A FEW YEARS back the long-running drought was used by ACT authorities to justify the killing of kangaroos living on two Defence Department sites in the territory.
The kangaroos were said to be in danger of starving and a threat to the survival of other species living on the sites.
Now that the dams are filled to overflowing, it is said that kangaroos on a number of ACT reserves threaten the ecosystem through overgrazing. We are told that ''reducing kangaroo populations to a sustainable level now will avoid the necessity to cull much larger numbers when weather conditions return to a more normal, drier pattern''.
So in a nutshell, the inappropriately named Parks and Conservation Service - actually Kanberra Killing and Kulling - shoots kangaroos when it's dry, and kills them when it's wet.
When the cull on the two Defence sites was previously announced, the species under threat were said to be the golden sun moth, the grassland earless dragon, the striped legless lizard and the Perunga grasshopper. It was implied that these enclosed Defence lands were among the very few places where these species could be found.
But look now at the list of species the department says are threatened by kangaroos on the nine nature reserves. They are the grassland earless dragon, the golden sun moth, the striped legless lizard and the Perunga grasshopper.
It seems these species are everywhere across the ACT.
If my memory serves me correctly, when development was to take place at a Narrabundah caravan park some years back, the earless dragon was there as well. How often can they cry ''dragon''?
It has to be added that the button wrinklewort is threatened by the kangaroo, too.
The department commissioned a survey ostensibly to determine ACT citizens' attitudes to the cull. But as with any survey, the questions can bias the result. The first question was: how would you rate the risk of hitting a kangaroo while driving a motor vehicle on a road in the ACT?
Immediately this has respondents thinking about a serious problem with kangaroos. They were then asked if, in the past three years, they had been in an accident involving a kangaroo and, if so, did it result in damage to a vehicle, or death or injury? This reinforces the danger in respondents' minds.
The pollsters maintain that even if people felt there was a low or very low risk of hitting a kangaroo, they were just as likely to support kangaroo culling as those who felt there was a high or very high risk.
At last, at question five, respondents were asked which of three statements best described their attitude to kangaroo culling: I believe that kangaroo culling is appropriate under certain circumstances; I am against kangaroo culling under any circumstances; or I am unsure about this subject.
Now, even here the question helps produce the pro-culling result. As anyone reading this article would see, I am opposed to the department's culls. But I would have to tick the ''I believe that kangaroo culling is appropriate under certain circumstances'' box because under certain circumstances I would accept culling. If the animals were diseased, or genuinely starving, or seriously threatening the environment, then culling could be justified. But a strong case has to be made and the department simply hasn't done it.
Given the design of the survey, it is not surprising to find that 79 per cent of respondents said that culling was appropriate under certain circumstances and only 13 per cent were against it in any circumstances. I should also say that I do not think the web-poll conducted by The Canberra Times is a reliable reflection of citizens' views. Its question - Do you support the ACT Government's culling of kangaroos? - was better. But the result - 55 per cent against culling and 41 per cent in favour - is selective in that it only reflects the views of those keen enough to respond on the web.
The kangaroo cull is made all the worse by the decision to dump the animals that are killed. The excuse for doing this is that there are no commercial kangaroo harvesting arrangements in the ACT and it would not be cost-effective to establish and administer a commercial operation. This is an admission of administrative incompetence and inefficiency. It should not be prohibitively expensive to put in place an approval and monitoring process for a small territory like the ACT.
Some years back, when working for the federal government's Textile, Clothing and Footwear Taskforce, I met an eccentric Queenslander who had built up a highly successful leather works employing hundreds. His plant had built an export business selling kangaroo leather to a world-leading football boot manufacturer. Not one to waste, he told me that if he passed a recently killed kangaroo while driving, he would stop, skin the animal and take the hide back to his works for processing. Some may be disgusted by this, but it's better than letting the carcass lie on the side of the road.
The department is to be applauded for one improvement. This year a small number of carcasses are to be taken by the National Zoo and Aquarium, presumably to be eaten by the carnivores.
I have no doubt that if an effort was made, a processor could be found to take the carcasses. It would require more effort from the department than the simple, quick and dirty solution of dumping in a pit. But if, as seems likely, this killing is going to be a regular thing, the effort should be made.