Policy and funding arrangements
We do not need more strategies. We need to measure the
condition of our environmental assets properly...Then we need to get more funds
to...the right place at the right time. We have had 20 or 30 years of
strategy-writing and weasel words when in fact the core business...requires
resources and a commitment to do it. So biodiversity conservation is not being
taken seriously in this country. To have 1,790 listed species in Australia in
2013, which is about the same number as we had 20 years ago, suggests it has
been a complete failure.
As outlined in the first chapter, key national policy documents and
funding arrangements relating to the protection of threatened species and
ecological communities include:
- Australia's Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010-2030;
the Caring for our Country program;
the Clean Energy Future's Biodiversity Fund; and
- One Land - Many Stories: Prospectus of
These policies and programs are discussed further below.
As outlined in Chapter 1, one of the primary Commonwealth policy
documents relating to threatened species and ecological communities is Australia's
Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010-2030 (the Biodiversity Strategy),
which SEWPAC describes as 'a guiding framework for conserving our nation's
biodiversity', stating that:
The strategy outlines national priorities for action to help
stop the decline in Australia's biodiversity and outlines ten national targets,
including increasing native habitat for biodiversity conservation.
The committee notes that the strategy describes these ten targets as
'interim national targets for the first five years'.
As outlined in Chapter 1, they include to:
achieve a national increase of 600 000km2 of native
habitat managed primarily for biodiversity conservation across terrestrial,
aquatic and marine environments;
reduce by at least 10% the impacts of invasive species on
threatened species and ecological communities in terrestrial, aquatic and
all jurisdictions will review relevant legislation, policies and
programs to maximise alignment with Australia's Biodiversity Conservation
establish a national long-term biodiversity monitoring and
In 2011, the Australian Government also released a consultation draft of
the Australian Government Biodiversity Policy, which 'complements' the
ACF expressed support for the 'foundation principles' articulated in this
policy, which it felt supports the notion that 'it is better to prevent
biodiversity decline before it happens'. It also supported the policy's 'focus
on causes that reduce the health of biodiversity on a landscape scale'.
The landscape approach is discussed later in this chapter.
However, some other submissions were highly critical of the Biodiversity
Strategy. For example, WWF-Australia expressed incredulity that the strategy
does not articulate a single target directly aimed at recovering threatened
species or ecosystems.
WWF-Australia compared this to targets agreed to by Australia under the Convention
on Biological Diversity in 2010 (often referred to as 'Aichi targets'), and
Target 12: By 2020 the extinction of known threatened species
has been prevented and their conservation status, particularly of those most in
decline, has been improved and sustained.
Professor John Woinarski similarly observed that none of the 10 targets
in Australia's Biodiversity Strategy relate directly to the retention of native
plant and animal species. He suggested that:
The foreshadowed 2015 review of Australia's Biodiversity
Conservation Strategy 2010-2030 should be used to remedy its current deficiency
of lacking a fundamental commitment to the prevention of extinction, with such
change making Australia's strategy more in harmony with that of the Convention
on Biodiversity's Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and the Aichi
The only target in the Biodiversity Strategy which mentions threatened
species and ecological communities is Target 7, which is 'to reduce the impacts
of invasive species on threatened species and ecological communities by at
least 10%'. However, the Invasive Species Council was highly critical of the Biodiversity
Strategy, and particularly Target 7. The Council was concerned that:
It is not clear what the strategy target implies as there is
no quantitative information about invasive species impacts on threatened
biodiversity. Very little monitoring of threatened species and ecological
communities is conducted...The only baseline information available is the number
of threatened species and ecological communities threatened by invasive species...Halfway
to the target deadline, there is no implementation plan and no identification
In fact, the Invasive Species Council reported that it had been told by
Commonwealth environment officers to regard the target as 'aspirational'.
The Invasive Species Council remarked that 'there has been no feasibility
assessment and no costed plan, rendering it an aspiration destined to fail'.
Mr Peter Cosier from the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists seemed
exasperated with the current approach:
...we are spending billions of dollars a year in this country
and there is no plan...to conserve Australia's biodiversity or to restore the
health of landscapes...We have a [biodiversity] strategy, but if you read it you
will weep...We have plans and strategies, but we have no spatial plans. We do
not know where critical habitat for endangered species is. We do not know the
best place to invest money in restoring and repairing vegetation along our
Mr Atticus Fleming from AWC emphasised the need for 'practical on-ground
work', arguing that 'what really works for threatened species is getting out
and doing things on the ground'.
He expressed the view that:
There is sometimes too much of a focus on process rather than
on the outcome. And the focus really needs to be on the outcome. In other
words, do not be too prescriptive about how you do it; be focused on the
outcome which is: we want more Gouldian finches. Often whoever is on the ground
is going to be in a better position to judge what the specific on-ground
activities need to be and when they need to be taken in order to deliver that
SEWPAC submitted that the Biodiversity Strategy, endorsed by all
states and territories, is a 'guiding framework for conserving our nation's
...functions as a policy umbrella over other more specific
national frameworks including Australia's Native Vegetation Framework (soon to
be released), the Australian Weeds Strategy (Natural Resource Management
Ministerial Council 2007) and the Australian Pest Animal Strategy (Natural
Resource Management Ministerial Council 2007).
The committee received a great deal of evidence relating to funding for
threatened species and communities. In particular, current Commonwealth
programs, such as the Caring for Our Country and Biodiversity Fund, were
criticised for a number of reasons, including their short term-focus; lack of
specific targets; and lack of focus on threatened species and ecological
Key issues raised were:
- the quantity of funding needed to protect threatened species and
- whether it is better to focus on landscapes or species;
- the need for dedicated funding for threatened species and
communities, and particularly for recovery and threat abatement activities;
- the need for longer term funding;
- the need for funding for surveys, data and monitoring in relation
to threatened species and communities; and
the need for accountability, including effective and efficient
spending (including prioritisation of spending).
These issues are discussed in turn below.
