27 Apr 2023
The Australian Government’s Australia, State of the Environment 2021 report found that Australia’s environment is in a sorry state. The number of animals and plants at risk of extinction continues to increase, and Queensland is no exception. But what is our state doing to protect them?
Queensland is home to about 85% of Australia’s native mammals, 72% of native birds, slightly more than 50% of native reptiles and frogs and about 48% of native plants and almost 60% of Australia’s naturalised plants.
1034 threatened species are listed under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 (the Act), 713 of which are unique to our state.
In 2018, the Queensland Audit Office (QAO) made seven recommendations to the Department of Environment and Science (DES) to improve its governance, processes, and systems to better protect animals and plants at risk of extinction. DES accepted these recommendations.
On 23 February 2023, the QAO publicly released a report looking at the department’s progress against the seven recommendations made four years earlier.
Have protections for Queensland’s threatened animals and plants improved?
Encouragingly, the report found the department is now more proactively nominating species for listing as threatened and is quicker to list them when needed.
Amending the Act has significantly reduced the time taken to list threatened species, from an average of 506 business days in 2018 to only 56 in 2022.
But the report also found the department was yet to reassess the conservation status of 366 species (73%) to ensure state and national conservation statuses are consistent.
DES currently lacks a comprehensive system for prioritising animals and plants according to their level of risk, but efforts are underway to develop one.
The department is monitoring population status and trends for just 10.3% of listed species. It can evaluate individual recovery programs but it does not have data on whether overall threatened populations of all 1034 threatened species are stable, increasing, or declining.
Wildlife Queensland Policies & Campaigns Manager Des Boyland said whilst the report’s findings showed that DES has made some progress in implementing specific recommendations, much remains to be done, and the improvements to populations of threatened species are not yet realised.
“Wildlife Queensland is concerned by current the Queensland Government’s tendency to walk away from recovery plans and working groups for threatened species,” said Boyland.
“There is clear evidence that recovery plans work if there are realistic objectives, appropriate timelines, necessary resourcing, and defined responsibility, in addition to a political willingness. Granted, recovery plans have had a high failure rate, but this can be attributed to failing to meet the criteria listed for success.”
Moving forward: What’s in store for Queensland’s threatened species?
Wildlife Queensland is optimistic about DES enhancing its performance in the immediate future.
The 2022 budget delivered a significant increase in funding for the expansion and management of the Protected Area Estate. This will result in much-needed guaranteed habitat for our wildlife and crucial additional funding for threatened wildlife management, including the endangered koala.
While wildlife management is primarily a Queensland Government function, the Commonwealth Government has a role to play with Queensland species listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 Cth (EPBC Act).
“Wildlife Queensland has often been frustrated with the Commonwealth Government of the day failing to use the powers available under the EPBC Act to afford protection to listed wildlife and their habitat. However, some positive statements and actions have occurred with the new Albanese Government and the Minister for the Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek,” said Boyland.
“In addition, the Hon. Meaghan Scanlon, Minister for the Environment and the Great Barrier Reef and Minister for Science and Youth Affairs and her staff are always prepared to listen.”
“We encourage everyone to write to their local and federal representatives urging for greater action—only then can we expect the current government to prioritise this issue and take the necessary steps to address it.”