Australian Greens' additional comments
The Australian Greens were very pleased that the Senate
agreed to undertake this important inquiry proposed by the Greens into the
effectiveness of threatened species and ecological communities' protection in Australia.
Commencing late last year, this inquiry attracted a large
number of submissions from environmental experts, community organisations and
individuals working across Australia to protect our threatened species. In
total almost 180 submissions were received, demonstrating the considerable
community concern for the plight of our native fauna and desire for federal
leadership on this issue.
Hearings were held in Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and
Perth, where the Committee heard first hand from some of Australia's top
biodiversity experts, as well as concerned and highly informed community
To everyone who contributed their time, perspectives and
expertise to this inquiry – thank you.
The Greens agree with many of the majority report's recommendations.
But sadly they still fall well short of what's needed to turn around Australia's
Australia is recognised globally as "mega-diverse"
- over 80% of our mammals, reptiles and flowering plants exist only in
Australia. But Australia's wildlife is facing an extinction crisis. Many of our
iconic and important animals and plants are classified as in danger of becoming
Our threatened species don't just include obscure critters –
Australia's iconic species like the koala and Tasmanian devil are in serious
Australia currently has an extinction rate 1000 times the 'natural'
or background rate of extinction. The Greens are extremely concerned about the
reticence of the old parties to tackle this issue properly. Australia's
threatened unique species and ecological communities need urgent protection.
The report recognised that climate change is one of the most
significant threats to Australia's biodiversity (para 4.47), and that this was
an issue raised by a significant number of submitters to the inquiry. Yet the
majority committee makes no recommendation on opportunities to address climate
change mitigation. There is no acknowledgement that while the carbon price is
starting to drive the transition away from fossil fuels, both old parties are
still committed to the expansion of our coal exports by 70 per cent.
Furthermore, the old parties are also vocal supporters of massive investment in
new fossil fuel industries, including coal seam gas and shale gas. According to
the International Energy Agency, two thirds of fossil fuel reserves must stay
in the ground if we are to have a reasonable chance of limiting global warming
to 2 degrees Celsius and saving Australia's unique species.
Australians know they can trust the Greens to act on climate
change, unlike the old parties. We have a strong clear policy: we are in a
climate emergency, Australia should not green light any more coal and coal seam
On the issue of reducing the impacts of climate change on
our species, the Senate inquiry recognises the importance of the $946
Biodiversity Fund negotiated by the Greens as part of the carbon package. The
majority report notes that the Biodiversity Fund is a key national funding
arrangement for the protection of threatened species and ecological communities
[para 6.1]. They also recognise that many submitters expressed concern that
funding for threatened species and ecosystems is 'grossly inadequate' [para
Yet the report merely notes in passing that since its establishment
the much celebrated $926 million Biodiversity Fund has been subject to two
separate raids from the Labor Government – first in May of this year, and then
in July. These raids amounted to $470 million being stripped from this critical
fund – and yet the report passes no judgement on this shameful reduction in
Neither of the old parties have any commitment to reinstate
the Biodiversity Fund. In fact, Mr Abbott wants to scrap the carbon price all
together, and with it the Biodiversity Fund.
Future generations of Australians will suffer the
consequences of these short-sighted cuts.
With our biodiversity under so much pressure this is a
tragic loss for Australia's environment. The Australian Greens have committed
to reversing this funding and restoring the full $946 to the Biodiversity Fund,
consistent with the original agreement with the Government.
National environmental responsibilities must stay with the federal
The other enormous issue ignored by this report is the
importance of continued federal government regulation of Australia's most
environmentally damaging projects. With our biodiversity in decline and the
states' poor track record on environment issues, it is completely inappropriate
for the states to be delegated responsibilities for our nationally protected
animals and their habitats. Yet this is currently possible under our national
environment laws, and big business have put in a huge lobbying effort to get
these Howard-era provisions acted on so that business will be given an even
easier ride for environmentally destructive activities under state governments.
The report acknowledges the concerns raised about such a
handover by a very large number of submitters, yet the majority report dismissed
this as having already been dealt with in an earlier inquiry. This earlier
inquiry by the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee,
into a bill by the Greens proposing to remove these 'approvals bilateral'
- The committee was presented with no compelling evidence to show
how an approval agreement would improve business efficiency [para 2.12];
- The committee is concerned that if the Commonwealth were to lose
its oversight and approval power in relation to matters for national
environmental significance, this may encourage competitive federalism [ para
The committee's view is that it is not appropriate for the states
and territories to exercise decision making powers for approvals in relation to
matters of national environmental significance. [para 2.47].
