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Bellingen Island Flying Fox Colony


Speakers Fraser Mr Andrew; Armstrong Mr Ian
Legislative Assembly 27th October 1992

BELLINGEN ISLAND FLYING FOX COLONY
Mr FRASER (Coffs Harbour) [5.45]: I bring to the attention of the House a matter that has been a problem in my electorate for a number of years. I refer to the fruit bat or flying fox colony on Bellingen Island at Bellingen. The colony has been there for a number of years. However, last year its numbers increased to more than one million. Residents, farmers and the council implored the then Minister for the Environment, Tim Moore, to take action to scare the bats off the island, which is situated right in the middle of a residential area. The noise and stench upset the people in the area. Children cannot sleep. The smell is causing irritation not only to the children but other residents in the area. However, the representations received a response which said only, "No, the bats cannot be touched". The former Minister advised me, as a result of advice received from Robert Quirk of the National Parks and Wildlife Service:
Because flying foxes eat native fruit, they act as dispersers for seeds of rainforest trees . . .
I want to place on the record that fruit bats or flying foxes actually eat sclerophyll blossom. The former Minister stated also:
Camps such as Bellingen Island which are occupied during summer are also maternity camps that provide both access to reliable food sources and shelter to newborn flying foxes.
The flying foxes are actually obtaining food from the farms in the area. Losses to farmers, banana growers, small croppers and stone-fruit growers in the area is estimated at about $2 million a year. If growers have colonies on their properties, they can obtain from the National Parks and Wildlife Service a limited licence to shoot a few and scare a few away. That does not solve the problem. Anyone who has gone to the tenth, eleventh or twelfth floor of Parliament House in recent times and looked out across the Royal Botanic Gardens will see that they are a mess. Bags are hanging off trees. Why are the bags there? They are there to rid the gardens of flying foxes. We cannot get rid of them in areas where they are causing aesthetic problems in townships and damage to fruit. We have to take the word of the former Minister and the National Parks and Wildlife Service that the flying foxes cannot be disturbed. However, if a colony decides to come into the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, what happens? There is an instant reaction, with the full concurrence of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, which is to get rid of them or shoot them. There is no problem about moving them because they are in the metropolitan area. Recently the secretary of the Ku-ring-gai bat colony committee, Mrs Nancy Pallin, spoke in Bellingen. The Coffs Harbour Advocate reported:
Mrs Pallin suggested a "door-knock" of North Bellingen residents to explain the habits of flying foxes.She said she was confident that if such a door-knock were held, people would learn to live with the bats.

Page 7978
I wonder whether such a door-knock was conducted in Sydney. Did the National Parks and Wildlife Service knock on all the doors or do a letterbox drop around the central business district and say, "You can live with flying foxes, there are no problems"? No, it did not do that. It said, "You can move them, you can get rid of them". That cannot be done in an area where fruit bats are depriving farmers of $2 million worth of income, but it happens in the city area. There is one rule for city people and one rule for country people. The National Parks and Wildlife Service has no understanding of the problems caused by fruit bats in country areas, but it says, "You must live with them making a noise around your house, causing a stench" - which is totally unacceptable to all residents - "and ripping millions of dollars out of the local community". It is about time some balance was brought into the argument. It is about time the National Parks and Wildlife Service said, "That colony is overgrown, it is ruining the natural rainforest on Bellingen Island". The rainforest on the island should be preserved. It is a reserve. Residents want to do it up, but while the colony is there the trees are dying, the stench is disgusting and people want nothing to do with it. It is now time that we have the reserve nominated as a botanic garden so that Sydney people can come in and say, "You can get rid of them because Bellingen Island is now the botanic garden of Bellingen". I suggest there is a great imbalance on this question. It is about time the National Parks and Wildlife Service attended to its responsibilities even-handedly; it should take more note of the needs of country people, instead of worrying about fruit bats on Bellingen Island, which are there in millions and should be reduced.

Mr ARMSTRONG (Lachlan - Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs) [5.50]: I thank the honourable member for Coffs Harbour for raising this very important matter. Though many honourable members may not consider this matter to be of paramount importance, to the fruit industry, particularly the banana industry, fruit bats have been a problem for some years. We are talking about jobs, productivity, income and technology. The banana industry in New South Wales is most efficient. The industry is making a major investment in its own future at the moment out at the Sydney Marketing Authority's premises at Flemington. The bottom line is that fruit bats, whilst they may have some fascinating habits - they hang upside down and to some are warm and cuddly - nevertheless are a rather stinking animal en masse. There is no doubt about that. Those who do not believe that statement should go to the Botanic Gardens and sniff under the trees, or walk through the brush at Wingham, and they will get some idea of how attractive fruit bats are when they congregate in the millions.

Last year the New South Wales Government made $20,000 available, in co-operation with the University of Queensland, to undertake a research program into fruit bats. I am informed that the program is almost completed and that we can look forward to a report from the University of Queensland in the near future. In regard to the Royal Botanic Gardens, I am informed the trust attempted to get rid of the fruit bats by using naphthalene chemicals, then plastic bags hung in the trees. The final program, commenced six weeks ago, involved banging a five-gallon drum underneath trees at dawn and dusk to upset the sleeping patterns of the fruit bat. Two weeks ago, thousands of fruit bats en masse departed from the gardens. That might be the answer. There might be a five-gallon drum banging attack on the fruit bats on the North Coast in the future.

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