Quantum of funding needed
Submissions were highly critical of funding arrangements in relation to
threatened species and communities with many describing it as 'grossly
inadequate'. It was suggested that the amount of funding
for threatened species management and monitoring is insufficient and needs to
WWF-Australia submitted the that 'overall funding via Caring for Our
Country and Biodiversity Funds is grossly inadequate to the task of recovering
protected matters to the point they can be de-listed. The quantum needs to be
increased significantly to meet the need'.
HSI similarly felt that there is a 'need for substantially more
resources to be dedicated to the conservation of threatened species and
Greater funds at all levels of government are required so
that threatened species laws in all jurisdictions can be reviewed, strengthened
and fully resourced as well as implemented. Even for those species or
communities that do succeed in getting listed under the act, there are no
further resources currently available to implement vital recovery plans.
Without the injection of funds this will result in increasing numbers of
species competing for ever-limited resources...
Opinions varied on how much more might need to be spent overall.
ACF, for example, suggested that we need to spend $2 million per year per
listed threatened species 'as a baseline capability for recovery planning and
With approximately 1800 listed species at the federal level, the committee
notes that this works out to $3.6 billion per year. This compares, for example,
to the $2 billion committed by the Commonwealth Government under
the Caring for our Country program from 2013–14 to 2017–18.
Others argued that 'we can do more with existing funds'. For example,
Mr Fleming from the AWC argued that:
...we can do a lot for a relatively modest amount of money,
provided we get the framework set up correctly. In other words, provided that
there is a high level of accountability in terms of how those funds are sent
out and how they are used, and that accountability is tied to these on‑ground
results, we will be able to do a lot with a relatively modest amount of money.
Professor Hugh Possingham and Associate Professor Michael McCarthy argued
that 'if conservation spending is invested wisely, a relatively modest increase
in spending can make a real difference':
For example, approximately $3 million is spent annually on
conserving threatened Australian birds...tripling the resources allocated to
Australia's threatened bird species to $10 million per year could reduce the
number of extinctions over the next 80 years to almost zero, and reduce the
number of threatened species by 15%.
Some were grateful for funding received from programs such as Caring for
Our Country and the Biodiversity Fund. The NT government submitted that Commonwealth
government funding programs, including Caring for Our Country and the
Biodiversity Fund, are a 'significant contributor' to the management of key
threats to threatened species and communities.
Similarly, the Regent Honeyeater Project felt that it is 'extremely
important that government be congratulated' for supporting its work 'so solidly
and for so long'. The project submitted details of its success in securing 'a
future for several plant and animal species that were about to drop out of the
region'—thanks to the support of government and thousands of volunteers.
SEPWAC explained that the Caring for our Country program has provided
funding since 2008 for activities across all land tenures, including through
regional natural resource management organisations:
There have been many landscape-scale projects to abate key
threats to biodiversity and protect various habitat types as well as various
projects aimed specifically at particular threatened species. Examples of the
latter include the $10 million that was committed to work with the Tasmanian
government and others to combat the sudden large decline in Tasmanian devils
caused by the devastating devil facial tumour disease.
SEWPAC submitted that the Australian government has committed more than
$2 billion to continue Caring for our Country from 2013–14 to 2017–18, and that
The program will continue to address the protection and
conservation of threatened species, ecological communities and other ecosystems
of national importance, for example those that support migratory species. To
improve integration of its regulatory and non-regulatory functions, the design
of the next phase of the program includes an increased emphasis on using formal
strategic documents, such as recovery plans, to inform investment decisions.
SEWPAC also discussed the 'more recent initiative' of the Clean Energy
Future's Biodiversity Fund. SEWPAC submitted that this program will provide $946.2 million
over its first six years 'to encourage individuals, organisations and
communities to work in partnership to achieve positive landscape-scale
biodiversity and carbon outcomes'. SEWPAC told the committee that 313 projects
valued at $270 million over six years are underway under round one of the
Biodiversity Fund. SEWPAC explained that many threatened species and ecological
communities will benefit from these projects—for example, approximately
$10 million will go to help restore koala habitat.
Another example given by SEWPAC was the $50 million that will be provided
over for four years for on-ground conservation work in Northern Australia,
particularly to help address the threats of invasive species, changes to land
uses and fire management.
However, the committee notes that in the 2013 Federal Budget, the
government redirected $32.3 million over four years from the Biodiversity Fund
to other government priorities, including the Tasmanian Forests Agreement.
Further, the government announced that it would 'rephase' funding of around $225.4
million from the Biodiversity Fund over four years.
The committee also notes the more recent further reduction in funding for the Biodiversity
Fund of $213 million over the forward estimates announced on 16 July 2013.
What to focus on? Species or
There was debate during the committee's inquiry as to whether it is
better to focus on single species or to take a 'landscape' approach.
ACF expressed support for 'solutions at a landscape scale'. They
suggested that focussing on species and ecosystems that are at risk treats only
the 'symptom' rather than the causes that reduce the health of biodiversity at
a landscape scale.
SEWPAC stated that the focus on landscapes was a 'prominent theme' of
the Hawke review and the Commonwealth government's response to the Hawke review:
...biodiversity conservation requires a strategic approach that
focuses on conserving ecosystem function and important areas of habitat at a
The Director of National Parks explained why they take a landscape
...when you are a management agency considering actions to
take, and investments to make, we need to be very sure that our resources are
well targeted and achieve the multiple objectives that we are responsible for
to the greatest extent possible. This generally means that we take a landscape
approach to protecting habitats rather than individual species, as many of the
known and hypothesised threats and causes of decline operate at landscape
Other submissions concluded that a mixture of both approaches is needed:
there were suggestions that the Commonwealth government (and some states) have
focussed too much on ecosystems alone in recent years.
For example, Dr Andrew Burbidge commented that in recent times, at the
Commonwealth level there has been an emphasis on 'landscape scale conservation
rather than species conservation':
Landscape conservation has become a buzz word and a lot of
money has been put into the idea of conserving things at the landscape level.
Dr Burbidge argued that the landscape approach 'simply does not work for
threatened species. For threatened species you need to address the threats and
you need to understand the biology of the species concerned so that you can
He acknowledged that:
While broadscale conservation is needed, the pendulum swung
too far away from species work – both are needed and to some extent complement
each other, so long as the broad-scale work is targeted towards the major
threats to species.
