Mr LYNCH: My question without notice is to the Minister for Regional Development, representing the Minister for Agriculture. What is the Government's response to community concerns about an alleged animal attack in the Kenthurst area?
Mr CAMPBELL: Over the past three decades there have been some 60 separate reports of a large cat-like animal attacking livestock and people in Sydney's west, north west, the Blue Mountains and Lithgow. The animal has been described as being like a panther. Sightings have been reported to NSW Police, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Moss Vale Rural Lands Protection Board and NSW Agriculture. These sightings range from distant glimpses to close encounters. Other claims include large scratches on trees and instances where goat and sheep carcasses were found in trees. Video recordings were made on a few occasions, but they proved inconclusive.
Mr Armstrong: Point of order: The Department of Agriculture spent some hundreds of thousands of dollars investigating reports of large animals in the Blue Mountains. Why not put the effort into getting drought declarations right for farmers, instead of talking about a black panther from somebody's imagination.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is no point of order. I call the honourable member for Lachlan to order.
Mr CAMPBELL: If the honourable member for Lachlan's mates in Canberra had approved the applications for the Southern Tablelands, farmers in that area would have been getting that special assistance.
In 2001 there was extensive footage broadcast on national television of a large black creature in a Mort Street backyard in Lithgow. A local woman, Gayle Pound, filmed it. Sightings of a monster cat around Lithgow sparked community fear. In response, the NSW Agriculture Protection Unit conducted a low-level inquiry. Officers tested droppings found in the area but could not conclusively identify the samples.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service used an expert tracker, but it was also unable to draw conclusive evidence. In January last year the State Government officially announced that NSW Agriculture had decided to wind up its investigation into the so-called Lithgow panther. However, it said it would reopen the matter if new material became known. It seems the panther is back.
On 20 March this year a 17-year-old Kenthurst boy came forward with deep lacerations on his right arm from what he said was an encounter with a black panther.
It is unfortunate that members opposite do not see this as being serious because a 17-year-old from Kenthurst believes that he was injured by a black panther. Following that report, a public meeting was held at Windsor council chambers on 28 April.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Chair is pleased that so many members are enjoying question time. However, I am sure other members would find it more enjoyable if they could hear the Minister's answer.
Mr CAMPBELL: A wide range of people including council staff, the mayor Councillor Rex Stubbs, concerned residents and Moss Vale Rural Lands Protection Board staff attended the public meeting. They resolved to ask NSW Agriculture to reopen investigations into the possible presence of a large, cat-like creature.
Following the meeting NSW Agriculture decided to reopen investigations, but at a low level, without incurring major cost. The new work will build on earlier work undertaken by NSW Agriculture. Over the next few weeks NSW Agriculture will review any new available evidence and will analyse any hair and paw prints, and will seek help from residents in affected areas.
For the record, it is unlikely that there is an escaped panther or large cat from a circus, as some people have speculated. However, we take this issue seriously because the presence of a large cat or cats has not been disproven.
Large areas of the Great Dividing Range represent an ideal habitat for such animals. There are claims of an animal in the Kenthurst area. What we do know is that if these animals exist they represent a real threat to human safety and to the safety of livestock and domestic animals. It is a threat that NSW Agriculture takes seriously, and that is why a new investigation is under way.