Arthur Gorrie
Arthur Gorrie File Photo

Don't blame the dingoes, blame their human management

EVERY Fraser Island dingo that is killed and every tourist who suffers even an imagined threat, let alone an attack, provides a reason for removing the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service from any position of authority on Fraser Island.

As John Sinclair observed, no-one can recall any significant dingo incidents on Fraser Island before the QPWS took over.

And John Sinclair in his later years was no friend of the island dingoes or their advocates.

The QPWS is fond of claiming its management regime is backed by science, but that is only the science it has paid for.

Its management is based on the erroneous belief that any human contact makes dingoes aggressive, a view said to be scientific because it was advanced by a QPWS-paid contract scientist.

But other scientists, not engaged by the QPWS say the data, Canadian research into coyotes (which are not the same as dingoes anyway) shows no such convincing link.

It is also claimed that the island's dingo management strategy has been scientifically justified by an independent review conducted by a similarly independent consultancy under the Newman government.

But the terms of reference of that review were determined by the Environment Department, a bureaucratic offspring of the department which invented the strategy in the first place. This is not independence.

Much of the real data from that review, the first hand observations of island residents who had interacted with dingoes for many years with no problems at all, has been kept secret, for reasons which do not appear to have been made public.

And secrecy is never scientific, even if it is peer reviewed.

As British science writer Ben Goldacre noted in his book, Bad Science, science is all about openness and the ability of anyone, anywhere to review the data.

And on peer review, he said that there are few scientific opinions so absurd that you could not find one or two people with PhDs in the world to review your work and agree with you.

Similar management was enforced at Ularu only weeks before Azaria Chamberlain was killed, and both Lindy and Michael Chamberlain (neither of whom can be accused of being especially fond of dingoes) have drawn a causal relationship not between people befriending and feeding dingoes and danger to humans, but the opposite.

It was the rule against feeding them at Ularu that preceeded Azaria's death, as Lindy Chamberlain told the ABC after a Coroner cleared her and Michael.

And Michael Chamberlain told WIN Television in a separate interview in 2001 that this seemed also to be the case with the death on Fraser Island of Clinton Gage in 2001, the first person in the world found to have been killed by a dingo.

The QPWS has claimed this tragedy caused them to review their attitudes and develop their current policy, but this is not accurate.

All the elements of the post 2001 strategy were in place already and may have contributed to Clinton Gage's death. Then-Premier Peter Beattie had already introduced legilslation into parliament for this strategy.

I believe the dingo management strategy was not a response to the death of Clinton Gage, but possibly a contributing factor.

Everything since, in my opinion, has been a cover-up.

I am convinced the QPWS has lied to me, the public and apparently to its Ministers about dolphin feeding at Tin Can Bay and beach vehicle access fees, as well as dingoes.

The last genuinely independent and scientifically transparent review of Fraser Island management was conducted in the early 1990s by Tony Fitzgerald QC, when the island was jointly controlled by more level heads in the Forestry Department.

His report does not mention dingoes for the fairly obvious reason that there were no major dingo issues on the island then and there never had been.

Get rid of the QPWS, strip enough from its budget to pay for another organisation to manage the island (one that will take its advice from dingo conservationists rather than exterminators), reintroduce some good will into the inter-species relationship, stop pretending that tormenting and killing animals makes them safe and put a ceiling on camper numbers.

And watch the problem, which never used to be a problem, go away.

But it won't happen while the QPWS is in charge and obsessed with never having to admit that it is wrong.