Professor Stephen Garnett from BirdLife Australia agreed: 'we believe
that there needs to be dedicated funding. There has been a shift in the balance
towards landscapes in recent years. You can have a very good-looking landscape
and still lose the threatened species within it'.
The NT government also noted that, in the NT, on-ground management of
threatened species has 'relied heavily on funding support through Australian
Government grant programs' and that, in the past 5-6 years, there has been a
'substantial shift' in the focus of such programs away from threatened species:
Previously, funding programs such as Natural Heritage Trust
had specific provisions for projects targeting threatened species; the
Australian Government supported the Threatened Species Network (TSN), which
funded smaller-scale, community-based action on threatened species; there was
support and participation in national recovery teams; and there was some
funding available for basic research on threatened species. Priorities and
targets under the current suite of programs (including Caring for our Country
and the Land Sector Package) focus on building landscape resilience and, while
this may include addressing threatening processes and include benefit to
threatened species as an assessment criteria, a specific focus on threatened
species has been lost.
The same problem was articulated by the AWC, which felt that 'the
pendulum has swung a little too far' towards landscape scale projects:
Available Commonwealth funding is currently directed
primarily towards landscape-scale or regional programs...While these programs are
intended to deliver important conservation benefits, they are not delivering
the targeted support that is required for threated species conservation.
Zoos Victoria was also concerned with the shift of focus in recent years
to landscape-scale approaches, arguing that it 'is leaving many species
Ms Rachel Lowry from Zoos Victoria explained:
...even if you just protect a landscape rather than managing
the landscape within it, there is no assurance that the species within the
landscape will thrive as a consequence of you doing that. The data suggest
quite clearly that the species do need to be our primary focus and that we have
not really gained any traction in the last 20 years by making that shift.
Zoos Victoria did acknowledge that the landscape versus species approach
is somewhat of a false dichotomy:
When it comes to on-ground action...single-species and
landscape-scale approaches both essentially employ the same site-based
methodologies (i.e. both involve management targeting a collection of discrete
Zoos Victoria suggested that the use of iconic threatened species 'can
be an extremely powerful tool to generate community support and involvement'.
They felt that it is easy to connect to a species, but 'much harder to connect
to a landscape'.
Zoos Victoria cited the Red-tailed Black-Cockatoo recovery program as 'a great
illustration of the role an iconic threatened species can play in promoting
habitat conservation at a landscape scale'.
However, SEWPAC explained that the landscape approach was as a result of
the fact that:
The most significant threats to Australia's biodiversity—such
as harvesting, land clearing and fragmentation of habitat, invasive species,
inappropriate fire regimes, grazing, changes in hydrology and climate
change—operate at a landscape scale.
Dedicated funding for species
Several submissions called for funding to be more dedicated towards
threatened species. For example, WWF-Australia was concerned that:
At present the contribution of the $2.2 billion Caring for
Our Country program toward threatened species and community recovery is
unknown. We have no idea of what Caring for Our Country (or Natural Heritage
Trust before it) has or is likely to have achieved in terms of halting or
reversing declines of listed species and communities.
BirdLife Australia similarly observed that accountability for threatened
species funding has been 'poor – either non-existent or poorly thought out so
that the wrong things are reported...A failure to monitor is at best a cavalier
use of public funds'.
WWF-Australia suggested that 'possibly the only action under Caring for
Our Country likely to have resulted in genuine and lasting threatened species
recovery was the expansion of strictly protected areas in the national reserve
AWC proposed the establishment of a separate, dedicated 'Threatened
Species Fund' or at least a dedicated Commonwealth funding program to support,
on a competitive basis, projects which have as their primary objective the
survival/recovery of threatened species.
The AWC stressed that the Fund should be tied to the delivery of measurable
improvements in populations and reflect the emerging role of non‑government
organisations, indigenous rangers and other landholders. The AWC further
submitted that the proposed Fund must have a 'high degree of accountability'—that
is, provision of funding must be conditional on proponents reporting on the
achievement (or otherwise) of their population targets.
Similarly WWF-Australia submitted that one of the main conditions
of Commonwealth conservation funding should be 'demonstrable recovery of
threatened matters as the major outcome of all investment'.
Batwatch Australia also called for more strategic funding approaches:
...there is a need for a publicly available overarching
strategy for the allocation of funding for threat abatement and management which
demonstrates government commitment to the process of species recovery and can
articulate where and why compromises are being made with the intent of
maximising the use of limited funds.
Batwatch Australia continued:
No such plan appears to currently exist and this makes it
impossible to gauge the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of funding
disbursements and/or threat abatement activities. For example, whilst
substantial funding has been allocated to flying‐fox
related issues it has not been allocated to the highest priority conservation
issues and not for the purposes of conservation.
Some submissions criticised the fact that, until recently, recovery
plans have not been given priority for funding under Caring for our Country.
For example, Dr Martin Taylor from WWF-Australia declared:
There is no spending on recovery planning; we just heard
about recovery plans. Why isn't Caring for our Country funding recovery plans
for the species? It is baffling why that money is spent the way it is...
Zoos Victoria similarly noted that:
Threatened species recovery programs in regional areas
greatly expanded with increased Federal funding that became available under the
Natural Heritage Trust. This funding source has subsequently declined under
Caring for Our Country (i.e. in terms of the funding allocation specific to
threatened species). Zoos Victoria believes that this has reduced the
effectiveness of recovery programs in delivering on-ground actions and it would
be timely for a review of federal funding mechanisms.
Similarly, the Mary River Catchment Coordinating Committee suggested
that there needs to be a 'clear path for funding implementation of recovery
plans, including for example, a specific category within the Caring for Our
The Save the Bilby Fund similarly felt that we need to ensure that grants and
funding are aligned with recovery planning processes for threatened species.
