Where is the political will to preserve our wildlife?

Regent’s honeyeater

6 May 2022

Campaigns for the upcoming 2022 Federal Election on Saturday 21 May have passed the halfway mark. Given the widely reported faunal extinction crisis facing Australia, you might think the major political parties would be keen to outline strategies and earmark significant, essential increases in funding to arrest the crisis and reverse the trend. Not so!

Granted, climate change has been mentioned, and according to the ABC’s Vote Compass data, it is the number one issue for participants. This, combined with the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which indicates that a 1.5˚C increase in temperature is likely, suggests political parties and independent candidates should feel much more obliged to comment.

The Coalition, under Prime Minister Scott Morrison, has taken to technology to address the issues of:
• carbon capture and storage
• low-emission steel production
• hydrogen used as fuel
• charging stations for electric vehicles.

Net Zero emissions by 2050 is the target, but there has so far been no change to the 2030 target – despite advice that it will be achieved, if not exceeded, and despite members of the National Party vocally offering opinions in the media that suggest they remain uncommitted to the idea of Net Zero emissions.

The Australian Labor Party has also committed to Net Zero by 2050, but it has set a higher target for 2030 – 43%. This target includes:
• upgrading the electricity grid to better incorporate renewable energy
• making electric vehicles cheaper
• installing community batteries and solar banks
• modernising steel and aluminium production.

The Greens have promised emissions reductions of 75% by 2030 with Net Zero achieved by 2035. This means:
• developing more batteries
• upgrading the electricity grid
• taxing large and multinational corporations to fund these objectives.

There is no question that the challenge our wildlife is facing has been highlighted over many decades by many conservation organisations and concerned nature lovers besides Wildlife Queensland. However, while the Coalition has recently designated welcome funding to address the plight of the koala and the Great Barrier Reef, the spend remains insufficient to address the ongoing challenges faced by threatened species. It appears that the alarm klaxons of escalating wildlife extinction have fallen on deaf ears.

Greg Andrews, High Commissioner to Ghana and Australia’s former (and first ever) Threatened Species Commissioner, was reportedly disturbed by the lack of focus on wildlife conservation in the election campaign so far. Certainly, Wildlife Queensland has not always agreed with Andrews, but on this occasion, we concur that the ongoing rate of vegetation clearing in New South Wales and Queensland means it is past time to discuss protecting what remains for Australia’s unique and increasingly struggling wildlife.

For several years now, Wildlife Queensland has recommended the re-establishment of the Commonwealth National Reserve System Programme, which was abandoned in 2013. Through the programme, which was initiated in 1996, the Australian Government provided grants of $200 million to assist State Governments, local authorities, NGOs and limited guarantee companies in acquiring land that would add to the protected area estate, which is still falling far short of the promised 17% of the Australian landmass.

Who’ll help our threatened Australian plants and animals?

On 3 May 2022, the Threatened Australians app was launched – a joint venture by researchers from the University of Queensland and the University of Technology to shine the spotlight on threatened species during this election campaign. The app allows users to easily learn about threatened species local to any electorate simply by inputting a postcode, inspiring them to express their concerns to the local, state, and ultimately federal government.

Gareth Kindler, from the University of Queensland, stated, ‘So far this election, there appears to be a lack of focus on environmental issues, particularly biodiversity. This is problematic because our wellbeing and prosperity is dependent upon having a healthy environment.’

Carol Booth, former Wildlife Australia editor and now Principal Policy Analyst at the Invasive Species Council, suggested in The Guardian that the silence from the major parties suggests they are ‘obviously making a judgment that it’s not going to turn the election for them.’

Many appear to be asking: where is the political concern, commitment and will to preserve our environment and its wildlife this election?

In light of this omission from Australian political parties, what does the future hold?

Statements and past actions by the Greens and the South Australian Senator Rex Patrick have shown support for wildlife conservation. In fairness, the Morrison Government has also made funds available for wildlife protection, particularly following natural disasters, although too little and too late to remedy many of the ongoing issues. Furthermore, on occasion, the powers available under existing legislation have not been appropriately used.

Various independent candidates, and some minor parties such as the Animal Justice Party, have indicated a willingness to address those threats. Terri Butler, from the Australian Labor Party, has indicated Labor will also have more to say about the environment closer to the election – so when?

Samantha Vine, Head of Conservation and Science for Birdlife Australia, which also has an Election Tool for alerting voters to threatened birds in their electorate, aptly summed up the situation, reportedly stating: ‘Most voters care about nature, but that passion is not always visible to politicians.’

Only time will tell whether our wildlife and its habitat receive the action and resources required to arrest Australia’s appalling extinction rate. On more than one occasion over many decades, Wildlife Queensland’s advocacy has been met with the following advice: Until wildlife is in the top 10 concerns of the broader community, nothing much will change. Still, Wildlife Queensland lives in hope.

While we always aim to provide our supporters with relevant guidance relating to wildlife needs, Wildlife Queensland remains apolitical. Still, we feel it is appropriate to bring to the attention of members, supporters and the broader community some of the statements and policy positions that parties and candidates have made so far in the 2022 election campaign. Our core objective, at all times, remains to preserve the fauna and flora of Australia by all lawful means.

Authorised by Des Boyland, Secretary, Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland.

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