The bees were first discovered in 2007 and are considered a pest to Australia's honey and agricultural industry for a number of reasons they carry diseases that can harm the European bee population that's more common in Australia they compete with local bees and even steal the honey from managed hives. A committee within the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry was looking at whether the Asian Honey Bee could be eradicated. The committee was set to finish up yesterday, with some saying it's work was far from over. However, the Deputy Leader Australian Greens, Senator Christine Milne, has pushed for the committee to continue its work and the government has agreed.
Presenter: Liam Cochrane
Speaker: Seantor Christine Milne, Deputy Leader Australian Greens
COCHRANE: Senator, first I want to put the dangers of Asian Honey Bees into perspective. What exactly are the risks?
SENATOR CHRISTINE MILNE: Well, there is a very grave risk to Australia's biodiversity for a start and that hasn't really been looked at, because the Asian honey bee is a very social bee, it's a cavity nesting bee and it forms small colonies, it swarms often and potentially it could colonise the nesting sites of native birds and animals and with the greater spread of the feral colonies, the Asian honey bee can utilise nectar flows and affect other bees and insects, including the possibility of displacing our 3,000 species of native bees, so that's just the natural environment. Then you go to the social environment. It's quite an aggressive bee and so it will be an added nuisance, but it will also be a big problem to the honey bee industry, which has been documented and some of the things that haven't been talked about is the impact, for example, on trade. Already America has said they won't take bees from Australia, but equally, if the honey bees spreads to ports around Australia, which it will I believe, then Australia will have to put a huge effort into guaranteeing that our export products, such as cars and machinery, shipping crates etc, which are out in the open environment that they're free of honey bees, Asian honey bees. So it's really going to be a big problem for the environment, for the community and for pollination and also for the bee industry.
COCHRANE: Now, as you mentioned, bees are of course critical for the pollination of all kinds of crops, and not just for their honey and the honey industry. Why can't the Asian honey bee play the same pollination role as a European bee?
SENATOR CHRISTINE MILNE: Well, the evidence is that it doesn't and it's unlikely to do so. I'm not a scientist, I don't have expertise in this area, but certainly those industries which rely heavily on pollination recognise that if the Asian honey bee wipes out the European Honey bee, the likelihood is that in crop producing areas you'll have reduced pollination and you'll still have to try and bring in the European honey bees and that will be considerable competition and cost.
COCHRANE: So at this stage, how widespread are the Asian honey bees?
SENATOR CHRISTINE MILNE: Well, the incursion is at Cairns. It was in a 50 square kilometre area around Cairns, but I understand that it's now been found further from that in Innisfail, so there are there is one at least incursion further afield. But the issue really is what effort should be taken to try to eradicate it and I think it's way too early to say that it can't be eradicated and it just has to be suppressed and or try to control it. I think given the impact that it's likely to have and the spread across Australia, then we should give it all we've got with an eradication effort.
COCHRANE: Specifically, what would those efforts entail?
SENATOR CHRISTINE MILNE: Well to date, there was an effort put in, but really only three or four months from April in 2010, through to November in 2010, there was a field team on the ground in Cairns working on eradication. But they hadn't started baiting, for example, and baiting has shown to work quite well in the Solomon Islands. So what I think should happen is that the consultative committee on emergency plant pests should meet and look at all the opportunities for eradication, including baiting.
COCHRANE: And how much money is going into that committee and to eradication control efforts?
SENATOR CHRISTINE MILNE: Well, there's a dispute with the government as to how much has been spent. The bee keepers and people looking at it on the ground say less than a million dollars has been spent already. Others in the government would say it's closer to three million. But the question this is really the heart of the matter, how much money is Australia prepared to put into an effort to try to eradicate an invasive species which will such significant adverse impacts on the environment, on human health, on the bee industry etc. So what we need to do is get the technical committee together and review the science that they looked at when they made a decision to say that it shouldn't be eradicated. If they then decide on the basis of what they've looked at and new information that it's likely to spread throughout Australia, then hopefully we can get an agreement to increase the amount of funding, lift it to a Category One which means that the federal and state governments would put in more money towards the eradication effort.