Right now we have an incredible opportunity to protect species and their habitats by strengthening Australia’s environmental laws – because right now they are failing.
Over 2,000 species and ecological communities are listed as threatened with extinction. The list of threatened species is growing at an alarming rate, and worsened by habitat clearing and fragmentation, invasive species, climate change, inappropriate fire regimes, disease, and pollution.
In Victoria alone between one quarter and one-third of all our state’s terrestrial plants, birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, along with numerous invertebrates and ecological communities, are considered threatened with extinction.
The Australian Senate has referred Australia’s faunal extinction crisis to the Environment and Communications References Committee for inquiry and report, and is calling for YOUR opinion and feedback.
The Inquiry is huge news for our threatened species, and shows that those in power are starting to take the extinction crisis seriously.
It is important the committee hears your voice by 10 September 2018. Now is a great time to make your submission.
It may seem overwhelming to know what to say, but don’t worry, we have prepared a submission on your behalf, so all you need to do is add your details and click ‘send’.
However for greater impact, please add in your own views, concerns, or details about any particular species.
We will be calling for the creation of strong national environment laws that genuinely protect Australia’s natural environment. Australia’s prime piece of national nature law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), is now nearly two decades old. It has failed to deliver the protections it promised.
But now, we have the opportunity to change this.
To give our threatened species the investment they need will take strong political will and leadership from the Australian Government.
Let’s make sure they get the message with as many submissions as possible. They can not ignore this crisis any longer.
Send the following submission to the Australian Senate, or edit to include your own message:
Dear Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications,
Thank you for the opportunity to provide feedback to the Senate’s Inquiry into Australia’s faunal extinction crisis.
I am writing as a nature lover who is deeply concerned about Australia’s faunal extinction history and current crisis that sees the list of threatened species continue to grow. Although our current federal environment laws are failing to protect and conserve our biodiversity, there are significant opportunities for reform to turn this around.
I would like to address the following four terms of reference:
a) “the ongoing decline in the population and conservation status of Australia’s nearly 500 threatened fauna species;”
In the last 200 years Australia has had one of the worst extinction records in the world, leading the world on mammal extinctions, with 27 confirmed extinctions since European settlement, whilst the number of species listed as threatened continues to increase.
In Victoria, the picture is worse. Since European settlement:
- Over 50 per cent of the state’s native vegetation has been cleared.
- 18 species of mammal, 2 birds, 1 snake, 3 freshwater fish, 6 invertebrates and 51 plants have become extinct.
- Between one quarter and one-third of all of Victoria’s terrestrial plants, birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, along with numerous invertebrates and ecological communities, are considered threatened with extinction.
The key drivers of species loss include habitat clearing and fragmentation, invasive species, climate change, inappropriate fire regimes, disease, pollution, over-exploitation and disease. Furthermore, inappropriate use and development of land across all tenures is driving extinctions further.
A recent study found that unless management improves Australia stands to lose another 10 birds and 7 mammals by 2038 (Geyle et al. 2018).
This is devastating and not something I want to see happen in my lifetime.
Australians are passionate about protecting threatened species and their habitats, with the value of formal volunteering in Victoria alone in the environment/animal welfare sector worth $99 million (Volunteer Victoria, 2006). That figure would be far greater now.
Australia has an opportunity to be a world leader in conservation and do justice to the people who invest their time to protect our threatened species. We have world-class expertise and higher-education institutions, and we have public support. We just need stronger political will.
It is not too late to halt and reverse the almost 500 threatened species, but we need to act urgently.
c) “the international and domestic obligations of the Commonwealth Government in conserving threatened fauna;”
Australia’s current environment laws do not adequately protect threatened species. Since 2000 Australia’s list of nationally threatened species and ecological communities has increased by more than 30 per cent (from 1,483 to 1,947 as at 31 July 2018).
The primary piece of legislation for protecting threatened species nationally, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), has mostly failed in its fundamental task. This piece of legislation should prioritise protecting threatened species (as its stated objective), not facilitating development through the development approvals process at the expense of our wildlife and their habitats.
High levels of discretion are inappropriately afforded to decision makers, which needs to be overturned (i.e. a mere 21 projects out of more than 6,100 have been stopped due to unacceptable impacts on matters of national environmental significance and threatened species); and Penalties for National Register provisions only apply to Commonwealth land, meaning there are no effective protections of critical habitat under national environmental law.
Additionally, Australia must uphold its obligations under the Ramsar Convention (and other international treaties) to protect its 65 Wetlands of International Importance, and over 50 migratory birds spending part of their year in Australia.
Victoria alone is home to more than 300,000 hectares of Ramsar sites, including some of our most loved wetlands including Western Port, Barmah Forest, Hattah-Kulkyne, the western shoreline of Port Phillip Bay, the Gippsland Lakes and Corner Inlet. The federal government provides little support or oversight of these obligations, which it appear to be delegated to the state governments, with no strings attached.
A Victorian Auditor General report in 2016 found significant flaws in the management of Ramsar sites. The report said overall governance, coordination and oversight of the management of Ramsar sites must improve for Victoria to effectively meet its obligations. (See: www.vnpa.org.au/auditor-general-scathing-of-victorias-management-of-ramsar-sites)
The Australian Government must take its responsibility to global conservation efforts seriously.
d) “the adequacy of Commonwealth environment laws, including but not limited to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, in providing sufficient protections for threatened fauna and against key threatening processes;”
The EPBC Act allows for high levels of ministerial discretion in decision making where science can be overruled. Many key concepts, such as cumulative impacts, are poorly defined, leaving them vulnerable to subjective interpretation and exploitation.
