In spite of current political turmoil, the change in government has meant busier times for Wildlife Queensland, presenting welcomed opportunities to advocate for enhanced conservation of our wildlife and positively influence environmental decision making.
The state’s election of the Labor minority government in February has certainly resulted in an increase in meetings with our political masters, an additional workload gratefully accepted by the Society. Already, three meetings have occurred with Hon. Dr Steven Miles, Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection, Minister for National Parks and the Great Barrier Reef, and another is scheduled for mid April.
A meeting has also been held with Stephen Bennett, MP, Shadow Minister for the Environment, Heritage Protection and National Parks. Throw in a meeting with the Commonwealth Threatened Species Commissioner, Gregory Andrews, held on 1st April and correspondence with Hon. Greg Hunt, Commonwealth Minister for the Environment, and relevant state politicians, and it’s a case of other matters having to join the ever-growing to-do list of Wildlife Queensland Policies and Campaigns Manager, Des Boyland.
While the focus of such meetings is always important, the outcomes and learning they generate are often more significant. Even the first meeting on 26 February with Minister Miles, a conservation roundtable, was certainly more than a simple meet and greet. A clear indication was provided on current priorities for the Palaszczuk government from an environmental perspective along with broad operational principles.
The second, more informal meeting on 10 March took place at Fleay’s Wildlife Park where Wildlife Queensland presented the proceeds of its recent appeal for the bridled nailtail wallaby to the Minister for use by the recovery group for enhanced conservation of the species. A number of the wallabies are held at the park, where a golden opportunity also arose to appreciate some of the work being funded by WPSQ’s appeal for the Richmond birdwing butterfly. The potential benefits of working collaboratively with the National Parks and Wildlife Service on additional projects were recognised and discussed.
A third meeting with the Minister on 18 March was scheduled to urge the Labor government to use every endeavour to repeal Part Two of the North Stradbroke Island Protection and Sustainability and Another Act Amendment Act 2013 introduced by the LNP, as soon as possible. If such action can be achieved prior to June this year, the legal challenge before the High Court to that legislation need not proceed. It is far too early to determine whether desired outcomes will be achieved, and to what extent the matter will be further complicated by the current unforseen political turmoil.
From all meetings to date with Minister Miles some overarching messages have emerged. There is an intention to implement all pre-election commitments given by the Labor party. As well intentioned as this may be, however, unless support can be gained from elsewhere in the House Labor is currently at least one seat short of a majority.
There is a willingness to accept advice from conservation groups; departments for which Minister Miles is responsible, at least, will be open and accessible. Premier Palaszczuk has stated that her government will be consultative, and Minister Miles is walking the walk.
There is a commitment that due process will be followed ensuring accountability and transparency. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is a need to create the space for public support so that desired environmental policies can be achieved. This final message is recognised by Wildlife Queensland as a major challenge, but one which the Society is committed to giving its best shot.
The meeting with Stephen Bennett MP on 18 March regarding the plastic bag and waste campaign was of particular interest to the member for Burnett whose electorate is home to the famous Mon Repos turtle rockery. While Mr Bennett expressed a personal view at this early stage the LNP’s formal policy position was not available. After an extremely good hearing, Wildlife Queensland was assured it would be informed of relevant policy in due course.
Mr Bennett extended the meeting so that views on a range of topics including national parks, crocodiles and developments at Mon Repos could be exchanged, and went on to welcome further comment and consultation. Mr Bennett also shared that he has had considerable contact and interaction with conservationists in his electorate who have provided a sound base on which to build. Wildlife Queensland will certainly take the opportunity to consult, forward submissions and correspond on relevant issues with the opposition.
A meeting with Gregory Andrews on 1 April was Wildlife Queensland’s second opportunity to discuss matters with the Threatened Species Commissioner. Since his appointment in 2014, Mr Andrews has worked collaboratively with all levels of government, scientists, the non-profit sector and the community, and has been actively involved with the National Landcare Programme and the Green Army.
This meeting was scheduled to consult on the Threatened Species Summit to be held in Melbourne on 16 July this year, and welcomed suggestions on key note speakers and items for discussion. It was announced that the suite of initial actions underway to tackle feral cats and recover threatened mammals has generated considerable momentum, and input was invited on the development of a threatened species strategy which could outline the principles for prioritising actions and resources as well as establishing targets.
Wildlife Queensland took the opportunity to bring to the Commissioner’s notice the submission by its Far North Branch on upgrading the conservation status of the spectacled flying fox from vulnerable to endangered based on declining population. And a copy of the Society’s 2014 Threatened Species Recovery Report – a summary of last year’s successful appeals thanks to the generosity of so many supporters – was made available to the Commissioner, who went on to draw attention to his February 2015 report to the Minister for the Environment.
The Commissioner’s report highlights that since July 2014 the Australian government has allocated approximately $2M of funding to threatened species recovery in Commonwealth national parks and a further $743,200 at 11 locations outside national parks. In addition $30M has been allocated to the National Environmental Science Programme (NESP) Threatened Species Hub which will help form the scientific basis for ongoing efforts to recover threatened species. A copy of the report is available here.
It is hoped that by the next my.Wildlife eBulletin, the current political situation will have been clarified and the government of the day will proceed to serve Queensland by delivering and implementing sound policies for the environment. Regardless of the outcome, Wildlife Queensland will continue to fight the good fight – protecting wildlife, influencing choices and engaging communities.