Protecting Victoria's wildlife with sledgehammers and nut crackers
When they were introduced in 1988 under the Flora and Fauna Gurantee Act Victoria's threatened species laws were considered a landmark in Australian conservation legislation.
But almost three decades later they have failed to live up to their potential and need to be reviewed. That review is now under way as part of the Andrews Government's 2014 election policy, which stated:
"The diversity of our natural flora and fauna boosts tourism and our economy. Labor will review the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act and institute a state wide biodiversity strategy to protect our habitats for future generations."
Labor has also acknowledged that protecting and restoring biodiversity underpins the wellbeing of the environment, society and the economy, and have committed to a statewide strategy that includes recognition of the role of native apex predators in maintaining biodiversity.
They also plan to modernise threatened species protection to adopt world's best practice.
Time to clean up our Act
As outlined in a new report by Environmental Justice Australia called Fixing Victoria's Broken Nature Laws there are many areas of the Flora and Fauna Gurantee Act that need improvement.
For example, there are inconsistencies in the one national and two state lists of threatened species. Of the 293 vertebrates on the Victorian threatened species advisory list, only 177 are listed under the FFG Act and just 81 nationally.
There are no direct legal requirements or consequences that flow from the inclusion of a species on the lists, although they are given some protection under Victoria's Native Vegetation Management Framework.
The FFG Act mechanisms and regulatory tools, if implemented, are powerful and include the designation of critical habitat protection and interim conservation orders.
The loss of critical habitat is one of the main causes of species decline. But the determination of critical habitat under the FFG Act is entirely at the environment minister's discretion. As a result, there is currently no critical habitat protected for listed species.
Interim conservation orders are intended to provide legally binding conservation measures to protect listed threatened species. They can be applied to areas declared critical habitat and can operate for up to two years.
The failure by successive state governments to use them is often dismissed by government officials as it would be like "...using a sledgehammer to crack a chestnut". But in some cases a sledge hammer is needed to protect habitats or species, not using it at all could be put down to a lack of political will.
A range of legislative tools for threatened species protection is needed to apply to different circumstances, with some requiring a sledgehammer while others a nut cracker.
With pressure on the environment and threatened species continuing to rise, we hope the Andrews Government moves quickly with the proposed FFG review.