Along the same lines, the Invasive Species Council recommended that 'criteria
for funding priorities under Caring for Our Country include implementing Threat
While no specific Australian Government funding program
exists for the sole purpose of implementing recovery and threat abatement
plans, the funding of on-ground conservation measures consistent with
identified recovery and threat abatement plan actions comes from a range of
Australian Government programs including Caring for our Country and the
Biodiversity Fund. These programs are further complemented by state and
territory government funding programs which contribute to the conservation of
threatened species and ecological communities by supporting actions identified
in national recovery plans. Therefore, the investment of funding in recovery
and threat abatement plans varies from year to year against a range of other
competing conservation priorities, the activities of other relevant
organisations and the status of the plan (i.e. development, implementation,
In response to questions on this issue, SEWPAC told the committee that:
The assessment of grant applications under the Biodiversity
Fund and Caring for Our Country, take into account their consistency with any
plans related to the environmental assets they address. The extent to which
Threat Abatement Plans, Recovery Plans, conservation advices or other strategic
frameworks have been considered in applicants’ proposals is a key consideration
in the assessment of those projects. It is a requirement that all projects with
a focus on species recovery be consistent or link with, these plans where they
are in place.
Need for long term funding programs
Many submissions suggested that funding arrangements in relation to
threatened species and ecological communities need to have a longer term focus.
For example, WWF-Australia submitted that:
Caring for Our Country and Biodiversity Fund are largely
devoted to short term approaches spread over the landscape, without much regard
for matters listed under the EPBC Act.
Indeed, Dr Taylor expressed his frustration that:
Currently the conservation spend of this government—and this
is an enduring problem—is all on short-term fixes. There is almost no spending
to secure an enduring conservation management arrangement in the landscape.
Similarly, the Wildlife Disease Association Australasia was concerned
that the 'short funding cycles and rapidly changing priorities' appear to 'reflect
election cycles and make little concession to the need for long term, stable
commitment and funding to obtain best outcomes from threatened species
ACF similarly lamented the 'mismatch of the political cycle with the ecological
Professor Woinarski agreed, warning that:
...if we continue with current policies and resourcing, the
number of extinctions of Australian species will magnify greatly. This trend
may be concealed but further exacerbated because many Australian species
(examples include black cockatoos, western swamp tortoise, platypus) are
long-lived, have low reproductive output and work to a 'slow' life history,
such that the consequences of failed policies and threats operating now may be
evident only, but unresolvable, in decades to come.
BirdLife Australia agreed with the need for longer-term funding:
...almost all threatened species projects have had to persist
from grant to grant, few having commitments lasting for more than three years
and most having to make annual bids for funding renewal, a frustrating and
inefficient process. However, almost all conservation success stories have
achieved results only after decades of research, adaptive management and
monitoring... For most species it is entirely predictable that recovery will take
decades but it has not been possible to negotiate long-term funding from
Professor Garnett from BirdLife Australia elaborated on this during the
The declines in species can take a long time—can take
decades. To reverse a process like that takes at least as long as that. So if
you are looking at recovering vegetation before you can let the species recover
you are looking at many decades. Short-term funding can have short‑term
goals but unless there is some guarantee of long-term funding you can lose your
gains very quickly. I would like to see a process where you are not having
funding going from one three-year cycle to another and people deciding, 'Well,
that species has had three years of funding; it does not deserve it this time.
We need to go on to other species.
BirdLife Australia recommended that threatened species investment 'be
guaranteed over sufficiently long periods to allow recovery'.
They suggested funding be provided 'for up to eight years at a time with
independent review and potential extension after four years'.
Need for threatened species surveys,
mapping, monitoring and research
The committee received a great deal of evidence to suggest that there is
insufficient funding for surveys, mapping and monitoring of the status of threatened
species and communities—as well as research relating to the effectiveness of
This issue was also apparent in the evidence relating to 'data deficient'
species, as discussed in Chapter 2 of this report.
Dr Taylor from WWF-Australia told that the committee that 'what we need
is actual on-ground surveys':
...there is a crying need for comprehensive faunal and plant
surveys in Australia, because we just have no idea in many cases what has
happened to the threatened species. Are they going up? Are they going down? We
actually have no idea in most cases. The US has a better system because it is
mandatory. Congress actually requires the agencies....to report to congress every
two years on the status of every single threatened species. We have no
equivalent here. We do have the periodic biodiversity assessments, but very
little of that involves going out. It is just expert opinion. So there will be
some guy sitting in an office in Cairns saying, 'What's happened to the
lemuroid ringtail possum,' and they will say, 'Oh, I think it's okay'.
Professor David Lindemayer believed that 'there is a massive under‑investment
in biodiversity monitoring in Australia. This means that it is not possible to
determine when management interventions have been effective and when they have
Dr Burbidge agreed, arguing that: 'Australia is not monitoring the changes in
species abundance in the wild to any significant degree'.
Professor Woinarski was similarly critical that:
...for many threatened species (and ecological communities),
monitoring programs, if present at all, may be ad hoc, lack statistical power
(and hence cannot reliably detect trends), have no integration across the range
of the species, are not linked iteratively with varying experimental management
options, focus on activities (e.g. extent of predator baiting or fire
management) rather than outcomes (such as population size), occur infrequently
and haphazardly, and their results are not reported or interpreted regularly
and publicly. Consequently, it is very difficult to assess whether the status
of species is improving or deteriorating, and almost impossible to measure the
cost-effectiveness of management interventions.
Some submissions were concerned that funding programs do not have
sufficient focus on research and monitoring activities. For example, the NT government
expressed concern that 'national funding programs now have no provisions to
support basic research and monitoring activities that are still needed to
underpin threatened species management and recovery'.
Mr Atticus Fleming from the AWC agreed that 'science does not play as
critical a role in the overall framework for a number of our funding programs,
as it should'. He explained that:
The science comes, not just into identifying what needs to
happen, but into the estimates of populations and distributions of these
species. If the government is funding a feral animal control program there is
some basic science that needs to happen. You need an estimate of the numbers of
feral animals before you start and at the end so that you know whether the
money that has gone in has delivered the result that was intended.
