NEWS 27 July 2020 |

The extensive exposé in The Age finally exposed the many failures in protecting one of our most critically endangered ecosystems – grasslands, grassy woodlands and grassy wetlands – from Melbourne’s ever-increasing urban sprawl.

Grasslands of Victoria’s Volcanic Plains are our rarest habitat type in our state. Once covering almost a third of Victoria, now less than 2–5% remains.

It is a landscape carved by volcanic activity that once stretched from the area that is now the western suburbs of Melbourne to the South Australian border. Much like the prairies of North America or the savanna of Africa, these grasslands are diverse, alive and play an important role in housing many incredible and unique plants and animals found nowhere else on earth.

A decade ago, in a rush to clear the way to ‘streamline’ approvals for property development and Melbourne’s growth, the state and federal governments stitched up a deal to clear about 6,000 hectares of grasslands within the ‘urban growth boundary’.

In exchange for this clearing, developers were to pay a levy, which was then to be used to purchase large grassland reserves outside the urban growth boundary – an ‘offset’.

These reserves were supposed to be largely delivered by 2020 – but these promises have been broken. To date:

  • only 10% of designated land has been acquired for the Western Grassland Reserve.
  • no land has been acquired for the Grassy Eucalypt Woodland Reserve.

There is also significant evidence that the quality of the grasslands being protected in the reserves is not of the same quality as the grasslands being cleared. Poor oversight and poor monitoring are among a raft of other issues. Now the state faces paying potentially millions in extra compensation to landowners instead of on saving the grasslands.

The scheme was flawed from the beginning. Now, a decade on, it is truly flailing, and the property industry is now circling to pounce on the remaining land pieces. As our Executive Director Matt Ruchel said in The Age:

“The property industry got security and certainty but the environment got half-baked promises that have not been delivered.”

A Victorian Auditor-General Report released last month was a scathing assessment of the Victorian Government’s delivery of the scheme.

New legislation has been passed to collect more money to fund the purchase of the reserves. But revenue alone will not solve this problem.

Please send a message to the Victorian Environment Minister calling for an urgent examination of how to prioritise acquisition, protection and management of highest quality remaining conservation areas.

To add insult to injury, the Federal Government, one half of the deal, has been missing in action on the issue.

Now they have proposed as part of their review of national environmental laws to hand more powers back to the states. A disastrous situation, as shown in the Victorian Government’s appalling handling of grassland protection.

‘Natural Temperate Grasslands of the Victorian Volcanic Plain’ and ‘Grassy Woodlands of the Victorian Volcanic Plain’ are both listed under national environmental laws as ‘critically endangered’ – the step before extinction in the wild.

They are home to 32 threatened flora and 25 threatened fauna listed under national environmental laws including Growling Grass Frog, Golden Sun Moth, Striped Legless Lizard, Matted Flax-lily and several migratory bird species.

Despite their listing under national environment laws, all have been neglected by the Australia Government.

We need you to call on the Australian Government to step in and ensure the delivery of the promised grassland protection, and to retain the integrity of our national environmental laws.

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