The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS (15:24): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation a question regarding buffel grass. Leave granted. The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS: Earlier this year, the minister placed buffel grass on the declared plant list. Buffel grass is a species widely used in northern Australia, particularly as cattle fodder, as it grows and matures quickly and is tolerant of fire and drought. In South Australia, buffel grass has become established in the rangelands and is now rapidly encroaching southwards. Indeed, members of the Natural Resources Committee of the parliament saw in some detail the way in which buffel grass was coming into the APY lands on our trip in 2013.
It has the potential to completely change ecosystems by excluding native plants and animals from growing naturally and by altering fire regimes which compose a significant threat to some indigenous communities. Following a comprehensive review undertaken by Biosecurity SA and weed experts, buffel grass has now been placed on the declared weeds list along with 23 other species across South Australia. My questions are: 1. Will the minister advise the council what further strategies his department is employing to contain buffel grass and prevent encroachment southwards? 2. What work is the minister's department doing with land managers and pastoralists to alert them to the dangers of buffel grass and strategies to control and eradicate the weed? 3. What areas has the minister and his department identified as high risk and as areas they wish to focus on protecting from this weed?
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) (15:26): Buffel grass has value as forage for cattle in northern Australia, I am advised, where it has been widely planted. In South Australia's arid rangelands its productive potential is very limited with the pastoral industry based on diverse and productive native fodder species. The South Australian Pastoral Board actively discourages the planting of non-native pasture species, is my advice. Buffel grass has been recognised under the Commonwealth's Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 within the existing key threatening process, 'Novel biota and the impact on biodiversity'. The commonwealth's Department of the Environment has prepared threat abatement advice for buffel grass nationally. The purpose of this advice is to identify key actions and research to abate ecosystem degradation, habitat loss and species decline in arid and semi-arid Australia due to the invasion of buffel grass. South Australia has taken the initiative of declaring buffel grass a major threat to biodiversity across the Australian arid zone, including this state's vast arid rangelands. Buffel grass rapidly invades native habitats, forming monocultures and increasing fire risk. Declaration prohibits the sale and movement of buffel grass in South Australia and requires landholders to control the weed where this is seen as a feasible, high-priority action to protect local assets at risk. The State Buffel Grass Strategic Plan 2012-17 was released in October 2012 and South Australia is firmly committed to containing buffel grass and minimising its impact on communities and the environment. The State Buffel Grass Taskforce oversees the implementation of the Strategic Plan. Buffel grass projects funded by the Native Vegetation Council's Significant Environmental Benefit Grants Program totalling $620,000, I am advised, are progressing well. Key activities include: on-ground control to help protect the Flinders Ranges, South Australian Arid Lands and Maralinga Tjarutja Lands; detection surveys; field trials and demonstration sites in the Northern and Yorke, SA Arid Lands and Alinytjara Wilurara regions; development of a prioritisation tool to guide strategic investment; and a widespread media campaign to raise awareness of the impacts of buffel grass. In May 2015, a strategic response team of Natural Resources staff from around the state worked together to control buffel grass at selected infestations in the Northern and Yorke region with the aim of protecting the southern Flinders Ranges from invasion of buffel grass. A total of 20,000 litres of herbicide was sprayed along 123 kilometres of roadside controlling 74 hectares of buffel grass. Strategic control opportunities have taken place in the Port Pirie, Port Augusta and Coober Pedy townships and surrounds in addition to roadside control from Port Augusta to Lyndhurst and Crystal Brook to Nectar Brook. Extensive herbicide trials have been established and monitored in Port Augusta, Glendambo and the APY lands, and an operational plan for buffel grass in the Alinytjara Wilurara NRM region is being implemented and eradication is considered to be feasible in the region South of the APY lands.