Investigation into the ACT Government's Use of Chemicals for Pest Control
The Investigation into the ACT's Use of Chemicals for Pest Control was at the direction of Mr Gary Humphries, MLA, Minister for the Environment, Land and Planning, on 16 September 1996, and was subject to the Terms of Reference. Extension of time was granted by the Minister, and, in accordance with requirements of subsection 15(6) of the Commissioner for the Environment Act 1993 , a draft report was forwarded to relevant ACT agencies. Comments received were considered for the final report.
The investigation was monitored by a Steering Committee, which had the responsibility to agree to the Terms of Reference and to ensure that the investigation satisfied those Terms of Reference. The committee accepted that the Commissioner's investigation had satisfied the Terms of Reference.
Based on the Terms of Reference, a set of 16 questions was prepared and forwarded to the Chief Executives of relevant ACT Government agencies.
Response to the questionnaire was varied. This could be explained partly by the extensive reorganisation of Government agencies through 1996 and uncertainty within Departments as to who should receive and complete the questionnaires.
Advertisements were placed in "The Canberra Times" and the "Chronicle" on 26 October 1996, inviting submissions by the public, and a further media release, again inviting submissions, was made on 21 February 1997. Additionally, conservation groups were contacted to advise of the investigation.
Submissions received from the public, including the pest control industry, are listed and summarised in Attachment VI. Subsequently, interviews were conducted with people and organisations who provided submissions; and officers of the ACT Government. A list of those people interviewed is at Attachment VII and transcripts of those interviews will be available from this office on request.
The investigation was being conducted at the time of release of the ACT Weeds Strategy (1996) which specifically identified that "weed control in the ACT will require a focussed, cooperative effort from Government and community working in partnership".
The recommendations in the report arising from the investigation, should be read in conjunction with the ACT Weeds Strategy, and actions arising from this report should be consistent with, and integrated into, a management plan derived from the ACT Weeds Strategy.
The definition of a "pest" was that provided in the direction by the Minister, viz "any vermin or other troublesome or destructive form of biological entity".
The investigation did not set out to evaluate the methods used to determine whether a species was classified as a pest, but noted that the decision on classification is a human judgment and different plants and animals may be more significant as pests, when associated with different types of land use. For example, with plants or animals, a certain species may be regarded as attractive and desirable in the controlled confines of a home garden or caged area, but as a serious pest when released or transmitted to pasture or farm land.
This had implications for being able to record target species in a consistent way. As can be seen in Table A, target species can be specific to systematic names for areas such as ACT Parks and Conservation; however, for such as City Services, the classification of pest plants relates to the management objectives of the business unit responsible. For example, for the purposes of managing hardstanding areas such as footpaths, road/gutter interfaces and drains, any plant growing through a crack in the hard cover is considered as a target species.
The definition of plants and animals is taken from the Schedule of the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Code No. 47. 1994, viz plants are taken to include fungi, because in the above Schedule,
- a "plant" means any vegetation or fungus and includes a seed or cutting of a plant, or any other part or product of a plant; and
- a "animal" means any animal (other than a human being), whether vertebrate or not, and whether a food-producing species or not, and includes: mammals, birds, bees, reptiles, amphibians, fish, crustaceans and molluscs; and the semen, ova or embryo of an animal (other than a human being) or any other substance or thing directly relevant to the production of an animal (other than a human being); and any other prescribed form of animal life, whether prescribed by reference to a species or in any other way;
- mammals, birds, bees, reptiles, amphibians, fish, crustaceans and molluscs; and
- the semen, ova or embryo of an animal (other than a human being) or any other substance or thing directly relevant to the production of an animal (other than a human being); and
- any other prescribed form of animal life, whether prescribed by reference to a species or in any other way;
I have chosen not to use the term "pesticide" in this report because the word implies a definite outcome, not supported by available results, compared with other "cidal" terms such as "suicide" and "infanticide". The term "pest control substance" is considered more apposite than "pesticide"
Additionally, the investigation has been conducted in the full awareness of the fact that there is nothing on this earth that is not a chemical, and that the fact that a chemical is a natural substance, does not necessarily make that natural substance any more safe to humans, their animals and their crops, than any synthetic substance. Some plants and animals in nature have used natural chemicals selectively, to attract, to repel, for defence or to kill other species. On some occasions those chemicals have also adversely affected humans and their domesticated plants and animals.
The report of the investigation is restricted to the Terms of Reference which relate to "chemicals used for the control of pests", and to "non-toxic alternatives", "with respect to activities by or on behalf of the ACT Government, on all land and other property under the management of the ACT Government and its agencies". In the main, those chemicals are synthetic and organic in classification.
I have noted the written advice that the National Registration Authority (NRA) is the only body "charged with reviewing registering herbicides, insecticides and fungicides" and the "caution ..(that I) ... not … impinge on the special skills and expertise of this body when considering pest control issues".
The investigation has revealed expressions of concern outside the Terms of Reference, and these factors may be taken into account in other functions of the Office of the Commissioner for the Environment eg. in special reports or in State of the Environment Reports.
