Tasmanian Times


The Devil Disease: control-freak political management

What an extraordinary disease our poor ol’ Tassie devil has developed. Only ten years ago they were at all time highs and now their numbers have plummeted with a contagious cancer.

And it seems we don’t know what’s causing this malady. Going on the quoted figures produced by DPIWE Hag is very glad she is not a devil; although she has been known to exhibit some devilish characteristics, notably snarling and swaying on all fours …
But, to concentrate for a moment, it seems to Hag observing from the sidelines, that the political masters directing the play are making extremely muddle-headed decisions.

For example, for all his undoubted skills, overall point man Alistair Scott is not a scientist and yet he, poor thing, is expected to manage a science-based disease program.

If this investigation is about science and not about politics, then how about putting a true-blue scientist in charge and be the talking-head to boot!

And the DFTD probe has been divided into three sub-programs: (1) a captive management/insurance population program,(2) a field survey group to check out where the devils are or aren’t and (3) a diagnostic & research group work out what the heck’s behind this scary disease.

Hag is sure all three sections constantly talk to one another. But people very rarely think freely in divided groups particularly when they have a political minder as their manager. They might politely talk together, exchange information and they make compromises….but are they able to work in frustrated isolation … or do they?

Funding for a key scientist has just run out

Hag also hears the DFTD Progress Report in general has left knowledgeable observers distinctly underwhelmed ….in some areas it is vague and insubstantial and in other areas tries to be overly technical and therefore tries to create academic distance with the general reader. It is also poorly crafted as a finished work although the data it is reporting sounds very valuable indeed. Perhaps this explains, in part, why they haven’t published a scientific article to date. Political ‘smoke and mirrors’ with science waiting in the wings.

And perhaps most astonishing of all Hag hears that funding for a key scientist has just run out … and this highly experienced and knowledgeable expert is so discombobulated by this that this scientist is prepared to work for nothing, such is this expert’s commitment to running down the killer of 100,000 poor little devils.

And as it happens it’s not the first time there’s been a few breaks in the DFTD team. At least a couple of DFTD vets have already left the team feeling hood-winked, disgruntled and the bemused! Are these unavoidable changes of the guard or changing the deck chairs on the Titanic?

Hag is loathe say … but all this points to an arrogant control-freak political management (at the highest level) that really does not want to hear or recognise those outside its organisation.

How many devils need to die before DPIWE acknowledges their plight by listing the devil as a threatened species. And how long are they going to play the long game before they come to the realisation that to ask for assistance from outside is a sign of political maturity.

Maybe it’s time for some transparency and openness……if we’re not up to it, let somebody else have a go.

Earlier (with full links at the end):
Why the devils are dying?

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. Tughan Karaburcak

    March 11, 2006 at 4:19 am

    I knew that ı’m far away distance from tazmania but ı think ı knew the cause of these facial tumors … ı’m a moleculer biolgist who has graduate this year from HALÄ°C UNÄ°VERSÄ°TY (GOLDENHORN UNÄ°VERSÄ°TY)

    My idea is related about tazmania devil’s alimentary…I did not think about something contagious. Because ,ı’m not sure but no other mammals (animals) have these face tumors.I hope ı will finish my research and find a way to save these unique creatures…

    which university is related this project please contact me from my e-mail adress

  2. Dr Kevin Bonham

    February 27, 2005 at 6:24 pm

    Paul, I don’t actually believe you when you say you knew the one comment would be from me. Maybe you made a lucky guess but that does not mean you “knew”. There have been plenty of cases where the first comment in reply to an article (on this incarnation or the old tt) has been from a green sycophant saying “oh my how terrible” or similar. All very well for you to be right about what you knew after the event.

    What do I have to say about funding for one key scientist (reportedly) running out? Absolutely nothing at present, because I do not have exact knowledge of the DFTD programme’s funding structures, timetables etc, or of who the scientist is and what they were required to perform. I would be very concerned if funding for all DFTD research were wound up but clearly nothing like this is the case. To draw conclusions that this says anything about state government priorities on such flimsy evidence (and from a rumour column at that) is completely ridiculous. To say that the government only wants to fund the science so long as it gives answers that are desired is even more so. It is not even clear to me what answer the government would most like to hear. From the viewpoint of Paul’s ludicrous conspiracy theories, surely the messages so far are mixed in terms of how the government would receive them?

    DFTD research is very well worth funding. Quite aside from any possible threat to the species the disease has ecological implications. Also, the disease is apparently very unusual in character and understanding of it will be extremely helpful in dealing with similar diseases that may arise in other species elsewhere in the world later. Let’s not get too carried away though. We are dealing with a species that is either not threatened by this disease or likely to be at the lower end of the at-risk scale given its high pre-disease numbers. Dozens of Tasmanian species that are far more threatened than the devil continue to receive far less research funding than they merit.

  3. Paul de Burgh-Day

    February 26, 2005 at 3:52 pm

    When I read the piece from Hag, I knew the one comment would be from Dr Kevin.

    OK, what have you to say about the fact that research funding has suddenly run out?

    Does this not leave us with a clear understanding of the government’s priorities with the devils?

    Those who control this state only want your beloved ‘sound science’ when it gives them the answers they want.

    I like to think that you Dr Kevin actually do seek the truth.

  4. Dr Kevin Bonham

    February 15, 2005 at 5:04 pm

    An amusingly written article, but yet again one that is misinformed about the threatened species assessment process.

    Firstly, DPIWE itself does not determine whether species are listed as threatened or not. That decision is made by the Minister for the Environment, who in practice thus far has invariably rubber-stamped the recommendations of the Scientific Advisory Committee, an independent body consisting of seven scientists with experience relevant to threatened species status assessment.

    Secondly, the threatened species assessment process is one which is open to the public – anyone can nominate anything for inclusion on the list and this nomination then gets assessed. It is truly extraordinary that so much fuss is being made about supposed delays in the listing of this species when any member of the public could have nominated it and kickstarted the assessment process. Nominating the species for listing at Commonwealth level is another option open to the public, and one that carries a lot of legislative clout.

    I have personally been extremely sceptical of the proposal to list the devil as threatened, thus far, but remain openminded on whether it should be listed. The calls to list it have often been political in nature, and have generally come from the usual Green suspects whose wanton abuse/neglect of the facts concerning threatened species listings and delistings in pursuit of their industry-curbing agendae is very well established. Having a widespread, iconic and relatively numerous (despite the disease) species on the list would be a dream come true for such people, and no doubt they would make it extremely politically difficult to delist the devil if/when its numbers subsequently stabilised and/or recovered.

    Nevertheless it would be a very interesting test case in threatened species assessment. At state level, the devil easily qualifies for indicative criterion vulnerable A1 (20% decline) on the SAC’s non-binding guidelines, except that there is a rider that “this criterion would not be applied to species that could reasonably be expected to have very large and widespread populations not subject to the agency of decline”. Given the penchant of many threatened species assessors for extremely precautionary interpretations, and given doubts about whether the western populations will remain disease-free, it would be fascinating to see if this preamble was invoked or not. It would be also intriguing to see whether the SAC attempted to assess the species solely by its criteria, or came up with a decision not dictated by such a non-prescriptive screen.

    What on earth are those of you who believe the species should be listed waiting for? Hell, I’ll nominate it myself, just out of curiosity, if you pay me enough!

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