Australian Greens Minority Report
Introduction – a serious problem
The Australian Greens acknowledge the evidence set out in the
Committee's report, and we support its recommendations. However, we remain
concerned that the Committee's recommendations are focused on further reviews
and investigations while there are concrete solutions on the table already. We
are also concerned that the Committee has not adequately acknowledged that
environmental biosecurity poses a very serious problem for Australia, and that
institutional change is required if we are to address it.
As discussed in the Committee's report, it is difficult to measure rates
of incursion and naturalisation of invasive species, and it is difficult to
settle on a benchmark for success given that it is impossible to eliminate risk
completely. Unfortunately it is clear that whatever benchmark is used,
Australia's biosecurity system is failing our environment.
As submitted by the Invasive Species Council (ISC), Australia's record
on environmental biosecurity is poor:
Australia is a world leader in the extent of invasive species
threats to the environment. Invasive species have already caused the extinction
of more than 40 Australian mammals, birds and frogs, and are second only to
habitat loss in the numbers of Australian species and ecological communities
they threaten. We lead the world in mammal extinctions due to invasive
predators, and many more mammals are on the brink...Australia's most recent State
of the Environment report (2011) gave the worst possible ratings for invasive
species impacts on biodiversity: 'very high' and 'deteriorating', and found
that management outcomes and outputs are 'ineffective'.
Many other submitters to the inquiry concurred that environmental
biosecurity is prioritised below biosecurity for industry and human health, and
that performance has been poor as a result.
Importantly, the Beale Review of biosecurity in 2008 and the Hawke Review of
the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC
Act) in 2010, reached the same conclusion, finding that pathways and risks were
poorly understood, institutional arrangements were inadequate, and risks to the
environment have not received high priority for funding compared to risks to
Assertions from the federal Departments of Agriculture and Environment
that environmental biosecurity is 'effectively managed using a risk-based
and the implication that the environment is adequately protected by the current
arrangements are concerning, and indicate an alarming unwillingness to change
In particular, the federal Departments did not give any indication that
they were willing to change their approach apart from proposing to 'continue to
integrate environmental issues into existing governance structures, functions
and activities and to strengthen collaboration and consultation with relevant
stakeholders, including community members.'
This is effectively a prescription for business as usual.
The submission of the ISC was endorsed by 30 environment organisations
including the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Humane Society
International, the Wilderness Society, State conservation councils and many
others. The Australian Greens agree with the ISC's conclusion that Australia's
environmental biosecurity system has 'serious, systemic flaws including
ineffective institutional arrangements and processes and insufficient funding'.
Environment Health Australia
The Australian Greens support the call for a new national body similar
to Environment Health Australia (EHA) as proposed by the ISC. This body would
bring together major participants in environmental biosecurity and involve the
community sector in order to improve Australia's environmental biosecurity
preparedness, improve capacity, conduct prioritisation, monitor and report on
progress. Crucially, EHA would provide a separate voice in decision making and
EHA is supported by the ISC and the 30 environment organisations which
have endorsed its primary submission; other highly credible submitters also
acknowledge that institutional arrangements are inadequate. The CSIRO submitted
There are currently few resourced institutional arrangements
for environmental biosecurity to underpin a timely, coordinated and
collaborative approach to prevent and reduce the adverse impacts of invasive
species in Australia.
The CSIRO also identified some concrete examples of the failures partly
caused by a lack of dedicated focus within the system on environmental
biosecurity. In particular, no assessment and prioritisation of species
threatening the environment has been conducted since 2009.
Environmental consultancy Wild Matters also identified that
recommendations relating to prioritisation and surveillance of high-risk
pathways in the Beale Review, Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity (IGAB),
National Environmental Biosecurity Response Agreement (NEBRA) and the National Invasive Plant Surveillance Framework
have not been implemented.
We acknowledge arguments against the establishment of a body similar to
EHA from the Departments of Agriculture and Environment, but in light of the
government's failure to acknowledge that major change is required, we recommend
that EHA be established. The Departments and Animal Health Australia were
concerned that the creation of an additional agency would further fragment the
However, without a separate voice inside government it is clear that the
current system is failing the environment.
The Department of the Environment is scheduled to lose 670 staff, or
about one quarter of its workforce by 2017–18 as a result of recent budget
cuts. Expecting the Department to continue even the current inadequate level of
activity is therefore entirely unreasonable. A separate body with dedicated
responsibility for long-term planning according to environmental priorities is
Many players are understandably concerned that scarce resources may be
diverted from current activities to fund EHA if it were established, so we
emphasise that resources for EHA should be new funding and must not come at the
expense of front line services or biosecurity planning in other areas.
