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Victoria’s nature protection laws need fundamental reform

Monday 31 January 2017

Media release

Victoria's most threatened and vulnerable native species are being let down by poor laws which need fundamental reform, according to Victoria's peak conservation groups.

Environmental Justice Australia, Victorian National Parks Association and Environment Victoria welcome the Victorian Government's public consultation report released today about reform of Victoria's key nature protection law, the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act.

The discussion paper opens the door to a long overdue upgrade.

The groups have long been calling for an overhaul of the FFG Act, saying that it has proven to be woefully ineffective at protecting Victoria's threatened species and natural landscapes.
Sarah Brugler, Lawyer at Environmental Justice Australia said:

"The review of the FFG Act represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Victoria to make much needed improvements to its main nature protection law.

"Today's discussion paper is an important step towards realising the government's election promise to review the FFG Act, but this promise needs to deliver real improvements in the legislation. Victoria needs threatened species laws that actually protect threatened species."

Matt Ruchel, Executive Director at Victorian National Parks Association said:

"Victoria is the most cleared state in Australia; since European settlement 18 species of mammal, two birds, one snake, three types of fish and 51 plants have become extinct in Victoria. Our laws that are supposed to protect nature are clearly not doing their job.

"Between one quarter and one third of all Victoria land-based plants, birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals are considered threatened with extinction. We need to do more to reverse these trends and good nature protection laws are a critical part."

Juliet Le Feuvre, Healthy Rivers Campaign Manager at Environment Victoria said:

"The bush and the unique animals that live there are part of our identity. Victorians care about their environment and want to see strong laws to protect nature. This means treating landscapes as a whole and preparing for how climate change will affect our flora and fauna.

"You can't have a healthy society or a healthy economy without a having a healthy environment, and you can't have a healthy environment if native species are being driven to extinction."

Environment Victoria, EJA and Victorian National Parks Association look forward to working with the Government to ensure that Victoria's nature laws achieve better outcomes for threatened species and natural landscapes in Victoria.

Conservation groups are calling for five key elements to be in new legislation:

- A fair go for threatened species by removing exemptions and special treatments for government departments and some industries.

- Stronger stop and protect powers with clear requirements for the Minister to intervene when important species or habitats are under threat

- A nature cop on the beat with stronger enforcement, real penalties and better monitoring

- Clear targets and timelines to direct investment and programs for threatened species protection and recovery, across the whole state.

- Giving community power to act, including capacity to determine regional plans and ability to initiate legal action to protect threatened species.

 

Background information

- The Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act was introduced in 1988. There have been no amendments to the FFG Act, despite over a decade of critique and review.

- In 2006 the then Labor government committed to improving Victorian biodiversity legislation, resulting in a White Paper, Land and Biodiversity in a time of Climate Change (2009). The White Paper never progressed to legislation and no further action was taken.

- In 2014, the Victorian Labor government again made an election promise with respect to biodiversity laws in Victoria. In Labor's 2014 election policy, a commitment was made to 'review the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act' and the ALP Platform 2014 committed to 'modernise threatened species protection to adopt world's best practice'.

- In September 2016, Environmental Justice Australia released a report[1] that provides solutions for how the FFG Act can be amended to protect and restore our natural environment.

- The five key elements conservation groups are calling for in new legislation are set out in more detail in EJA's report with a longer summary here.

1. A fair go for threatened species: Threatened species provisions must be retained in the FFG Act and overhauled so that:

  • All public authorities are required to comply with the provisions of the FFG Act to ensure that the provisions of the Act have greater effect across various spheres of government decision-making.
  • Current exemptions to threatened species protections removed to ensure they apply to all sectors - including forestry - and apply on private, as well as public land.

2. Stronger stop and protect powers: There must be greater clarity around when and how the government is required to act to protect threatened species (as opposed to the existing discretionary tools).

3. A nature cop on the beat: The compliance and enforcement provisions of the FFG Act need a major overhaul, including a new entity to monitor and enforce the provisions of the FFG Act and a range of penalties for non-compliance.

4. Clear targets and timelines: The biodiversity plan that is currently being finalised by the government must have a stronger legislative framework, including the requirement to have simple, measureable and ambitious 20 -year biodiversity targets.

5. Giving community power to act: so that they are able to take legal action to protect threatened species and for the FFG Act to also establish a framework to enable regional communities to develop landscape scale restoration action plans.