Yet both the old parties have failed to act.
Tony Abbott's environment policy appeals directly to his
mates in the big end of town: Mr Abbott and his Coalition are committed to
handing off key federal environment protection powers to his state cronies,
putting state governments in control of our internationally significant places
and wildlife. If state governments had sole control of national environment law
in the past, the Franklin River would be dammed, there would be oil rigs in the
Great Barrier Reef, cattle grazing in the Alpine National Park, and Traveston
Dam would have gone ahead.
We can't leave protecting Australia's environment up to the
Following the overwhelming evidence and findings of this
earlier inquiry, the Greens offered to work with Labor to stop such a handover
from being possible, through a Greens bill, motions, and amendments to
Abbott-proof our national environmental laws. But Labor refused every time,
leaving Labor complicit in Tony Abbott's plan, should the opposition win
government, to remove key federal veto powers over destructive development.
Only the Australian Greens can be trusted to stand up for
the long-term national protection needed for our species that are too precious
National protection for national parks
Australia's national parks are home to many of our continent's
unique wildlife and their precious habitats. As our cities grow and industrial
and agricultural activities have expanded, our national parks, where properly
managed, have increasingly become critical refuges for survival of regionally
and nationally threatened species.
The Committee recognised the importance of national parks
across Australia in providing critical habitat for many species, and noted
that, despite the name, National Parks do not have national protection. They
also noted the extensive concerns of many stakeholders that our national parks
are being opened to logging, grazing, tourism developments, and hunting by
reckless state governments, and that our national parks urgently need national
However the old parties yet again failed to act.
On World Environment Day this year, the Australian Greens
announced our commitment to protecting Australia's national parks under our
national environment laws.
The Labor Government has delivered empty promises on
National Parks, while no one expects Mr Abbott to stand in the way of the
excesses of conservative state governments. Only the Greens can be trusted to
protect Australia's national parks.
Protecting our native forests
The Greens are very concerned that the majority report
refused to recognise the clear evidence that the Regional Forests Agreements
framework for 'managing' our precious native forests, which are critical habitat
to any number of threatened species, has failed abysmally.
Shamefully the old parties want to continue to heavily
subsidise logging of our native forests and the remaining habitat of
innumerable threatened species – and they want us to believe that audits and
monitoring of rogue state forestry agencies can deliver for our most vulnerable
species. This is simply not good enough.
Only last week yet another report was released which reveals
how Regional Forest Agreements have led to gross mismanagement of the nation's
forests by state governments, causing a biodiversity crisis in many unique
Our native forests need far greater protection, and the
special forests provisions that exempt regional forest agreements from our
national environment laws must be scrapped.
The Australian Greens have fought for our native forests for
decades, and we will not stop until all of these precious native habitats are
Rehabilitating sick and injured wildlife
Every year hundreds of thousands of Australian native
animals become orphaned, injured or displaced due to habitat loss, poisoning,
car strikes, entanglement in rubbish or barbed wire, or attacks by cats, dogs
or other feral animals.
Too many of our native animals die slow tortured deaths as a
result of these incidents. Others are lucky to be rescued by one of the
thousands of committed, caring volunteers who work across Australia and where
possible rehabilitate these creatures for release back into the wild.
In New South Wales alone, WIRES reports that their 2200
volunteers help rescue and care for 56,000 animals every year, and respond to
over 100,000 calls for advice on sick and injured wildlife. With the mounting
threats of encroaching human activities and increasing feral predators, it is expected
that the demand for these organisations' work will only increase in years to
come. Yet most of our wildlife care organisations receive little if any state
or federal government support for their invaluable work.
The Greens' have announced a $15 million plan to establish a
national grants program of $5 million per annum to:
- Help subsidise food and medical expenses for sick and injured
- Assist with purchase of wildlife care equipment;
Support training programs for our wildlife carers;
Increase our knowledge about successful wildlife care and
- Supporting other activities such as 24 wildlife care advice
hotlines and community education.
With our wildlife under more pressure than ever before, the
Australian Greens believe our wildlife carers deserve more recognition and
support for their invaluable work.