In same vein, Arid Lands Environment Centre suggested that changes to the
Caring for our Country program and Biodiversity Fund are needed to include more
research into 'determining effective management approaches on country rather
than simply restoring habitat'.
Professor Garnett of BirdLife Australia discussed the need for
monitoring of spending:
...if funding is provided, it ought to be contingent on proper
monitoring. The monitoring of certain species is really pretty woeful. If you
look at health and education, they spend something like 10 per cent of their
funds on monitoring. Nothing like that percentage is spent on environmental
funding. That leads to wastage, we think.
However, SEWPAC advised that:
As set out in the Monitoring Evaluation Reporting and
Improvement (MERI) Strategy, Caring for Our Country funding recipients are able
to allocate up to 10 per cent of their project budget to support monitoring,
evaluation and reporting activities to help gauge progress and delivery of
project and program level objectives. A similar approach has been adopted for
Round One Biodiversity Fund projects.
In response to the committee's questions as to what funds are available
for surveys and monitoring of threatened species, SEWPAC also outlined a number
of other projects being funded under the Caring for our Country initiative and
the Biodiversity Fund:
...for example: monitoring of the vulnerable black-footed rock
wallaby in South Australia’s Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankuytjatjara (APY) Lands;
wildlife surveys and monitoring of the vulnerable greater bilby in the Southern
Tanami Indigenous Protected Area in the Northern Territory; and monitoring of
the endangered mahogany glider in far-north Queensland following Cyclone Yasi.
The Director of National Parks also outlined a number of biodiversity
monitoring and research programs, 'with a major (but not exclusive) focus on
protection of threatened species' in each of the six Commonwealth national
At the same time, the committee heard that the 2011 Commonwealth
State of the Environment report itself noted that there was inadequate
information available on the state of many individual species or groups of
Indeed, some submitters were quite critical of State of Environment reporting
in Australia: it was described as 'sub-standard' and as not providing 'any
substantive information on trend patterns in biodiversity conservation,
including the effectiveness (or otherwise) of management interventions'.
Several submissions suggested some form of national monitoring program
be established for Australia's threatened species. For example, BirdLife
Australia suggested that investment is needed in a national information system,
including collection, management and distribution of information about
threatened species management at local and regional scales, and includes
monitoring and evaluation'.
Similarly, Professor Woinarski recommended that a 'nationally integrated
monitoring program' be established for Australia's threatened species. He
suggested that results from this monitoring could be 'reported regularly
through a nationally coordinated scheme, with such reporting constituting an
important component of State of the Environment Reports, and with results
interpreted at geographical and taxonomic scales as a basis for allocating
The committee notes that one of the targets of the Biodiversity Strategy
is to establish a national long-term biodiversity monitoring and reporting
system by 2015.
However, Mr Cosier from the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists was
sceptical, telling the committee that 'we have been trying for 20 years in this
country to get a national environmental monitoring program in place'. He
suggested that regional bodies should be resourced to do environmental monitoring.
The committee also notes that another of the recommendations of the
Hawke review was to develop a system of 'national environmental accounts'.
BirdLife Australia and ACF both expressed support for the development of
'national environmental accounts' to monitor the status of matters of national
environmental significance, such as threatened species and communities,
recognising that 'a very real and sustained commitment to monitoring the status
of threatened species and their response to management activities is
SEWPAC reported that the Commonwealth government is 'working towards a
national long-term biodiversity monitoring and reporting system' through the National
Plan for Environmental Information and the system of national environmental
The committee heard also about a number of other existing programs,
partnerships and institutions that are working to improve access to information,
research and data about biodiversity. This included, for example:
- The Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN): funded by the
It was described as a 'whole architecture for coordinating field surveys and
for coordinating environmental information'. It was suggested that increased
funding could be provided to the TERN to 'supercharge' it with a lot of very well-coordinated field surveys'.
- The Atlas of Living Australia—a partnership funded
by the Commonwealth government under the National Collaborative Research
Infrastructure Strategy. Developed and administered by the CSIRO, the Atlas
is intended to be national database of all of Australia's flora and fauna that
could be accessed through a single, easy to use web site.
- The National Species Profile and Threat register (SPRAT),
administered by SEWPAC. This is a database designed to provide information
about species and ecological communities listed under the EPBC Act. Some felt
that SPRAT 'plays a critical role in providing guidance as to the key threats
facing listed species communities'. However, concerns were expressed that 'there
appears to be little emphasis placed on maintaining the currency of the SPRAT
profiles and this inevitably compromises the value of the register'.
- The National Environmental Research Program (NERP) through which:
...the Australian Government has dedicated around $20 million
per year over the period 2011-2015 for research into key environmental issues,
including research priorities that aim to better inform the protection and
management of threatened species and ecological communities. NERP comprises
five large research hubs researching priority biodiversity issues in
terrestrial and marine ecosystems across Australia, including Northern
Australia, the Great Barrier Reef, Torres Strait and tropical rainforests.
There is also funding available within the program for addressing emerging
priority information needs, such as identifying the quality and extent of koala
habitat, identifying priorities for managing invasive plant species in the Lake
Eyre Basin and improving the efficiency of environmental flows in the Murray
- BushBlitz—a partnership of government, non-government
organisations and industry, managed by the Australian Biological Resources
Study within SEWPAC, which documents plants and animals, including threatened
species, in properties across Australia’s National Reserve System:
Since the program began in 2010, Bush Blitz has discovered
about 600 new and undescribed species and has added thousands of species to
what is already known – providing baseline scientific data that will help us
protect our biodiversity for generations to come.
- The Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research
and the Australian National Botanic Gardens in relation to threatened plant
species. It was noted that the Australian National Botanic Gardens:
...has a major role in the conduct of research into threatened
plants and ex situ conservation. The Gardens cultivates selected species,
maintains seed banks as an insurance against extinction in the wild, and
supports species recovery actions such as reintroduction and translocation of
The committee heard strong evidence that money 'spent on threatened
species could be spent more effectively', with a more strategic,
targeted approach being taken to fund threatened species management.
