27 February 2019
Wildlife Queensland has welcomed a new Senate inquiry into Australia’s faunal extinction crisis and called on the Commonwealth Government to step up and be more involved in ways to ensure the protection of Australia’s unique biodiversity.
There is no question that a faunal extinction crisis exists. Evidence abounds that Australia’s biodiversity is in decline.
- Australia’s State of the Environment Report 2016 indicated that Australia’s biodiversity is under increased threat and has, overall, continued to decline.
- There are hundreds of flora and fauna species listed at the State and Commonwealth level under various categories of threat.
- It is well documented that since 1788 close to 30 land-based mammals have become extinct and extinctions are still occurring in recent times.
Examples of recent extinctions are:
- the Christmas Island Pipistrelle
- the Bramble Cay Melomys.
AND … there are a number of species still facing extinction.
The real situation is more likely worse as there is a risk of underestimation due to extinction debt (Kuussaari et al.,2009) which takes into account future species extinctions as a result of past habitat loss.
Senate inquiry into faunal extinction crisis
In June 2018, Greens Senator Janet Rice initiated an inquiry in Australia’s faunal extinction crisis. The inquiry was supported by Labour and several crossbenchers.
The inquiry will examine:
- Australia’s alarming rate of species decline
- the adequacy of Commonwealth laws that are supposed to protect threatened wildlife
- the effectiveness of funding for threatened species.
The Terms of Reference for the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications are wide-ranging, including:
- the wider ecological impact of faunal extinction
- the adequacy and compliance with existing laws
- assessment procedures
- use of traditional knowledge for management, and any related matters.
Hundreds of submissions were lodged for consideration including one from Wildlife Queensland.
On 26 November 2018, the Senate granted an extension of time to report until 29 May 2019.
Wildlife Queensland challenges adequacy of current environment and biodiversity legislation
Following the inquiry initiation in June 2018, a series of Public Hearings have been held around Australia.
Wildlife Queensland was one of several organisations and individuals invited to appear before the Senate Committee hearing in Brisbane on 1 February 2019.
Wildlife Queensland’s submission focused on several aspects defined in the Terms of Reference – specifically the adequacy of current legislation and the enforcement and compliance with that legislation.
Wildlife Queensland argued that the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC) should not continue to be the rear guard anti-extinction statutory mechanism it was essentially set up to be, and that it needs to influence all development of other potentially impacting activities across Australia.
This can be achieved through:
- mandating the incorporation of EPBC level assessment criterion (recast to address any potential threat on threatened species of their habitat) and compliance capabilities into relevant local and State Government legislation, or
- as referred to above, establishing a delegated arrangement of a suitably recast EPBC for application to all Australian Local and State Governments, with strong funding incentives.
In the interim, it was suggested that compliance and enforcement of the existing legislation would be a step in the right direction.
Wildlife Queensland also addressed:
- the adequacy of the management and extent of the National Reserve System, including stewardship and connectivity through wildlife corridors
- the inadequacy of funding, the assessment processes to identify fauna conservation status and also recovery plans.
- the importance of combining First Nation peoples’ knowledge with contemporary science to better care for our wildlife in particular situations.
Government must step up!
Wildlife Queensland called for:
- the reintroduction of the National Reserve System Program and associated funding abandoned in 2013
- an expansion of the Protected Area Estate and enhanced management in accordance with IUCN categories.
Wildlife Queensland emphasised not only the need for the preparation of Recovery Plans but their implementation – highlighting the need for systematic fauna surveys to determine the effectiveness of established strategies.
Finally, to end on a positive note, Wildlife Queensland drew the Committee’s attention to the establishment of Land and Sea Rangers in Queensland with particular reference to the recently established Butchulla Land and Sea Rangers caring for K’gari (Fraser Island) and appropriate mainland country.
What happens next?
Wildlife Queensland is optimistic that the outcome of this inquiry will see improved management of the environment and its biodiversity.
There is some concern about the reporting date being 29 May 2019. An election will undoubtedly get in the way. Advice to hand indicates there are several scenarios that could occur – the way forward rests with the Committee:
- an interim report may be prepared
- the Committee may recommend that this inquiry be re-referred to the next Parliament
- the Committee could even table their report much earlier than anticipated, although that is unlikely.
Wildlife Queensland will be lobbying relevant politicians from all political persuasions to ensure a report is produced. This is too good an opportunity to obtain a positive outcome for our wildlife!
You can help!
Ask your local candidates to ensure the report is delivered.
 Kuussaari, M., Bommarco, K.,Heikkinen, R.K., Helm, A., Krauss, J., Lindborg, R., Ockinger, E., Partel, M., Pino, J., Roda, F., Stefanescu, C., Teder, T., Zobel, M., Steffan-Dewenter, I., (2009). Extinction debt: a challenge for biodiversity conservation. Trends Ecol. Evol. 24, 564-571.