In practice, current legislation focuses on discrete and reactive issues, typically development proposals that may impact on Matters of National Environment Significance and are not designed to address the big drivers of biodiversity decline: the loss and degradation of habitat, altered fire regimes, invasive species and climate change.
Current national law provides exemptions for logging activities (under regional forest agreements), despite these having serious impacts on threatened species, such as the critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum in Victoria. (See: www.vnpa.org.au/regional-forest-agreements)
The last independent review in 2010 recommended that the Western Regional Forest Agreement be cancelled, but as recently as mid-2017, revised ecologically-damaging logging plans have been released for targeted logging of woodlands right across the west. For example, threatened species have been found either within or near 33 per cent of planned logging coupes, even higher in some regions. Of the 20 threatened mammals found in or adjacent to logging coupes, six are EPBC listed species, and of the 14 threatened plants, eight are EPBC listed, which under current arrangements are not properly assessed. (See: www.vnpa.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Western-Forests-and-Woodlands-at-Risk-Full-Report.pdf)
- The Hooded Plover
The Hooded Plover is listed as one of the federal government’s 20 priority bird species, and as vulnerable under the federal and Victorian law. In Victoria they currently face threats from commercial racehorse training on public beaches, disturbing the adult birds and chicks, crushing eggs and destroy protective fencing.
After concerned local community groups sought action from the federal government under the EPBC Act regarding the impacts of commercial racehorse training on the beach-nesting bird, the federal government refused to act. Due to the high threshold for determining impact set by federal law (i.e regarding individual versus cumulative impacts), this matter was referred back to the Victorian Government. A stronger EPBC Act would trigger the federal government’s ability to intervene and require an approval decision.
The current terms of reference, while focusing on the role of national laws on threatened species recovery, have missed the key role this legislation has in managing threatening processes.
While a range of feral species such as pigs and goats are listed as key threatening processes, deer, a major ecological problem in Victoria, with the potential to spread widely across Australia, are not specifically listed. While they are included in the ‘Novel biota and their impact on biodiversity’, listing which presents a framework, deer do not appear to have the important and necessary specific actions needed for control of deer in Australia. It is also unclear how threatening processes can be used to trigger specific action by the federal government. (See: www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/key-threatening-processes/novel-biota-impact-on-biodiversity)
We need national leadership on protecting native wildlife in Australia, including strong national laws, policies and increased funding for species recovery. To fix the shortcomings listed above requires a significant law reform.
To fix the shortcomings listed above, requires significant law reform, as stated by the Places You Love platform (www.placesyoulove.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/PYL-policy-briefer-June2018.pdf) below:
The Australian Government should institute a complete overhaul of the national environment laws to protect threatened species, backed by strong and independent national institutions; including:
- An independent National Environmental Protection Authority that operates at arm’s-length from government to conduct transparent environmental assessments and inquiries as well as undertake monitoring, compliance and enforcement actions.
- An independent National Sustainability Commission that develops enforceable national environmental protection standards, bioregional plans as well as recovery and threat abatement plans.
New laws should include a legislated requirement to develop science-based recovery plans for all threatened species that are enforceable, binding, and require climate impact assessment for species and their critical habitat.
Australia’s environment laws must ensure permanent protection of threatened species habitat by:
- Ending land clearing and logging of old-growth and high-conservation value native vegetation.
- Protecting ecosystems of national importance to protect species before they become threatened.
- Establishing a new national critical habitat register which applies across all land tenures.
- Ensuring that the registering of critical habitat occurs within 12 months of a species being added to the national threatened species list.
Along with stronger protections, new national environment laws must guarantee community rights and participation in environmental decision making, including: open standing provisions; review of decisions based on their merits; third-party enforcement provisions; and protections from cost orders in public interest proceedings.
Additionally, this should include adding protected areas that comprise the National Reserve System, such as national parks, on the list of Matters of National Environmental Significance under the EPBC Act. (More information: www.vnpa.org.au/npac-policy-matter-of-national-environmental-significance/)
h) “The adequacy of existing funding streams for implementing threatened species recovery plans and preventing threatened fauna loss in general;”
The federal government must significantly increase resources for recovery plans and threat abatement implementation, including establishing a Recovery Fund with an annual investment of $200 million to implement recovery plans.
The National Reserve System goals which have not been met include under-representation of more than one-third of bioregions and ecosystems. The federal government must support the strategic expansion of Australia’s National Reserve System to protect threatened species habitats, with an annual investment of at least $170 million per year. This would allow Australia to properly meet our international commitments. More information from the National Parks Australia Council: www.vnpa.org.au/npac-policy-completing-australias-national-reserve-system-of-protected-areas/
The Australian Government must also commit to prompt, transparent and regular release of data on the state and trends of threatened species, state and impacts on critical habitat of threatened species and outcome-focussed monitoring of species conservation efforts and spending.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment.
More information on the inquiry itself, and terms of reference up for comment here.
If you would like to do your own submission see information on how to make a submission here.
More information about the Places You Love platform.