Labor Senators' Additional Comments

The actions of Mr Taylor

This interim report focuses on challenges facing threatened ecological communities of protected native grasslands. These challenges have been compounded by the actions of the Hon Angus Taylor MP (Mr Taylor), the current Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, in relation to a compliance case involving the Natural Temperate Grasslands of the South Eastern Highlands, where Mr Taylor holds a financial interest in property.
Mr Taylor has consistently failed to declare his financial interest in Jam Land Pty Ltd, a company under investigation by his own department, in breach of his obligations both to the Parliament and under the Statement of Ministerial Standards.
Labor is concerned by the failure of the Prime Minister to take action to enforce his own Standards and condemns the Morrison Government for putting its own political interests and the private interests of Mr Taylor, ahead of the interests of Australians.
The Australian people deserve a Government that will act in the best interests of the people they serve, not their own interests.

Cuts to the Department

Labor Senators are concerned about reports that funding for the Department of Environment and Energy (Department) has been cut by almost 40 per cent since the Coalition took office in 2013.1 Previous reports made by this committee have noted that there has been inconsistent and insufficient funding for implementation of the Environment Protection Biodiversity and Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
Labor Senators support the recommendations outlined in the Chair's interim report, noting that strong regulations are important for the protection of species, and believe that threatened species listings should not be undermined for political purposes.
Labor Senators' additional comments pay regard to the role of underresourcing of the Department responsible for threatened species, and the importance of strong regulation, including for the protection of species from undue political interference.
The world is facing an extinction crisis, and on some measures Australia is considered the extinction capital of the world.2 In the last decade, Australia has seen the extinction of the Christmas Island pipistrelle (a bat), the Bramble Cay melomys (a native rat) and the Christmas Island forest skink.3 According to more than 240 conservation scientists who recently wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison calling for action, another 17 Australian species could become extinct in the next 20 years.4
Labor believes the Australian Government has an enduring responsibility to protect Australia's environment and natural resources. The EPBC Act remains the main way in which the federal government manages threatened species.
Some species listed under the Act are required to have a recovery plan, which sets out the research and management action necessary to stop the decline of, and support the recovery of, listed threatened species or ecological communities. According to the Department's website, the aim of the recovery plan is to maximise the long term survival in the wild of a threatened species or ecological community.5
The Department advised that 919 threatened species or ecological communities require a recovery plan. Only 120 species and six ecological communities have had recovery plans made or adopted since the Coalition took office in 2013. Only five recovery plans were made or adopted in 2018-19, according to the Department's most recent annual report, none of which were completed within the statutory timeframe (which is three years with an extension of three years). Labor Senators are concerned by reports that some of the recovery plans have taken 12 years to complete, and that most of the plans are now outdated.6
Management of threatened species, including the development of recovery plans, is the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment and the Department.
Funding for threatened species is predominantly drawn from the Natural Heritage Trust Special Account, which has had its budget reduced over the forward estimates.7
Dr Sue McIntyre, a former member of the Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC), provided evidence to the committee in a private capacity at a public hearing. The TSSC is responsible for providing independent scientific advice about threatened species to the Minister for the Environment. Dr McIntyre recalls the impact of the lack of resources:
I also served on the Threatened Species Scientific Committee for three years from 2012. In that position I became quite aware of the extent to which limited resources are affecting the effectiveness of the EPBC Act and the recovery actions taken.8
Labor Senators are concerned about the Morrison Government's failure to protect species, and the prospective weakening of protections under the guise of reducing so-called 'green tape' through the ten-yearly EPBC Act review.
Labor Senators note that while the review panel comprises eminent Australians with expertise in regulation and the design processes of regulators, absent from this panel is an ecologist, environmental scientist, or someone from a similar discipline, as noted by University of New England ecologist Dr Manu Saunders.9
Strong regulation is fundamental to the protection of species, in that enforcement of compliance with the law and ministerial standards is vital to avoiding the extinction of our most beloved species.
Labor Senators do not want to see the koala, the platypus and other vital species put at risk by unethical ministerial behaviour, and under-resourcing of the Department. Labor Senators condemn the government for undermining the effectiveness of the nation's environment laws by failing to devote the resources needed for those laws to work better, in everyone's interests.
Labor Senators thank all organisations and individuals that made submissions to this inquiry and gave evidence at hearings, as well as the Secretariat for their ongoing research and administrative support.
Senator Anne UrquhartSenator Marielle Smith
Senator Nita Green

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