Federal funding denied for devil program

In the lead-up to the federal election the former federal government announced it would not provide $4 million in funding for a project submitted under the Caring for Country program by the Save The Tasmanian Devil Program. The Devil Island Project would have enabled the relocation of Tasmanian devils from insurance populations, that are free of the fatal facial fungal disease decimating the species in the wild, to be safely enclosed behind a 4.8km fence across the Freycinet Peninsula on Tasmania’s east coast. Similar plans are being prepared for a 40km barricade in the state’s north-west.

While he refused to commit to funding the project if the Coalition won government, federal environment minister Greg Hunt instead said his intention would be to work with Zoos Victoria and the Tasmanian government on a Tassie devil recovery program, and to: “work to preserve, protect and help the population of Tassie devils recover.”

The STTDP is jointly funded by the Tasmanian and federal governments, but doubts were raised recently about the state government’s commitment to the program after reports STTDP’s research centre at Launceston’s Mount Pleasant Laboratories in the state’s north was to be shut down, putting vital long-term research in jeopardy, and a number of jobs at risk.

Responding to the criticism Tasmania’s environment minister Brian Wightman said the state government remained absolutely committed to maintaining funding, and he had already discussed ways of funding the proposed fencing project with his federal counterpart.

“During the election campaign and the caretaker period I made it very clear to the Labor Party I was extremely disappointed we had a funding cut. We remain absolutely committed from a state point of view that we will maintain the funding. When it comes to Mount Pleasant , the workers, and the scientific research – and the Save the Tasmanian Devil facility is a Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment facility – we remain absolutely committed to the research they do. It’s world class and incredibly important,” he said.

In criticising the federal government’s failure to fund the fencing project, Australian Greens leader Christine Milne questioned the commitment to ensuring the survival of the iconic species.

“It’s already not got very great genetic diversity. It’s been wiped out in a number of places, and we’re trying to be able to get insurance populations but these are really last-minute rescue efforts, and to slach that is condemning the devil to extinction and it’s wrong,” she said.

Senator Milne has written to Minister Hunt, requesting that he urgently restore federal funding for the program, and to ensure: “the vital services of the Mount Pleasant laboratory – the cornerstone of advanced research to find a vaccine – are secure.”

Wightman stressed the federal funding was not directly for scientific projects, but “money from a state level would contribute towards scientific research and all other initiatives that we undertake. We, as a government remain committed to the Save The Tasmanian Devil Program and we call on the federal government to resume funding that has been in place since 1996.”

Anne Layton-Bennett


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