Biosecurity back in focus

7 December 2018

Though it is never really off the agenda at Wildlife Queensland, biosecurity is back in focus for the Society due to the significant impact poorly managed issues are having on our flora and fauna. We welcome the fact that our State and Commonwealth Governments are also currently addressing biosecurity issues.

The impact of feral deer, pigs and goats in Australia, and national priorities to prevent the problems worsening for the natural environment, community and farmers, was recently referred by the Senate to the Environment and Communications References Committee for inquiry and report by mid-February 2019. Wildlife Queensland joined with the Invasive Species Council in forwarding a submission for consideration.

Whereas the Queensland Government is reviewing the Biosecurity Act 2014 and has established a Biosecurity Legislation Reference Group to assist, inviting Wildlife Queensland and various other stakeholders and industry groups to participate. This review was committed to during the passing of the Biosecurity Bill 2013. With commendable foresight, a provision was included in the Act to review the efficacy and efficiency of the Act within three years due to the Bill containing several fundamental changes to legislation that had unquantifiable impacts on stakeholders and government. These changes included shared responsibility, a risk based decision working framework, powers to deal with emergencies, and third party compliance.

In spite of considerable efforts, the obligations under the new legislation – particularly the general biosecurity obligation – are not widely appreciated by the broader community; there is a need to create renewed awareness among all those who deal with biosecurity risks. Enforceability and how to satisfy requirements of the legislation must be made abundantly clear.

Wildlife Queensland welcomes these actions by both governments. While their outcomes are yet to be known, there is the potential for benefits for the environment and its wildlife. However, this is in sharp contrast to other actions and policies by the same governments with regard to our natural heritage.

The Commonwealth Government’s attitude to Commonwealth Marine Reserves and the conservation of whales is best described as regrettable. A damning report by the Queensland Audit Office reflects what the conservation movement has known for some time, indicating the ‘response to conserving threatened species … is unlikely to effectively conserve and recover many threatened species’. This combined with the privatisation and development in national parks, the failure to reinstate the cardinal principle of management and the decline in the overall percentage of the state budget, causes one to wonder what further challenges the State Government has in store for our environment and its wildlife.

It is acknowledged that the weakening of the Nature Conservation Act 1992 and the Vegetation Management Act 1999 was at the hands of the LNP Newman Government, and that that has led to the dramatic deforestation and biodiversity loss experienced since 2013. The Palaszczuk Government has amended certain aspects of both; however, for reasons best known to themselves, has failed to rectify aspects of the legislation so as to at least allow for an arrest in the decline in biodiversity and habitat loss. What has happened to that Labor philosophy and belief in the need for a sound and healthy environment that saw such action in the late 80s and early 90s as almost doubling national parks and affording protection of our wildlife?

Granted the State Government recently announced a Biodiversity and Ecosystems Climate Adaption Plan but unless this is underpinned by adequate resources and stronger environmental protection legislation, it will become but another plan sitting on a shelf gathering dust.

Nevertheless, we must remain optimistic. The idea that biosecurity is a shared responsibility and we all have a role to play is gaining momentum. There is a need for everyone to fulfil their general biosecurity obligations, not only to protect agricultural and pastoral industries and community health and safety, but also biodiversity. However, in order to do so, people must understand what is required of them.

While the principal responsibility for delivering this message rests with all levels of government, industry groups and other organisations with a biosecurity focus can help to spread the word. There is a need to get the broader community involved. There is a need for us all to tell politicians we care for our environment, its wildlife and the places we love. And there is something we can learn from biosecurity, a very simple message: the protection of the environment and conservation of its wildlife is up to us all.

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