For example, BirdLife Australia believed that, in recent years, Commonwealth
funding for threatened species has been 'haphazard', with little coordination
of funding, and the 'dissipation of much effort into small projects that
deliver little benefit'.
A range of approaches were discussed, including 'triage' and
'prioritisation' approaches to conservation. While used in a medical context,
triage is the process of determining the priority of patients'
treatments based on the severity of their condition. In a
conservation context, triage has been described as 'the process of prioritising
the allocation of limited resources to maximise conservation returns, relative
to the conservation goals, under a constrained budget'.
However, some were wary of so-called 'triage' approaches. It was
suggested that we should not 'give up' on certain species, but we should treat
all threatened species as worth saving.
For example, Dr Burbidge expressed concern that:
If we say we give up on the most threatened and most difficult
species now and then we have some slightly less difficult ones, which will get
very difficult in the future and we give up on them as well, it is just the
thin end of the wedge towards a long, slow disappearing of lots of things.
Certainly we need to look at priorities in terms of funding now and where that
money might be best spent, but I think triage is a very negative and 'Let's
give up' type of idea.
The Australasian Bat Society insisted we should not accept species
Debates about species triage is an indication that
Governments are not committing enough resources to the protection and
management of Australia's threatened species and communities...We should not have
to choose whether to save a species or not, and advancing a concept based on
the reality of triage means accepting that we should be comfortable with
current levels of funding and inefficient processes.
Mr Fleming from the AWC expressed the view that:
We can do a lot with the existing funding if it is allocated
the right way...As long as we are investing the funds that we have correctly, we
should be able to save everything.
However, Mr Fleming emphasised the need for clear objectives and
accountability for funding projects:
Any project that seeks funding should have a clear objective...in
terms of species. A, B, C, D will have their populations increased by a certain
amount. Then you need to demonstrate that what you are going to do on the
ground will deliver that increase, and you need to report on that increase.
These are all fairly simple principles, I think, but they have not found their
way into a lot of the government programs.
Most submitters seemed to agree that funds relating to threatened
species and ecological communities could be spent more efficiently and more
For this reason, many submissions expressed support for some form of a
'prioritisation approach' to allocating funding in relation to threatened
They recommended that governments allocate limited funding to prevent large
numbers of species from becoming at risk rather than large sums of funds on
For example, Wildlife Queensland expressed the view that:
...with the limited funds available it is necessary to
determine where those funds are best focussed to achieve the best outcome.
While the loss of one species is one too many, is it better to stop a number of
species from becoming endangered or at risk than spend large sums of money on
recovery plans that have limited chance of success.
Professor Hugh Possingham and Associate Professor Michael McCarthy put
forward their 'rational prioritisation approach', arguing that 'given a limited
budget for threatened species management, we must prioritise which species to
protect and which actions to undertake'. They explained:
Our research shows that rational use of cost and success
information in prioritisation substantially increases the number of species
managed. The use of a rational prioritisation approach, inclusive of
conservation costs and likelihood of success, will deliver the greatest
outcomes for threatened species. This approach, developed by our researchers
over the past few years, has been successfully used to more than double the
number of species that will be secured.
They also stressed the importance of defining a clear objective:
For example, is the objective to avert extinctions yet
allowing for the continued declines of other species or is it to recover
species to remove them from the threatened list (we cannot currently do both)...
Associate Professor McCarthy explained that their 'rational
prioritisation approach' considers the benefit, the expected change, the risk
of extinction and the cost: 'It is just a case of multiplying the benefit by
the change and extinction and dividing by the cost, and you have your index'.
In other words:
Essentially you think of the benefits you can achieve by
protecting a particular species which would essentially be how much you can
reduce the risk of extinction and, to some extent, how much you care about that
species. You can measure how much benefit you will receive if you spend a
certain amount of money. Essentially the ratio of those two numbers gives you
how important it is and you can list the species according to that index. It is
a basic cost-benefit analysis. It is a really simple way to do this
Associate Professor McCarthy further explained 'the idea would be that
you would factor into the prioritisation the public's perception of the value
of losing or saving particular species'.
For example, in New Zealand, kiwis and the kakapo were 'quarantined' from the
prioritisation process, as iconic New Zealand animals.
The committee received evidence that several jurisdictions have
implemented prioritisation frameworks, including Queensland, Tasmania and New
In 2005, the Queensland government commenced implementation of its 'Back
on Track' program, which was 'the first species prioritisation framework to be
implement in Australia'.
The Queensland Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection submitted that
'Back on Track was developed to enable to strategic allocation of conservation
resources to recover the greatest number of threatened species'.
He told the committee that threatened species are priorities 'on the basis of
status (probability of extinction), consequence of extinction (value) and the
potential for successful recovery. This framework is in place, and is now due
However, the Australasian Bat Society was critical of the Back on Track
programme, expressing concern that the program was based on a 'poorly derived
set of criteria'.
Birdlife Australia also noted that some states have recently developed
prioritisation approaches, with 'varying degrees of success'. They indicated
The Tasmanian process is a good example: it calculated that
171 threatened species on the priority list and could all be secured over a 50
year period for an estimated cost of approximately $155 million.
The committee was also heard that New Zealand has recently implemented a
prioritisation approach to threatened species funding, and that 'as a result
about twice as many species are being protected as would have been the case
prior to going through this process'.
Associate Professor McCarthy further explained the New Zealand process:
They made a list. They thought, 'We've got this amount of
money,' and went down the list. The things that were towards the bottom of the
list lost out. They can now work on more than 300 species that are receiving
funding to try and help prevent their further decline and extinction. Prior to
that, there was about half that number. They are able to work on more species,
essentially, with the same amount of money. That is also beneficial. In this case,
the Department of Conservation in New Zealand was able to show the government
that they were able to spend the money efficiently.