Identifying and protecting critical habitats for threatened species
Remarkably, for all too many of our threatened species their
critical habitats are not even properly mapped, let alone protected. And for
many species we are on track to lose them before we even know they exist – so
much more research is needed to understand our native species and what they
need to survive.
We welcome the Committee's numerous recommendations on critical
habitats. Better identification of critical habitat for our threatened species
and ecological communities is very important. However we are concerned that
currently only critical habitats on Commonwealth land are afforded any legal
protection in their own right. The committee notes this, but makes no
recommendation that would ensure that once mapped these habitats would actually
be protected across Australia.
We would also urge that requiring that mapping of critical
habitat be a prerequisite for listing could lead to dangerous additional delays
in listing of threatened species. If critical habitat information is not
readily available at the time of listing, it should be required to be completed
within a statutory timeframe following listing. We also recommend for ease of
access for the community and project proponents that analysis and mapping of
critical habitat be incorporated into central databases and mapping of
protected matters, not just incorporated into stand-alone conservation advices.
The Greens are strongly committed to better identification
and protection of critical habitats and wildlife corridors across the
The Greens are committed to restoring the $470 million the
Labor Government has stripped from the Biodiversity Fund to help fund better
The Greens have also announced our three year, $120 million
plan to better protect Australia's biodiversity which includes $30 million per
Fund comprehensive studies to identify and map important habitat
nationally (including protected ecological communities, areas of critical
habitat for threatened species and important wildlife corridors); and
- Protect that habitat through bioregional plans that guide
development and establish clear no‐go
zones for different activities within each region across Australia.
These bioregional plans would be developed in partnership
with state and local governments where possible, and rolled out progressively
with priority on high risk biodiversity areas.
Listing of threatened species and ecological communities
The Committee received extensive evidence about the many
shortcomings of our threatened species listings processes. The Invasive Species
Council made the pointed observation that the business sector would be thumping
political tables (and taking out full-page media advertisements) if it took
this long to get their applications assessed and that applications for
environmental destruction whizz through in comparison to nominations for threat
abatement (and also threatened species and ecological communities).
The information gaps, delays and bureaucratic processes that
all combine to prevent adequate protection for species in need are of great
concern to the Greens.
We welcome the various recommendations that seek to improve
the threatened listings process for threatened species and ecological
communities, though we believe more needs to be done.
We particularly welcome the support for emergency listing of
threatened species and ecological communities. As both old parties would be
aware, the Australian Greens have had a bill before the Senate for some time
now that would ensure unlisted species under imminent threat can be afforded
immediate protection under our national environment laws. Had the Labor
Government or the Opposition been prepared to support this Greens bill, the
most vulnerable species across Australia would now be afforded this important
protection. Sadly this did not occur.
The Greens will continue to fight for this protection to be
urgently implemented in the next term of parliament.
We note that a number of the recommendations around listing
of threatened species will require proper resourcing of the federal Environment
Department and the Threatened Species Scientific Committee, and yet only a
limited recommendation goes to the need to increase funding so they can do
their work. Rather there appears to be an ongoing intention from the major
parties to continue to lean far too heavily on the invaluable but extremely
stretched pro bono efforts of many experts and community members to ensure
basic legal protection is provided to our most vulnerable species. This is not
an appropriate structure to underpin a key pillar of Australia's environmental
We do welcome the recommendation for the Threatened Species
Scientific Committee to be able to advise the Minister of research needed to
fill data gaps about threatened species and ecological communities, however
would strongly recommend that these recommendations be published and that the
Minister must respond to the recommendation within three months.
More broadly, the Australian Greens recommend that in the
interest of transparency and improving our overall scientific knowledge base
about our most threatened species and ecological communities, that research,
findings and advice from TSSC and other expert bodies be published with limited
if any exceptions.
As part of the Australian Greens three year, $120 million
plan to better protect Australia's biodiversity we will also provide $10
million per annum to:
- Support the rapid listing of all species and ecological
communities which belong on the threatened list;
- Develop and resource the implementation of recovery plans and
threat abatement plans for listed species and ecological communities; and
- Fund additional research required to help turn around Australia's
Environmental biosecurity and invasives
The inquiry heard extensive evidence on the huge pressure
from invasive species on many of our native plants and animals.