Major areas of land under the management of the ACT Government include the reserve system, such as Namadgi National Park, Canberra Nature Park, Murrumbidgee River Corridor, Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, Jerrabomberra Wetlands, Mulligan's Flat Nature Reserve and Molonglo Gorge Nature Reserve, as well as plantation forestry areas, school grounds, urban parks, playing fields and sports ovals, landscape buffers, community paths, and those hard-standing areas such as footpaths, road verges and stormwater lined channels.
The Department of Urban Services (DUS) now manages most of the land for which pest-control is required. The most significant areas outside DUS control are school grounds and sports grounds.
Prior to restructuring of the ACT Government agencies in 1995-96, pest management for City Parks, Agriculture & Landcare and Conservation and Wildlife - each one a section within the Parks and Conservation Branch of the (then) Department of the Environment, Land and Planning - was conducted with the aid of a manual prepared by Technical Services Unit, and varied according to the functional area.
Technical Services Unit was a unit within the City Parks Administration which provided, in part, "technical management and investigations into horticultural and parkland management for operational areas of the branch especially in relation to turf, pest management, irrigation systems and tree management".
Pest control for public schools and school grounds, most ACT housing flats, ACT Government buildings, foreshores, road verges, laneways, floodways, picnic areas, uncommitted open space and National land under the responsibility of the Commonwealth (particularly the Parliamentary Triangle including the National Rose Gardens), was also managed by City Parks, either as direct responsibility or on a fee-for-service basis.
In short, there was virtually a whole-of-Government approach to pest management on land and property under the management of the ACT, as well as on some land under the management of the Commonwealth Government.
The restructure in 1995-96 abolished the Technical Services Unit along with the Department of the Environment, Land and Planning, and with the exception of Sport and Recreation Facilities and schoolgrounds, all other areas of Government which managed significant areas of land over which pest control was required, were transferred to the DUS.
At about the same time, to accommodate the introduction of accrual accounting, further structuring of functional areas into 'purchasers' and 'providers' occurred. The new 'asset managers' became purchasers of pest-control services from provider organisations. Providers may be Government business units or private companies. Government providers may also sub-contract their work to private companies.
At the time of writing this report, four areas within Government provide services for pest-control - Cityscape Services, ACT Parks and Conservation, Totalcare Industries and ACT Forests.
Cityscape Services became the provider of pest-control services for the areas under the control of Canberra Urban Parks and any other ACT asset managers who might wish to purchase those services (see also Attachment VIII). Some of their pest management work is subcontracted to private companies. Contractual controls are in place in relation to outcomes, methods and chemicals used (see Health and Safety Aspects section).
ACT Parks and Conservation Service now provides an integrated pest control service over land managed by what was previously Catchment and Rural Services and Nature Conservation Services - that is, the nature reserves, rural roadsides, the National and Bicentennial horse trails, travelling stock reserves and other agisted land under the control of Government. ACT Parks and Conservation Service is resourced to provide an 'in-house' service for Conservation and Land Management, with limited provision for advice to rural landholders.
Totalcare Industries, recently a separately-funded business unit, is a relatively new provider of pest control services and, it would appear, a competitor of CityScape Services. Advice about Totalcare Industries as a provider emerged during interview; information did not appear in any of the data provided in response to the questionnaire which was forwarded to the Chief Executives.
ACT Forests rangers provide pest control on ACT Forests, the aerial spraying being contracted out.
The development or use of policies by asset managers for pest control or pest management varies considerably. The only detailed policy in use is that of Canberra Urban Parks (Attachment IX). That policy is a component of the comprehensive Pest Management Manual put out under the name of City Operations, and most recently revised prior to introduction of the purchaser-provider model, when the unit was renamed Canberra Urban Parks. In many ways that manual is a valuable legacy of the approach previously taken by the Technical Services Unit/City Parks. Conservation and Land Management and CityScape Services also use the Pest Management Manual as a reference document.
In other agencies, such as Education and Training and Health, there are no known policies in existence. In fact, responsibility for pest control has been devolved to some 120 school principals, each of whom has been provided access to guidelines on the use of pest-control chemicals. I have been advised that CityScape Services continues to provide most services; however, the absence of some co-ordinated arrangements for ensuring best pest management practice and minimal use of toxic synthetic chemicals in and around ACT schools is of considerable concern.
The current arrangements provide neither security nor comfort, in terms of what might be thought of as an asset manager who is "educated" or "knowledgeable" about chemicals use. It should be noted, though, that the asset managers at the Canberra Hospital took some steps to overcome this inadequacy by referring contracts for proposed chemicals treatments to the Poisons Unit in the Hospital before accepting the contracts.
The different purchasers and providers, along with pests targetted, are illustrated in the table 'Provision of Pest-control Services' in Attachment VIII.
With responsibility for pest control devolved to very small units, the described changes in administrative arrangements have the potential for a major impact on the management of pests by the ACT Government. Also, the purchaser-provider model appears to favour evaluation based on outcomes rather than on the detailed steps to reach those outcomes, and it is not yet obvious that this model will lead to the most socially responsible and consistent set of guidelines and practices for the use of pest-control chemicals.
