Kangaroos at Morisset Hospital
1st May 2018
Morisset Hospital Kangaroos
Mr GREG PIPER ( Lake Macquarie ) ( 19:20 :03 ): I draw to the attention of the House a problem concerning the management of kangaroos at Morisset Hospital. It may come as a surprise to many people that the biggest attraction that brings international tourists to southern Lake Macquarie is not the beautiful waterway but the many hundreds of wild kangaroos that graze within the grounds of the Morisset Hospital. Whether people like it or not, the kangaroos have become a tourism phenomenon at Morisset mainly because international tourists can take a train from Sydney and easily access the site where they can be pretty well assured of seeing wild kangaroos up close and personal.
As I have said in the House before, the issue is not as straightforward as it might sound, primarily because the site is an operational mental health facility and a residential facility for persons with developmental disability. Lake Macquarie residents have been visiting the site for many decades to see and interact with the kangaroos, mostly without incident as they have the advantage of knowing the site and have a reasonable knowledge of the dangers associated with wild kangaroos. Sadly, there have been occasions when the kangaroos have been deliberately harmed, but increased security at the site generally has provided a safer environment for the animals and the hospital residents after hours.
I believe that now the tourism genie is out of the bottle we cannot reasonably put it back. The Morisset kangaroos are now widely advertised on major tourism web sites as a cheap and highly recommended day trip for tourists. Every day trains deliver hundreds of international tourists to Morisset. Even the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, who is present in the House, would not be able to turn back that tide. Most of the tourists who come by train begin the long walk to the hospital site, often taking the wrong turns and often in extreme weather conditions. They have no idea that the walk is lengthy—the shortest route is approximately four kilometres—that there are no water or toilet facilities at the site, that the site is a functioning health facility, or that wild kangaroos can pose dangers.
There have been a number of reported incidents in which kangaroos have attacked visitors, in one case causing a very deep gash to a man's stomach. In most cases they have been kicking out, clawing faces, and grappling with people, causing lacerations or significant scratching. The National Parks and Wildlife Service [NPWS] does not seem to have the resources to manage this issue, nor does Hunter Health which owns and manages the hospital site. There is a pretty strong argument that the hospital should not have to manage the issue. I am personally resigned to the fact that we will not stop people from visiting the kangaroos. That joey has left the pouch, so to speak. The only thing we can do is educate people about the dangers and find a way to manage the situation, not just for the safety of visitors and the hospital's residents but also for the safety of the kangaroos.
Despite a number of warning signs being placed throughout the area, people still come in droves and they feed the kangaroos processed foods. Only last week I was there and saw tourists attempting to feed the kangaroos corn chips. It is obvious from the litter that all manner of processed foods is being used to draw the kangaroos in, including inappropriate foods such as apples, bananas and carrots which, while perhaps not as bad as corn chips, are not part of the natural diet of kangaroos. Regardless, the feeding of kangaroos is illegal and is certainly not appropriate in the way it is occurring at the site.
I do not want to stop people from seeing the kangaroos, but the situation has to be better managed. The kangaroos have become so desensitised to human contact that they will freely approach human visitors to obtain food, which leads to many of the kangaroos becoming aggressive. In particular, the bucks can become very aggressive. Recently one attacked a man, who required 17 stitches in his face. As I said, the genie is out of the bottle and it seems unlikely that this tourism can be stopped. It is not right that this has been left largely to the Hunter are health district to deal with. It is time for a coordinated response to be developed by NSW Health and the NPWS and perhaps, if it can assist, the Lake Macquarie City Council to a small degree. A coordinated response should result in improved directional signage to ensure that visitors arrive safely at the site. Once they are there, there should be appropriate signage about not feeding the animals as well as advice that the kangaroos can cause injury.
I suggest that five or six languages should be used for this advice. Greater presence of National Parks and Wildlife Service rangers would be excellent and, I am sure, appreciated by Morisset Hospital staff, particularly security officers, who all too often are left with issues around interaction with local kangaroos. I assure members that nursing staff, who care directly for clients in the developmental disability residential areas, would appreciate that also because they are unable to allow people access to toilets and water, which causes distress. I will be asking the Minister for Health and the Minister for the Environment to consider coordinating a better response in order to keep kangaroos and people safe as our visitors go about having a wonderful experience at Morisset.
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