However, others were doubtful about prioritisation. For example, Dr Todd
Soderquist and Dr Deborah Ashworth believed that prioritisation processes 'are
inherently flawed and will lead to an illogical misallocation of conservation
resources'. They went on to explain:
In theory, the cheapest and most feasible recovery projects
end up at the top of the list and the most expensive and least feasible at the
bottom... The simplicity of this approach is very seductive...Yet, for these
prioritisation models to have any meaning, they require that all input is
correct... that all essential actions for each species be identified decades in
They further believed that 'attempts to implement the outcomes of
prioritisation models are failing' and that:
Success in threatened species management is better achieved
by constant rebalancing of resources based on field evidence; adaptive implementation
with transparent peer review; and acceptance that expert guesses should not
dictate calcified decisions. This is readily achieved by adjusting
organisational policy, philosophy and training.
However, it was submitted that decisions are being made all the time
about where to allocate funding for threatened species and ecological
communities, and it is better to do that under a systematic, rational
framework. For example, Ms Rachel Lowry from Zoos Victoria observed that it is
not always clear under the current system why some species get funding and
others do not:
...for example, the Baw Baw frog—has had a decline in its
population of over 98 per cent in the last 20 years yet has had funding pulled
to even monitor the species. Yet you look at other species, such as the
Tasmanian devil, which—rightly so—is receiving quite a large portion of
support...we lack a framework across our nation that helps organisations like
ours understand why decisions are being made...
BirdLife Australia argued that prioritisation approaches:
...help ensure that funds are directed to taxa genuinely in
need to minimise the chances of further extinction. The process should involve
a high degree of public participation and transparency (e.g. funding
allocations should be published on an annual basis and open to public comment).
Associate Professor McCarthy argued that their prioritisation approach
simply focuses the recovery planning process and 'does greater good for the
same amount of money'.
He observed that prioritisation 'gets presented as a cold, hard decision', but
...hard decisions are being made regardless of how we do it,
simply because we do not have enough money and resources being spent across
Australia by federal government and state government. There is also a lot of
investment by individuals and organisations putting a lot of time and, in some
cases, money into saving threatened species. Across all of that, there is just
not enough, so we are making hard decisions anyway and giving some species less
chance than others. We think it is just better to do that rationally, because
otherwise we are going to be sorely disappointed in decades time when a lot of
other species that we had not thought about have declined severely or gone
Government agencies and departments seemed to be supportive of a more
strategic approach to threatened species funding. For example, AFMA submitted
that we need to find 'more cost effective solutions for dealing with threatened
One solution is to develop formal and transparent risk-based
approaches to species status and priority. AFMA has done this for its fisheries
over the past five years, starting with almost 2,000 species it is now focused
on less than 70.
The Director of National Parks also seemed to accept that:
It is inevitable that priorities need to be set in threatened
species conservation. The resources required to implement all current and
proposed recovery plans and to reverse the multiple threatening processes are
beyond what are realistically likely to be available to government and non‑government
agencies alike....it would be an advance to adopt a more objective basis for
establishing priorities, one which gave greater emphasis to relative
conservation status, taxonomic distinctiveness and the importance of ecosystem
function in identifying target species. However, consensus on an appropriate
regime would be difficult to achieve.
The Director of National Parks further observed:
There are analogies, actually, with the public health system.
How much do you put into preventative health—that is, managing the whole
system—versus the emergency care, the hospitals?...How much do you put into the
large scale? How much do you put into the fine scale? There are no right
answers to this.
When asked whether the department has considered prioritisation
approaches, SEWPAC responded as follows:
Prioritisation and decision-making tools may assist in
achieving systematic and defensible biodiversity investment decisions.
Consistent with the Australian government's response to the independent review
of the EPBC Act, the department is committed to developing better
prioritisation processes and decision-making tools that increase transparency,
accountability and efficiency in prioritising resource allocation to threatened
species conservation effort.
At the same time, SEWPAC expressed some caution:
Various tools and approaches are promoted by sectors of the
scientific community and have engendered some level of interest and debate
within the scientific, conservation management and government spheres. These
need to be carefully examined to assess which are the most appropriate for
resolving threatened species prioritisation issues. 
SEWPAC informed the committee that:
The department is engaged in exploring these approaches with
state and territory jurisdictions and is working collaboratively with the
Australian government's National Environmental Research Program Environmental
Decisions Hub on a project to examine the potential of a national approach.
Representatives from SEWPAC also told the committee that:
...the reality is that we should be focusing much more on the
outcome that we are trying to achieve and perhaps have some more flexibility in
what are the best tools that we can adapt to the particular circumstances of
individual species or groups of species and to really look at how we can bring
those limited resources to bear on how to get the best outcome in terms of
protection and recovery of species and communities rather than saying that
there is one particular approach that will deliver everything for everyone.
Proposals including for a separate
biodiversity statutory authority
Several submissions argued that there is a need for an independent body
and/or separate statutory authority to oversee and/or regulate threatened
species protection and biodiversity conservation.
For example, the Wentworth Group suggested that an Independent Environment
Commission be established.
The Invasive Species Council put forward a proposal for a national body
entitled 'Environment Health Australia'—along the lines of Animal Health
Australia and Plant Health Australia, primarily to address environmental
biosecurity issues—for example, 'to develop and promote more ecologically
informed approaches to protect species, ecological communities and ecological
processes from invasive species'.
Another suggestion was that Australia needs a national genome storage
network facility to store and retrieve the genomes of our Australian's native
wildlife. He noted that there are seed bank schemes to store the genomes of
plants, but there is no equivalent for animals.
The committee recognises evidence from the department that the
Biodiversity Strategy is an overarching guiding framework. However, the
committee acknowledges evidence that its targets are not sufficiently focussed
on threatened species and ecological communities. Further, it is disappointing
that the targets are considered to be 'aspirational'. Nevertheless, the
committee welcomes the targets that have been set, and in particular the target
to establish a national long-term biodiversity monitoring and reporting system.
However, the committee recommends that, when the Biodiversity Strategy is
reviewed in 2015, consideration is given to incorporating concrete targets that
reflect the 'Aichi' targets agreed to by Australia under the Biodiversity
The committee recommends that, when the Biodiversity Strategy is
reviewed in 2015, consideration is given to incorporating concrete targets that
reflect the targets agreed to by Australia under the Biodiversity Convention.