The following recommendations are made in accordance with the Precautionary Principle as agreed by all Australian levels of Government in the Inter-Governmental Agreement on the Environment (IGAE), and in recognition of the need to integrate precautionary practices in all policies regarding pest-control management.
It is recommended:
- that the ACT Government act immediately to establish a co-ordinated approach, across the whole of the ACT Government, to best-practice management of pests, ("any vermin or other troublesome or destructive form of biological entity"), so as to ensure there is a mechanism (or mechanisms) in place to -
- provide a central point of liaison between the ACT Government Agencies and the National Registration Authority (NRA.), the Environmental Protection Group (EPG) and Worksafe Australia, on all pest-control issues;
- implement the requirements of all relevant legislation;
- provide for the direct point of contact for all asset managers within the ACT Government, its agencies and the ACT Landcare Sub-Committee in authorising the use of specific chemicals for specific pest-control uses under controlled conditions;
- derive from the ACT Weeds Strategy 1996, in collaboration with the parties identified therein, a draft 10 year Weed Management Plan for ACT Government land and other property under the management of the ACT Government and its agencies, for consideration by the ACT Government; such 10 year plan to be reviewed at 3, 6 and 9 years from 1998, and supplemented with annual action plans/programs;
- determine the qualifications and other criteria, including training requirements, that will apply to pest-control operators seeking a licence to operate pest-control activities in the ACT and to maintain a list of all such licensed operators;
- establish and maintain a reference list and a set of comprehensive data sheets of all approved chemicals for pest-control in the ACT, and of the storage locations and conditions of storage for such chemicals, for immediate access for both emergency and routine enquiries;
- establish, maintain and circulate (to all relevant asset managers) a comprehensive pest-control manual, modelled on the January 1996 ACT City Operations (Canberra Urban Parks) Pest Management Manual, (and containing all the chapter headings and sections of that document); and on the draft document 'Use and Handling of Herbicides for Rural Lessees and Landcare Groups'; (It is recognised that different functional areas may require specialist portions of such a manual, to meet specific needs).
- facilitate liaison with all relevant asset managers and the ACT Landcare Sub-Committee to:
- conduct an inventory of all chemicals for pest-control in ACT Government Stores, with the objective of:
- removing and destroying (by approved methods) all pest-control chemicals no longer approved for use in the ACT, and the containers holding those chemicals; and
- investigating if the approved list and range of pest-control chemicals used in the ACT, by the ACT Government, can be reduced;
- coordinate advice and instruction on Integrated Pest Mangement (IPM), including mechanical, biological, chemical and any other approved control methods, with the objective of progressively minimising the use of pest-control chemicals, and emphasising the role of cultural control methods;
- develop an agreed format and set of criteria for:
- recording the use of different pest-control methods by ACT Government employees and by contractors undertaking pest-control activities for the ACT Government and its agencies; and
- determining the sustainable efficiency and any effectiveness of the different pest-control management strategies and practices, in their impacts on target and non-target species;
- develop an agreed format, signage and protocols for advertising pest-control methods prior to, during and after each event;
- develop (in association with the NRA) a system - including a free call 24 hour a day telephone number - to record and investigate all complaints of chemical sensitivity by the public; (This system should also involve the commissioning of a consultancy to a medical practitioner to record and maintain a list of symptoms recorded in such reports of chemical sensitivity.) The same free call telephone number should also be advertised as the number for the public to contact with any general comments on the ACT pest-control program
- conduct an inventory of all chemicals for pest-control in ACT Government Stores, with the objective of:
- establish formal and regular interaction with Worksafe Australia and with the Committee(s) responsible for OH&S, relevant to the obligations of the ACT Government;
- minimise possible hazards to the public, arising from ACT Government pest-control activities;
- represent the interests of ACT Government agencies at national forums and meetings on pest-control management and strategies; and
- prepare an annual report to the Minister responsible for the environment on the effectiveness and efficiency of pest-control management within the outer boundaries of the ACT, by the ACT Government and its agencies;
- that with the passage of the Environment Protection Act 1997 , the ACT Government move immediately to consider a range of regulatory and non-regulatory options with a view to implementing the most effective and efficient measures to ensure that pest-control companies and operators seeking to operate in the ACT, and their staff or contractors, conduct their operations safely and with minimum adverse impact on the environment (as defined in the Act);
- that the ACT Government and its agencies no longer use the term 'pesticide' and replace it with the term 'pest-control substance' or 'pest-control chemical'; (The 'cidal' effect is obviously limited for any species classification, whereas it may, under ideal circumstances, be appropriate for an individual of that species.)
- that a copy of the revised pest-control management manual be available for public access in the office of each asset manager responsible for any pest-control operations; and
- that an entry 'Pest-control Program', and a contact telephone number be inserted in the white pages, '24 Hour Emergency Numbers' to allow the community ready access with relevance to Terms of Reference d) - Public notification of chemical control programs - and e) - The need for transparent processes to ensure community input on ACT chemical control programs - of the investigation. (The same information should be considered for inclusion in the Environment ACT World-Wide Web page.)