The Australian Greens recommend that the government establish and
resource the proposed Environment Health Australia that can act as the key body
for environment health in the same manner as Plant Health Australia and Animal
Health Australia, and that this body establish a partnership between community,
governments and environmental businesses in order to deliver high priority
policy and planning in environmental biosecurity.
The Australian Greens recommend that the federal government fund
Environment Health Australia on an equal footing with Plant Health Australia
and Animal Health Australia and at a minimum level of $20 million over 5 years,
with co-contribution from State and Territory governments of at least $10 million
over 5 years. This funding must not come out of existing funding for
Environmental Biosecurity planning and review
The Australian Greens support the recommendations of the Committee
relating to proposed reviews of the functioning of the environmental
biosecurity system, but we believe that those reviews should be undertaken by a
newly-established EHA. In addition to the recommendations of the Committee, we
propose several other bodies of work for the new EHA to undertake.
The newly-established Environment Health Australia should,
through a transparent, scientific process, identify and rank Australia's
priority environmental biosecurity threats. Undertake pathway analysis of these
high priority threats to identify where biosecurity should be focused.
The newly-established Environment Health Australia should develop
a timetable for bringing environmental biosecurity planning up to the level
achieved for plant and animal industries.
The newly-established Environment Health Australia should, within
3 years, develop contingency plans for 30 high priority environmental
The newly-established Environment Health Australia should
establish an independent expert panel to review recent incursions and to
recommend ongoing responses to those incursions and reforms to reduce the risks
of future incursions. An immediate priority should be to review whether smooth
newts are eradicable.
The Australian Greens remain supportive of the highly regarded Beale
Review and believe that the government should capitalise on the widespread
support for the Beale Review by implementing its key recommendation to create a
separate Biosecurity Agency.
We refer to our Additional Comments in the Rural and Regional Affairs
and Transport Legislation Committee inquiry into the Biosecurity Bill 2014 and
which contain further detail on our position in relation to the Beale Review.
The Australian Greens recommend that the federal government
implement the key recommendations of the Beale Review, in particular the
creation of a separate Biosecurity Agency, with a Director that is separate
from the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture.
Yellow crazy ants
There are many dangerous invasive species with potentially devastating
impacts on biodiversity, but the Australian Greens wish to draw particular
attention to yellow crazy ants to support recent calls for funding and to serve
as an example of how the current system is failing the environment.
Yellow crazy ants have infested an area of the Wet Tropics World
Heritage Area, which is home to 60% of Australia's butterfly species and 32% of
our vertebrate species, with 12% of those species found nowhere else in
Australia. Thirty animal species and 74 plant species which are threatened
under the EPBC Act could fall further into danger as a result of this
As Dr Lori Lach submitted, the cost of doing nothing and allowing yellow
crazy ants to take over is likely to far outweigh the relatively modest cost of
eradication. A draft cost-benefit analysis conducted in 2012 has revealed that
the cost of inaction to Australia's economy could be up to $3 billion,
including a $58 million cost to agriculture.
This figure may still understate the true costs, as Dr Lach has submitted,
since it failed to consider loss of property values, declines in tourism and
impacts of pesticides on the Great Barrier Reef.
Of course, monetary costs are a severely limited way of assessing the
impact of biodiversity loss, and Australia has international obligations to
safeguard biodiversity under the Convention on Biological Diversity. As
Dr Lach observed, 'How do you put a dollar amount on the Cairns birdwing
butterfly going extinct?'.
The fact that the costs of environmental destruction cannot easily be
reduced to dollar values is yet another reason why a strong independent voice
for the environment is desperately needed. In this respect, yellow crazy ants
serve as a useful example of the way delay, lack of coordination and a failure
to prioritise and fund environmental protection has plagued the biosecurity
Delay caused by decisions under the NEBRA and by the Queensland
government to shift away from eradication have led to a blow-out in the
infested area from an estimated 300 hectares in 2012 to around 804 hectares in
The Australian Greens support recent calls by the new head of the Wet
Tropics Management Authority, Mr Scott Buchanan, for funding of at least
$1.3 million per year for 10 years to eradicate yellow crazy ants in the
The Queensland or federal governments should urgently allocate at
least $1.3 million per year for at least 10 years towards the eradication
program for yellow crazy ants before more time is lost to delay.
Waters Senator Rachel Siewert
Senator for Queensland Senator
for Western Australia
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