Camphor Laurel Trees
The Hon. MELINDA PAVEY [4.22 p.m.]: I speak on an environmental issue that is having very serious repercussions on the State's North Coast and, to a slower extent, on great sections of New South Wales: the proliferation of the camphor laurel tree. The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology—Australia's key research centre for environmental toxicology—has stated that the camphor laurel tree is the most toxic plant species in Australia's history, is an environmental scourge that threatens the environmental sustainability of the region, and deserves far greater attention by this Government.
I thank the Camphor Laurel Research Centre and the convener, the very dedicated and passionate Jo Friend, for bringing their research to my attention and making it public. The research centre and Jo Friend are lone crusaders in bringing to the public's attention the potential threats and dangers of the camphor laurel. They raise many questions that need better answers from the Government and relevant departments, research that is not done because of lack of resources and commitment to get to the truth. In recent months four koalas have been found dead under camphors or have been seen eating camphor laurels within 48 hours of falling from known Rosebank camphors. A veterinary dissection of one koala from Goonengerry revealed a definite camphor smell and camphor laurel's more toxic yellow-green leaf colour throughout the stomach. This colour is far from the normal masticated colour of green eucalypt and the other browse species leaves.
It is the first occasion on which a dead Koala has been presented for detailed examination of its gut contents, especially the 15 known camphor laurel toxins. The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology is carrying out the research and the autopsy into this dead koala. We are still waiting for those toxicology results. But why are we waiting for a Victorian institution to look into the death of this koala? Also in question are the autopsies of 20 koalas from New South Wales Agriculture from 1998 to 2000. Those autopsies had no blood sampling or scrutiny for toxins despite the identification of odd stomach contents for three of the koalas.
The greatest concern of the Camphor Laurel Research Centre is that not one of the 20 autopsies recorded the daytime weather conditions at the time of death of the koalas. That is important because the toxicity of camphor laurel trees can increase during a change in the seasons. Camphors remain largely unstressed in moderate climates and have lower levels of toxicity during cooler periods. During hotter conditions camphor laurels are believed to be more toxic. No record was made of the presence or absence of vomiting or frothing at the mouth, classic symptoms of camphor laurel toxification. Worse still, the Camphor Laurel Research Centre has been denied autopsy results for the past three years as the autopsies have never been written down or recorded. No doubt that is another victim of departmental cost-cutting.
It is not only the cute, cuddly koala but the local platypus that is under threat. Why are platypuses safely inhabiting farm dams when there is evidence of a declining population in streams where the camphor laurel is invading? The community demands more surveys by the National Parks and Wildlife Service of streams in the north-east regions to properly assess the impact of camphor laurels. So often the farmer is the archenemy, yet why are platypuses living in the dams and not in the streams invaded by camphor laurel?
There are probably a lot of issues but I believe the camphor laurel should be investigated. I do not think we have the answers so let us look forward and not just blame the farmer. Let us look at a whole range of issues, including the toxicity of the camphor laurel tree and the potential damage of this tree, not only on species such as koala and platypus but even on the human species. Some very serious questions need to be investigated and we need to investigate them before camphor laurel grabs hold of other areas further south. It has already started to appear in Gippsland in Victoria, which is a very serious consequence, and it is appearing on the Dorrigo plateau on that beautiful red volcanic soil. We need action to stop its spread. I look forward to working with the Camphor Laurel Research Centre and Jo Friend to bring the attention of the public to this massive problem.