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The Hon Dr Sharman Stone
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Federal Member for Murray

Launch of the Weeds CRC publication Killing us softly – Australia's green stalkers: a 2020 Vision Statement
House of Representatives Alcove, Parliament House
Monday 29 March 2004

Speech Transcript: Launch of Weeds CRC publication

I am here today to launch the CRC for Australian Weed Management – a 2020 Vision Statement – Killing us softly – Australia's green stalkers. Weeds have a stranglehold on our environment in Australia. If you look at this picture ( mesquite ) you will see what we mean by stranglehold. This is a good example of how things have gone wrong here in Australia.

Our landscape is very different to many of the places where these plants originated. Someone had this great idea to bring out mesquite to put it around their property as a hedge. It didn't have the thorns at the time it was a nice dense green shrub. But it didn't take it very long to revert to its original primitive ways. There are these extraordinary spines along the mesquite plant. This is a Queensland sample and this is my piece from the Northern Territory. You can see that even in Australia we are developing our own very special varieties of mesquite, which now has this extraordinary thorn development, right back to its old origins. You can imagine bird life; our native fauna and how it has no hope if it gets tangled up in something like the dense growth of this sort of material.

But sadly it wasn't even necessarily the case in Australia deliberately bringing in something that we thought would be pretty in the gardens for the early settlers and survive in arid zones, such as the cactuses we brought in. Who could forget the old school readers that talked about cactus blasters and the prickly pear invasion that we did beat back. Often those introductions were deliberate, but we also had a lot of accidental introductions like the old camel drivers from the Afghan region. Their camel saddles were stuffed with kapok and wild cottonseeds. Of course when they abandoned their camels they abandoned their old camel saddles. Parts of Australia now have these extraordinary weeds.

About $4 billion dollars is the estimation of our fantastic CRC of the damage done in terms of the economy in trying to fight back this weed invasion. It is a serious issue of course for agriculture where we have lots of cereal crops that require a lot more spending on chemicals to try and beat down the weeds. We've also got a tendency in Australia to burn our stubble to try and get rid of unwanted seeds and nematodes and so on. We know that's not great for the soil but people still burn stubble.

I'll never forget my vision of my mother who was always on the farm – we are woolgrowers – and wherever she went she always had a hoe. She had permanent calluses on her hands that I also had until about 10 years ago and every time she saw a Bathurst burr or a piece of stinkwort, which has that little fine fluffy seed and smells beautiful and smells like a lavender mint - an horrendously invasive species - she would dig it out. A woolgrower can't survive with those sorts of burrs and thistles and seedpods that cling to the wool and cause the vegetation to contaminate. Our problem is the weeds have got away from us in too many areas and it is such a labour intensive business killing weeds.

We've got to get on the job when they are first discovered. This is where the CRC vision statement, which I have the privilege of launching today is so very important. They've called it The CRC for Australian Weed Management, a 2020 Vision Statement – Killing us softly – Australia's green stalkers – a call to action on invasive plants, and a way forward.

Now this is great in that it is a small simple publication in a sense, not an 800 page special that we sometimes produce. But it actually has some good news stories, such as how we are beginning to win the war on mimosa (mimosa pigra), which has invaded our wetlands in the Northern Territory and in particular, Kakadu. We thought that with the wild pig mimosa a lot of these areas were basically finished, having destroyed the biodiversity of this diverse natural landscape of native flora and fauna. But through restorative work parts of Kakadu have been rescued from the mimosa pigra. We can say that too about rubber vine, though not often enough. And of course there is that great historic example of beating back the nasty cactuses that were invading most of northern NSW and through central NSW.

This booklet is also a call to arms re a national approach. As with all things in Australia, unless we take a nationally, consistent attack on something like weeds, we are not going to beat the game. We've already started to say in Australia that if you want to import new garden species and new plant species into the country, that is if you want to bring in something new, you've got to prove to us, to the government and to people like the CRC scientists that this is not going to be a problem plant. So in other words, you're guilty unless you're proven innocent in the plant invasive species world.

It's a pity we have to take that sort of measure. But then you see something like this. It is a recent publication, a well-known publication, and it recommends a fabulous pretty flower that you can put in your rockery and have it in your embankments and gardens but it is also a banned species of flower in some states. So we have a very popular garden magazine saying why don't you go and get this particular species and make your garden colour more varied and attractive. Here is an example of someone not doing their homework and in fact if you went out to buy this plant you would find it unavailable in some states and some nurseries.

We talk about a national approach, but you can actually buy lantana at a Victorian nursery and we think it's pretty. Yet go up and speak the word lantana in the suburbs of Brisbane and you will be let out the back to the tangled mess and the problems that it has created. We need that national approach and the CRC is guiding us to that. We have, of course, had Greencorp, a fabulous youth training program that gets young people from the age of 17 – 20 to go out and do a range of environmental work. Some of the most important work they do is weed management. They are learning how to use chemicals and other systems that deal with weed management.

We just have to do better in this country. I'm very proud to launch this fantastic booklet and in it you will find things such as costing the problem , closing the door, a stitch in time – that's what this is all about. It is about understanding enemies, understanding the genuine nature of this problem. What you have to do is to try and stop people dumping clippings from their garden out in the bush. Or taking their garden clippings and saying “what's the problem, it's only lawn clippings” – and dumping it out in the nearest bit of bush because the tip costs a bit of money. Next we've got a weed problem associated with that.

This is about whether we can make a difference. And yes we can. It's not just a ‘bad news', a ‘woe is us' story. We may not have beaten the rabbits entirely, we may not have beaten mimosa entirely, but we can make a difference.

It is therefore with great pleasure and with pride that I launch today this CRC for Australian Weed Management: a 2020 Vision Statement – Killing us softly – Australia's green stalkers. I think everybody should have a copy, everybody who loves their Australian landscape or if you are a gardener or especially an innovative gardener who wants to have something a little different. Before you plant, think and watch that species carefully so it does not end up out in the nature strip; out in the next-door neighbours garden; or out in the crops.

I am very proud to launch this publication.


Commonwealth of Australia