Deer Control

Melina BATH (Eastern Victoria) (10:57): I am pleased to rise to put the Nationals and the Liberals names on this particular motion by Mr Bourman, motion 239 on the notice paper today. I would like to start by addressing the problem and the issue that Mr Bourman has raised, and that is food insecurity and the ever-increasing need and struggle for everyday Victorians to put food on their table. As Mr Bourman has said, this is not the catch-all solution to this problem, but it is certainly worth investigating on merit.

When we look at Foodbank Victoria – it has been quoted before and I would like to do so and put on record my sincere thanks to David McNamara and all of his team right across Victoria for the amazing work they do to support individuals and families who are struggling to put food on the table. David McNamara recently said, in 2023, ‘This is the worst I’ve seen it in 15 years.’ There are many programs, and we certainly know the importance of those outreach programs and food distribution centres. I acknowledge that the current government made a commitment to a Foodbank distribution centre in the Latrobe Valley back in 2018. I think only now we are seeing advertising for that food distribution centre, so five years later it is coming on – much needed.

Let us look at some of the statistics around food poverty. We see in the Latrobe Valley, for example, 66 per cent of the population identified that they are experiencing food insecurity, with hunger nearly double that of the state average. Any average above zero is tragic, but Latrobe Valley is certainly experiencing that in manifold ways.

We know that at the Morwell Neighbourhood House 25 people present every single day to use the food pantry and support services. We know that the Enjoy Church, which is also based in Morwell, provide the pantry, and they have seen an exponential growth in use of the service over even the last two years. They partner with Foodbank Victoria to supply over 200 families and individuals at the open shop that they hold every month. We see that Wellington shire and the food pantry there are now delivering to 100 families, both in Yarram and Golden Beach. We see that in Bass Coast a recent survey provided evidence that nearly 10 per cent of adults experience food insecurity – ‘with hunger’ was the question – and that is almost three times the state average. The proportion of parents who rely on unhealthy but low-cost food – here is the thing, low-cost food – was 23 per cent, nearly 24 per cent, which is double the state’s average. So we can really see the bite that is sincerely affecting many people in Victoria. We also know that the manager of PICAL at Phillip Island has been relating to us that the cost-of-living pressures on those households budgets mean that food insecurity is gaining more and more, and I could go on.

I will just digress slightly from the motion but keep on the issue in relation to counselling. Of course when people come in and request some support and request that counselling, they just cannot meet the cost of bills; costs are exceeding income. We know that the Financial Counselling Victoria service has requested from the current government $1.5 million to provide 300 financial counsellors in addition to their 300 that already exist across the state. Now, these people do an amazing job, and it shows the absolute need in our regions, so we would support that in its entirety.

To the deer – and deer are nature’s survivors, without a doubt. They were introduced as a species. Victoria is paradise to deer, and we have seen that their number has grown from, once upon a time, a few thousand to now over 1 million. This has a cost. It has an environmental cost, it has a social cost, it has a cultural cost and it has an economic cost. To drill down into some of those costs, indeed a report released by Frontier Economics last year talks about a cost of $1.5 billion to $2 billion over the next 30 years unless we can control our deer population.

Particularly too now driving around Gippsland, as we do, many of the car yards and the panelbeaters deal with the effects of the deer population, and it can be quite damaging and very dangerous for people to drive our roads, not only at dawn and dusk but at other times. We know that socially deer can have a serious impact on the peri-urban areas. Not only are they just in the highlands in Gippsland, now they are encroaching on those peri-urban areas surrounding Melbourne as well as our regional towns. They certainly can destroy fences, and as I have said, they have a very serious implication for road safety.

Culturally, we know that they can impact soil and damage sensitive native plant species, and they certainly can attack cultural sites. Economically, they are grazing on crops and grazing on pastures, orchards, vineyards and market gardens. They are survivors, and they will do anything that they need to to survive. We have seen that in recent times. Post the fires we have seen around 4000 deer culled, so there are not only the recreational hunters but there is also the culling of deer and what to do with that meat, and that is the subject of our debate today.

One of the concerns that my Eastern Victoria colleague the member for Gippsland East Tim Bull has raised on a number of occasions is the fact that when Parks Victoria has employed shooters, some of the time – and these are all licensed, professional shooters – there have been incidents where they have shot deer on the edge of Lake Tyers in East Gippsland. These are pristine waters used for holiday-makers and fishers to a great extent, yet these culled deer are being left to disintegrate in full view. Not only is this an amenity issue but it is also a health issue with that degradation of those lovely waters. We call on the government, when it is implementing these culling programs, to make sure that it is doing it in a responsible way. The department’s own environmental guidelines talk about ‘target animals will not be controlled near waterways’ et cetera, and Parks Victoria says that shooters will avoid shooting on wetlands and waterways. Let us make sure that that is implemented and we do not see that continue.

There is a whole raft of regulations that surround and include the deer control strategy, which was implemented in 2020. One of the current regulations that we see is that PrimeSafe regulates the commercial processing of wild deer for human and also pet food, which is a separate discussion and an important one to have. But it is necessary to look at what is going to be used with that culling. These deer are a problem in our environment and for our communities. We certainly endorse the continued enjoyment of hunters to do recreational hunting, but once that meat is on the ground, how can it be purposefully used? I have identified the need, particularly in my Eastern Victoria electorate – the need is there. This is a pronged attack, this is not a total solution, but it has merit.

What I would say in relation to the motion is it calls on the government to commit to further discussions regarding the delivery of a pilot program to enable the commercial processing of wild venison and then donation to food charities – no problem there. Mr Bourman, I am sure, has had conversations with the government, but what we want to see is clarity across the board for – (Time expired)