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MacLoran Farm

Victorian wild dog control decision exposes SA producers

[as published in the Stock Journal]

The sudden decision by the Victorian Government to stop wild dog controls in the northwest of Victoria, which became effective from 14 March 2024, is the latest seemingly politically motivated government decision we have seen impacting the livestock industry.

The decision came without consultation with Victorian producers, so it is unsurprising but no less disappointing, that there hasn’t been any consultation with affected South Australian producers and communities in the relevant border regions. More alarmingly though is the lack of consultation with the South Australian Government given our states share a very long border, and this decision may have serious and lasting implications for livestock production in our state.

The Victorian Government has advised that its northwest producers will be supported by a $550,000 investment to adopt non-lethal control methods via a pilot of measures, such as exclusion fencing and guardian animals to protect livestock.

We have a bit of experience building fences to keep wild dogs out of sheep producing areas here in SA, and unless the support offered is per producer, half a million dollars won’t go far. For example, the area in question has a 250km border with SA. At current rates, just to fence off our impact zone would cost about $5 million.

Alternatively, the supporting investment would purchase about 220 Maremma Sheepdogs. I’m no expert but do know that there are no examples where guardian animals have shown to be effective in preventing wild dog attacks at scale. As such, the Victorian Government is using producers to test an unproven theory.

Pivotal in justifying the decision is new research and data, which claim that the dingo population in northwest Victoria is at risk of extinction. However, this information was not publicly available, nor has it been peer-reviewed.

It is also claimed that recent genetic research justifies actions to protect the northwest dingo. Leaving the taxonomy debate aside – where Victoria takes a jurisdictionally unique position that dingoes are a species rather than a breed of dog – a review of this DNA research found the work to be contested by several leading researchers that asserted no policy changes were justified. The research relies on a small sample size study and was conducted by an academic who advises the Australian Dingo Foundation lobby group.

The decision undermines the investments that have been made here in SA, including the $26 million Dog Fence Rebuild Project, and the subsequent gains we have made in wild dog control. Prior to these investments, in 2018-19, SA livestock producers lost 20,000 sheep annually to wild dogs. This had direct costs exceeding $4 million per year, not to mention the emotional toll on producers when they experience livestock attacks and watch their lambing percentages plummet.

The dingo unprotection order remains in place for eastern Victoria until 1 October 2024. There needs to be a genuine consultation with industry and bordering jurisdictional governments as these arrangements are reviewed over the next six months.

Although only a couple of years ago, little has been learnt from the covid years. Victoria must consult with those states it shares a border with and the industries that will be impacted by its decisions if it wants to realise a functional future policy for dingo conservation and management.

By Travis Tobin

Published: 28 March 2024