Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (19:54): The national dingo fence was established in the 1880s. At 5,624 kilometres long, it is the longest continuous fence in the world. It is essential for the development and protection of livestock industries in the south-east of Australia. Two thousand two hundred kilometres of the fence are located in South Australia and are largely the responsibility of the state government, which provides dollar-for-dollar support to match the grower and producer levies, but it is becoming increasingly hard to maintain. Coupled with the current drought conditions in the north, kangaroos, emus and dogs are all pressuring the 1,800 kilometres of fence, which is 100 years old, or older, in South Australia. The netting is brittle and the number of breaches is rising. As these animals hit the fence, the netting is breaking open, so the fence needs replacing.
In recent years, the numbers of dogs—dingoes, this is—south of the fence have been climbing and they are breeding inside the fence. Some properties close to the fence are shooting hundreds of dogs and losing hundreds, if not thousands, of livestock. Sightings have been reported further and further south, hundreds of kilometres even from the fence. The new South Australian government has hired two extra doggers to try and manage the problem.
In October I invited the ag minister, David Littleproud, to open the Jamestown show—the fantastic Jamestown show, I must say. I also convened a meeting at that time of northern pastoralists and Dog Fence Board members in light of the Commonwealth’s contribution to pest and weed control and management in drought areas. I asked for some assistance. As you would be aware, in Queensland a lot of money has gone into what they call cell fencing, which is keeping the dingoes out, and it is actually providing an enormous economic benefit to the state, to the growers and to Australia. To the minister’s great credit, he got the point. We don’t want cell fencing in South Australia; we want the fence replaced. It has worked well for 100 years. It is time to do the job.
I contacted the state minister for agriculture, Tim Whetstone, and convinced him that the time was right to do a deal, and here we are nearly five months later. The South Australian department has costed some options, and I was a little horrified by some of them. I sought some quotes from private fencing contractors. We now have a pretty reasonable figure, I think. We understand the per kilometre cost of replacing this fence. The South Australian government has proposed a three-way deal to the Commonwealth.
Money is never as plentiful as we would like, and I understand that, particularly as we strive in this parliament to deliver the first surplus budget for Australia in 10 years, but I think there are projects that actually provide a long-term intergenerational benefit, if you like. This fence has served south-east Australia well for 100 years, and we could invest in something now that will serve Australia well for the next 100 years.
While Australia may not ride on the sheep’s back any longer, it is in fact a very productive and helpful enterprise not only for Australia but for the growers and all those people concerned. We are riding on a high, if you like, with high meat prices and high demand for wool. I know that we have these surges in the market, but it is difficult to really see it coming back off in a world that is increasingly looking for quality products.
A lot of the land this fence protects is not suitable for anything else, so it’s a really good win-win situation. As I said, I will be working with the minister for agriculture. I thank him for hearing us so well and I’m hoping for consideration in the budget. I can tell you, the parliament, and the people of South Australia that I will be working for a good result right up until the time we close that budget down. I will be trying to make sure that we can protect and foster this industry for the next 100 years.