Our three year $120 million plan to protect Australia's
threatened species will include funding to resource the development and
critically the implementation of recovery plans and threat abatement plans for
listed species and ecological communities. The inquiry heard that Recovery
Plans have been adopted for only 30% (508 species) of EPBC listed species, and
that unfortunately that recovery planning has no discernible impact on recovery.
Plans without implementation do not do much good.
As stated above, a key part of our three year $120 million
plan to protect Australia's threatened species will involve rolling out
comprehensive studies that map important habitat nationally and protecting that
habitat through bioregional plans which will be statutory plans. These plans
should also incorporate the findings of threat abatement plans, such as actions
needed to address threats from invasive species.
It's far better to stop environmental pests from getting
established in our natural environment than trying to eradicate established
environmental pests. The Greens have for a long time expressed our significant
concerns that the federal government has consistently failed to fund expertise
and resources for the purposes of identifying, researching and responding to
environmental invasive species. Global movement of people and cargo and impacts
of climate changes mean we need a new approach to diseases and pests that cause
The Greens have announced our plan to create the National
Biosecurity Authority which will involve extra funding of approximately $10
million a year. A key priority of this new Authority will be to increase
expertise and resourcing for environmental invasive species issues. The
Authority will be overseen by a National Biosecurity Commission, a panel of
eminent biosecurity experts charged with making the key decisions to best
protect Australia. The Commission will include experts on environmental
invasive species to provide effective advice and priority for addressing such
Other issues raised in the inquiry
As is noted in the majority report, many submitters consider
funding for threatened species protection 'grossly inadequate' [para 6.16].
While noting this, the majority report gives scant recognition for the fact
that if we want to save our most vulnerable species the total pool of funding
available must be increased. In the few majority report recommendations that
actually go to the issue of funding, the proposal is that funding be "more
targeted" at certain issues – ignoring the fact that that money has to
come from somewhere within the national environment spend, and quite possibly
its current use is equally important. The Greens are concerned that the 'triage'
approach to threatened species funding be adopted in lieu of properly stepping
through what funding is needed to stop biodiversity decline.
The majority report also makes recommendations around a new
concept of 'action plans' to help fast track better management of threatened
species. While we are open to any tools that will effectively address
biodiversity decline turn around we would want any such plans to have strong
statutory underpinning that drives genuine outcomes across the landscape.
We warmly welcome the adoption of clear time bound and
outcomes driven key performance indicators and concrete targets throughout the
environment portfolio, and recommend that these be put in place in such a way
that they cannot simply be buried or shelved in time, if the reality of
environmental decline is uncomfortable for the environment minister of the
day. We would recommend however that monitoring and reporting requirements
imposed on small environmental community organisations be developed in
consultation with these organisations, so as to maximise outcomes without
subjecting volunteer organisations in excessive reporting burdens.
The Australian Greens are also very supportive of having the
regular annual national accounts to Parliament include reports on the status of
EPBC listed species and communities. We are also supportive of the proposal of
an audit of all offsets granted under the EPBC Act to date – and we urge that
this audit be independent, subject to public input, and result in a public
register of offsets that is kept up to date. The Greens have serious concerns
about the use of offsets to wave through otherwise inappropriate developments,
and hope that a thorough audit will bring more credibility to the system, and
clearly identify where offsetting should not be allowed.
We also welcome the review of strategic assessments and
strongly urge that the purpose be to ensure that environmental outcomes are
being delivered. We note the extensive community concern about the current
Great Barrier Reef coastal strategic assessment which appears likely to result
in an arrangement more akin to an approvals bilateral than comprehensive plan
for sustainable development – with the Newman Government, rather than our
national environment minister, responsible for ticking off on developments
impacting the Reef.
We warmly welcome the recommendation that the Australian
National Audit Office conduct an audit of monitoring of compliance with
approvals under the EPBC Act. The Australian Greens have long been concerned
that successive governments have placed far too much reliance on
self-monitoring and reporting and audits procured by the proponents. The
community expects that the regulators responsible for Australia's most
environmentally damaging projects would take a proactive role to ensure very
high levels of compliance with project approvals.
An extensive number of issues were raised by the community
and experts throughout this Senate Inquiry process. The Australian Greens again
wish to thank everyone for their invaluable input. We will continue to draw on
this excellent evidence to further inform our work on these critical issues.
Australia's unique flora and fauna are under pressure like
never before. We urgently need to act now, this year, 2013.
Only the Australian Greens can be trusted to stand up for
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