Ciobo's Crocodile Dundee ad hides dark truth of wildlife mismanagement

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(Image via Tourism Australia)

The Turnbull Government's failed policies, which are bringing wildlife to the brink of extinction, are ignored in its latest star-studded tourism campaign. Sue Arnold reports.

THE RECENT ANNOUNCEMENT by Minister for Trade and Tourism, Steven Ciobo, of a star-studded, $38 million, taxpayer-funded Crocodile Dundee advertising campaign at the U.S. Super Bowl, has to be considered as an emetic for any conservation organisation.

In fact, some would describe the pictures of Chris Hemsworth clutching a kangaroo together with U.S. actor Danny McBride armed with a koala, as obscene. One can only wonder how stars such as Russell Crowe, Ruby Rose, Isla Fisher, Luke Bracey and Jessica Mauboy, who appear in the advertisements, can be so ignorant of the reality facing kangaroos and koalas in Australia.

Styled as a “star-studded" Crocodile Dundee-inspired TV commercial, the advertisements are part of Tourism Australia’s campaign to encourage American travellers to visit Australia. The 'Dundee: The Son of a Legend Returns Home' commercials feature not only Chris Hemsworth but Hugh Jackman and Margot Robbie.

According to news reports, a potential audience of 110 million viewers saw the advertisements at the Super Bowl.

Paul Hogan who styles himself as the “original Crocodile Dundee” appears in the ad at a bar with a schooner of beer.

Rod Ansell was the real Crocodile Dundee — an extraordinary man who became a legend not only in the Northern Territory but around the world, and he would be turning in his grave.

In the late 80s, I met Rod in Darwin during a campaign to stop the helicopter shooting of wild buffalo, as part of a national government initiative to eradicate brucellosis and tuberculosis. We became good friends and mutually campaigned to stop the horrific cruelty involved in the slaughter.

I vividly remember listening to Rod recounting his amazing experience surviving for seven weeks in the most hostile country at the mouth of the Fitzmaurice River, some 200 kilometres from the nearest human settlement, after his motorboat was capsized by a huge crocodile. With two bull terrier puppies, a knife, some canned food and bedding, Rod survived by hunting during the day to feed himself and his dogs, sleeping at night in a tree fork to keep safe from the hungry everpresent crocodiles.

Rod wrote a short book on his experiences and after he was interviewed on British TV, Paul Hogan and "Strop", otherwise known as John Cornell, were inspired to commission a script which subsequently became a blockbuster movie.

Rod was bitter about the fact he never received a cent for his story and he hated the portrayal of himself by Paul Hogan. Having seen the movie and knowing the real Dundee, I felt his despair, as Rod Ansell was, without doubt, a creature of the bush, a man who never wore shoes, who had spent so much of his life with Indigenous Australians from whom he had learned all their skills. Only Rod Ansell could possibly have survived an ordeal which left him isolated with no possibility of rescue, totally reliant on his own bush knowledge, courage and guts.

Rod was subsequently killed by police in a shoot-out in 1999, a terrible end to an amazing man. The story of his death is a tragic tale as Rod had become involved in drugs and in a war with bikies and authorities. So there’s a major disconnect between the latest Tourism Australia advertisement and the reality of Rod Ansell’s true story.

Along with the Crocodile Dundee fantasy is the misinformation being pushed by the Turnbull Government in the U.S. as it seeks to attract American visitors to see our unique wildlife.

(Image courtesy of Australians for Animals)

This effort by Minister Ciobo can only be described as propaganda on a scale not previously witnessed in this country. Ciobo's electorate in southeast Queensland where koala populations have declined by 80 per cent as a result of wholesale clearing, with more critical habitat under threat from development.

Has the Minister and Tourism Australia’s CEO seen the recently released Kangaroo the Movie which documents the cruel slaughter of millions of kangaroos and their joeys? The documentary by Kate Clere and Michael McIntyre looks at the complex relationships which define what’s happening to this most famous animal. An excerpt from a review by Hollywood Reporter details the documentary’s focus:

' ... thousands of such killings take place every night across the country, resulting from a widespread belief that kangaroos are "a pest that should be eliminated wholesale."'

Based on that attitude, the Turnbull Government issues plenty of exclusions from laws protecting the animals. Interviewees in the documentary say those exclusions are so easy to get (resulting in what the movie calls the largest wildlife slaughter in the world) that existing regulations are “protection in name only".

 A Variety review reports:

What’s beyond doubt here is how the mass killing of kangaroos is carried out. Regulations demand a bullet to the head. Footage shot over many years by activists Diane Smith and Greg Keightly shows otherwise. The sight of hideously wounded animals dying in agony is powerfully intercut with images of shooters pulling joeys (baby kangaroos) from their dead mothers’ pouches and (legally) smashing their heads against the rear ends of pickup trucks. Many viewers are likely to be distressed during these emotionally confrontational and utterly essential segments.

No doubt would-be American tourists to Australia would also be horrified to learn that the koalas which feature in the Tourism Australia advertisements are facing extinction in New South Wales and Queensland.

Minister Ciobo has conveniently ignored the fact that between 2009 and 2014, 10,139 koalas were admitted to four wildlife hospitals in southeast Queensland. A paper entitled 'The Rescue and Rehabilitation of Koalas in Southeast Queensland' documents more than half of the koalas were admitted with chlamydia which causes blindness, cystitis and kidney disease. Loss of habitat and chronic stress weaken the immune system of koalas leaving them exposed to disease.

Almost two-thirds of koalas which came into care were either euthanised or died.

Perhaps Minister Ciobo and his movie star supporters are unaware of the WWF Australia and RSPCA report released last year which demonstrates that tree clearing in Queensland kills about 34 million native mammals, birds and reptiles every year.

Or that:

'the enormous extent of suffering and death caused makes tree-clearing the single greatest animal welfare crisis in Queensland ... largely unmonitored and unstudied and neglected in wildlife policy and law.'

What would American tourists think of the koala graveyards at the Ballina Pacific Highway Upgrade in NSW?

Will Minister Ciobo let Americans know that there are now virtually no legal options available at the State and Federal level that would allow public interest legal challenges to protect kangaroos and koalas? That any development which gets in the way of “progress” is designated a State Significant infrastructure or development precluding any legal challenges? Or that Queensland, NSW and Federal environmental legislation has been so weakened as to be almost inoperative?

How about a documentary which shows the diseased, starving koalas dying of blindness and chlamydia?

Or the desperately thirsty koalas drinking from puddles on the road, or wild koalas taking drinks from bottles of water given to them by bushwalkers?

Did Minister Ciobo forget that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has identified the koala as one of the ten species globally most vulnerable to climate change? Or that climate change is completely ignored in terms of impacts to wildlife by the Queensland, NSW and Federal Government policies?

American visitors need to know that the latest Crocodile Dundee advertisements are a cover-up for the fact that Australia is among seven nations responsible for more than 50 per cent of global diversity loss.

According to the report in Nature, Australia is standing there as number two after Indonesia. The report identified key pressures on biodiversity loss as agricultural development and increasing population.

Chair of Environmental Sustainability Barry Brook from the University of Tasmania was more definitive:

'The predominant one is land clearing — ongoing clearing for habitat. New South Wales and Queensland have been particularly bad for that over the past two decades.'

Shame on Ciobo and the Turnbull Government. This travesty has to end. And movie stars involved in these propaganda efforts need to get a grip on reality.

You can follow Sue Arnold on Twitter @koalacrisis and Koala Crisis on Facebook here.

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