However, the committee also recognises the importance of action on‑the‑ground.
As Mr Cosier told the committee 'we do not need more strategies'. In this
context, the committee heard that it is crucial to fund on-ground work to
protect and manage threatened species and ecological communities.
The committee recognises that a mix of landscape and species-specific
programs are appropriate. However the committee is concerned that, in recent
years, government policy and programs have been too focussed on 'landscape'
solutions. The committee recognises that many threats operate at a landscape
scale, and that protecting landscapes also protects habitats. While there is a
legitimate place for protecting landscapes, it should not be exclusive: there
is also a need to consider and target specific species. In particular, the
committee is persuaded by evidence that there is a need for targeted funding
streams directed to threatened species and ecological communities. As discussed
in earlier chapters of this report, this should include funding for
implementation of specific actions within recovery plans, conservation advices and
threat abatement plans and advices.
The committee considers that this funding could be sourced by realigning
existing funding programs, such as Caring for our Country and the Biodiversity
Fund, and generally diverting funding from bureaucratic outcomes towards
on-ground action. The committee also recognises the need for longer-term
funding in relation to threatened species and ecological communities, and
suggests that this be considered when establishing targeted funding streams.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth government adjusts
current funding under the Biodiversity Fund and Caring for our Country to
provide targeted funding streams for threatened species and ecological
communities. This dedicated funding should include funding for implementation
of specific actions within recovery plans, conservation advices and threat
abatement plans and advices.
In particular, the committee recognises the evidence outlined in Chapter
4 of this report that feral animals and fire regimes are two of the biggest
threats to threatened species and communities. Funding programs should
therefore give high priority to on‑ground projects addressing feral
animals and fire regimes.
In light of the evidence that feral animals and fire regimes are two of
the biggest threats to threatened species and communities, the committee
recommends that funding programs give high priority to on-ground projects
addressing feral animals and fire regimes.
The committee was concerned to hear that funding has declined for
threatened species over recent years.
However, it is also essential that funding for threatened species programs is
spent effectively and efficiently. The committee heard evidence that, even with
modest amounts of money it is possible to have a significant and positive
impact, provided the money is spent wisely and in an accountable, strategic
manner. The committee is persuaded by evidence that the current approach to
threatened species funding is ad hoc, unstrategic and unsystematic.
The committee recognises that, when it comes to work projects for
threatened species and ecological communities, it is important to ensure that
there is an accountability framework for those projects. We need to set priorities,
concrete targets and objectives and measure and report performance towards
In particular, when funding relevant projects, there is a need to ensure
that initial baselines are established against which success and progress can
be measured and benchmarked. This will also enable the identification of
projects that are achieving successes and for which funding should be
The committee recommends that all funding grants under relevant Commonwealth
government programs, whether for the management of threatened species,
ecological communities, threatening species or invasive species should include
metrics to establish initial benchmarks and requirements to measure the
outcomes from the project against those initial benchmarks.
The committee notes the evidence, from organisations and individuals
such as Birdlife Australia and Professor Woinarski, of the need for longer-term
funding, especially in recognition of the fact that threatened species recovery
can be a long‑term process and it can take time to achieve meaningful and
lasting differences. The committee recommends that this is recognised in
relevant Commonwealth funding programs for threatened species, and that there
should be some provisions for funding grants to be awarded over longer
timeframes, subject to ongoing success against measured objectives.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth government adjust
relevant funding programs to enable funding grants relevant to threatened
species and ecological communities to be awarded over longer timeframes, subject
to ongoing success against measured objectives.
In terms of allocating funding, the committee is particularly persuaded
by evidence of the urgent need for a national prioritisation approach to identify
funding priorities in relation to threatened species and ecological
communities, which in turn would improve the efficiency and effectiveness of
spending in this area. The committee notes with frustration SEWPAC's evidence
that it is 'exploring approaches' and working on a project to 'examine the
potential of a national approach'.
The committee believes that, under the current ad hoc approach, processes to
award funding are in any case giving priority to certain problems, with
seemingly little strategic thought being given to which species need funding more
than others. The committee acknowledges that formal prioritisation may require
some difficult decisions to be made, but funding should be provided for work
that will deliver the most valuable and achievable outcomes for species.
The committee therefore recommends that the Commonwealth government
develop and implement a national species prioritisation program to guide
decision-making in relation to funding for threatened species and ecological
communities. However, it is important that any prioritisation list is regularly
reviewed based on the latest available scientific evidence.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth government develop and
implement a national species prioritisation program to guide decision-making in
relation to funding for threatened species and ecological communities. This
program should be regularly reviewed based on the best available scientific
The committee also acknowledges evidence that more work is needed for surveys,
mapping, monitoring and research relating to threatened species and ecological
communities. The committee notes that efforts are being made in this regard. In
particular, the committee notes SEWPAC's evidence that the Commonwealth government
is working towards a national biodiversity monitoring system, and the current
work on a system of national environment accounts. The committees notes that,
under the Biodiversity Strategy, the national biodiversity monitoring and
reporting system should be established by 2015.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth government establish the
national biodiversity monitoring system and system of national environment
accounts by 2015, as recommended by the Hawke review and Australia's
Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010–30.
The committee also noted the evidence that there are a number of
existing research programs, networks and databases that aim to improve access
to information, research and data about biodiversity, including for example,
the National Environmental Research Program, the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research
Network, the National Species Profile and Threat Register. The committee
considers that maximum value should be extracted from these programs to
implement the monitoring and accounting frameworks recommended.
The committee also notes evidence that, under the US Endangered Species legislation,
relevant agencies are required to report to US Congress on the status of each
and every threatened species listed under that legislation. The committee
considers that Australia would benefit from a similar arrangement. The
committee therefore recommends that SEWPAC report, as part of the regular
preparation of national accounts to parliament, on the status of EPBC-listed
threatened species and communities.
The committee recommends that the Environment Protection and Biodiversity
Conservation Act 1999 be amended to require the Department of
Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities report, as part
of the regular preparation of national accounts to Parliament on the status of
species, and communities listed as threatened under the Environment
Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
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