council an opportunity to look at the plan before it is submitted to the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage for their assessment.
“The dispersal plan is a legal requirement and will also need to be assessed and approved by the Australian Government’s Office of the Environment.
“There are still some steps to get through, but we’re pushing this as hard as we can.
“Today I’ve met with the CEO of the Bay Soldiers Club and have his permission to clear the drain within the club’s land. Council crews will be in there soon to clear fell the vegetation on the drain.”
However, Cr Brown said the council could not easily clear trees or drain the Water Garden.
“The council is not permitted to clear any trees or drain the Water Gardens where it forms part of the flying fox camp,” Cr Brown said.
“Any such clearing would be subject to government approvals similar to the dispersal process and will be looked at as part of the preparation of the draft dispersal plan.”
Residents have been complaining for several weeks of power outages in suburbs from Batemans Bay and surrounding suburbs, including Malua Bay.
“I have also been in touch with Essential Energy, who are doing their best to overcome the power outages caused by the flying foxes,” Cr Brown said.
“Unlike birds landing on powerlines, the flying foxes have a wingspan that can touch two wires, causing the outages. Essential Energy have assured me they are working hard to re-route the local electricity network to minimise the number of people affected by outages.
“People who would like to hear from experts about managing the flying fox population and to discuss the draft dispersal plan should come along to the information session on Monday 16 May at the Bay Soldiers Club, 5-7pm.”
Mr Russell Schneider AM was announced on Friday, May 6, as the leader of the newly created Taskforce on Grey Headed Flying Fox Response.
Federal Member for Gilmore Ann Sudmalis MP, State Member for Bega Andrew Constance MP and Mayor of the Eurobodalla Shire Council Lindsay Brown said the taskforce was in response to the unprecedented flying fox colony in Batemans Bay.
“Russell Schneider AM lives in the local area and brings to this role a wealth of experience to assist our community during this very difficult time,” a joint statement said.
Flying foxes colonised the Water Garden sometime before 2012 and have vastly increased their population to an estimated 120,000 in recent months and extended their range throughout the shire.
Mr Schneider said there was no simple solution.
"There is a lot of complexity to this issue and we must prioritise community welfare first and foremost,” he said.
"My brief is to advise all levels of government and identify where necessary, the resourcing required to help manage the community response.
"We must all pull together to support those suffering hardship and distress. We could be in for a long haul if we don't get reprieve through the options available to us," Russell Schneider said.
The terms of reference for the role will be:
* The chairing of a fortnightly taskforce meeting with government leaders to discuss ongoing community concerns and solutions.
* The membership of the taskforce will include the Eurobodalla Shire Council Mayor, the two Members of Parliament, and Council's General Manager with relevant support staff to provide advice.
* To provide community leadership and comfort to residents over the next several months or longer if necessary, as all three levels of government work through options with the Eurobodalla community.
* To be available for government agency phone hook ups, which will be occurring regularly, and to liaise with Federal and State Ministers in conjunction with taskforce members.
* The identification of potential resources to assist residents, including dissemination of timely and accurate information.
Mr Schneider was appointed to the Board of HCF, Australia's largest not for profit health fund, in January 2006, and is a advocate of health improvement programs and has been actively engaged in development and coordination of Federal, State and private sector programs.
He was formerly the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Health Insurance Association (AHIA) for 22 years, concentrating on policy issues relating to health financing and delivery, and coordinating Federal, State and private sector agencies involved in health care.
Prior to joining AHIA, he was Political Editor of The Australian and has published extensively including several books on politics ( War Without Blood, the Colt from Kooyong) and health (Making Medicare Better).
Mr Schneider was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2008 for his contribution to national health policy development and was made a Life Member of the International Federation of Health Plans in 2006 for services to the Australian health sector.
For many years he was a member of various Government and industry bodies dealing with health and related issues.
In 2011, he was appointed to the Southern NSW District Health Board.
While working for the Federal Government in 1978 Mr Schneider played a key role in establishing the original Australian Government Crisis Policy Centre, created in the wake of the Sydney Hilton bombing, to coordinate Federal, State, local and private sector agencies in the event of a terrorist or similar incident.
“Over a month ago I said the bats have got to go, and since then they’ve done jackshit,” Councillor Milton Leslight said.
The story featured an interview with parents who had lost a child who had contracted bat lyssavirus, and Cr Leslight believes that such an event must be avoided at all costs in Batemans Bay.
“The kid got scratched, and how many kids wouldn’t think about the danger of going near bats?” he said.
“I brought the bats up with Rob Noble when he was interim council general manager, and he said ‘you’ll just have to live with it’. I said that’s just not good enough. I brought it up again at a meeting three weeks ago, but it seems that certain councillors don’t live near the bats so they aren’t affected.”
Cr Leslight believes that grey-headed flying foxes should lose their vulnerable species status.
“They are certainly not vulnerable,” he said.
“The vulnerable species are the people living near them.”
Ken Burn, whose Old Princes Highway home backs onto the Water Gardens, would like to see something done.
“The bats shouldn’t be in this town; they’ve got diseases and germs,” he said.
“You can’t even use water out of a rainwater tank because of them pooing. I have told the council to get them out of the town by cutting the trees down and clearing out the area, but they say ‘no, we can’t do that’. Some people think they are a great thing, the do-gooders.”
A census of grey-headed flying foxes was taken in February, at camp sites including the Water Gardens. It found that there are about 455,000 of the animals in NSW.
“This species is a reservoir of the Hendra virus, they are immune but they carry it,” Ed Jansen claimed despite health assurances by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.
With thousands of the bats roosting just metres from the backyard of his inner Batemans Bay home, the stench is overwhelming and Mr Jansen is now a very worried man.
He said bat excrement covered driveways, roofs, and cars, and he had become so frightened for the health of his daughter and grandchildren, who live with him, that the children are not allowed to play in the sandpit because of the excreta dropping in it from overhead.
Mr Jansen has disconnected his water tank because its drinking water was contaminated by the bats in the runoff from the roof.
His vegetable garden is hit by their waste and he also worries about the health of his chooks.
Mr Jansen likens it to living in “ground zero” when the critters in their thousands circle overhead screeching each morning and evening as they arrive and depart from their roosts in she-oaks at Eurobodalla Shire Council’s Water Gardens.
“I feel our local politicians are letting us down. They don’t seem to get a grasp of the situation, how bad it is to live with,” Mr Jansen said.
“They (the flying foxes) have been here for months and I hoped the first frosts would send them away but they won’t go.
“This Hendra virus can jump species. It has killed horses and I’m worried about my dogs and others (neighbours).
“I have been told that ferrets can get the virus, so there is a risk if anyone has one for a pet and contracts Hendra.
“We could have an epidemic and people could die.”
Mr Jansen said the Water Gardens were full of birdlife, including ducks, with the flying foxes polluting the water they drink with excreta.
Mr Jansen and his equally worried neighbour Ken Burn, who has already spoken out about the bats, want the colony moved away from the town and back into the bush.
They do not want them harmed but instead moved out to a more appropriate bush neighbourhood.
Both men noted that the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney this month, after over 20 years, had finally got rid of its flying foxes by using constant noise played via loudspeakers to disrupt their roost.