Tue, Oct 09, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Environmentalists slam Australia’s rate of extinction

CANBERRA HEARING:A Senate inquiry has heard of ‘massive and pervasive non-compliance’ with the environment protection and biodiversity act

The Guardian

Australia’s environment laws have been “white-anted with loopholes” and non-compliance takes place on a “scandalously huge scale,” an Australian Senate inquiry into threatened species heard yesterday.

The inquiry into the rate of faunal extinctions was established after a Guardian Australia investigation found that Australia’s 1,800 threatened plants, animals and ecological communities were poorly monitored and conservation efforts inadequately funded.

At a hearing in Canberra, WWF protected areas and conservation science manager Martin Taylor said that 7.5 million hectares of threatened species habitat had been destroyed since the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act came into force in 1999.

In 90 percent of cases there was no evidence that the clearing had been referred for assessment under the act, Taylor said.

“We’re looking at a national scandal here to have such massive and pervasive non-compliance with federal legislation with no corresponding evidence of any enforcement action,” Taylor said.

He said lack of transparency meant it was unclear what enforcement action had taken place.

“How much is the department, in essence, approving by failing to even discover what’s happening or by investigating it and then deciding not to prosecute, which has happened in case after case after case that we have looked at?” he said.

WWF and the Australian Conservation Foundation told the inquiry that the position of the threatened species commissioner was vulnerable to government interference and should have independent powers to enforce biodiversity laws.

Foundation policy analyst James Trezise said that Australian Threatened Species Commissioner Sally Box and her predecessor, Gregory Andrews, had been successful in raising the public profile of threatened species.

However, he said the position was “not an independent voice for conservation” because it sat within the federal Department of Environment and Energy.

“The commissioner ... is not a commissioner, in the sense that a commissioner is normally someone who is defined at law and independent from government,” he said. “We would be more comfortable with that being called a threatened species ambassador.”

The foundation and WWF are part of the Places You Love alliance, which has proposed an independent body similar to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

That would allow environmental decisions to be challenged by third parties; Australian law allows for challenges only on administrative grounds.

Provided you ticked off the procedural requirements, you could allow a species to become extinct, Trezise said.

Box, who gave evidence alongside her department colleagues, said that ensuring community engagement and negotiating partnerships around threatened species conservation was a key part of her role.

The department said it had “very limited jurisdiction” in policing activities such as land clearing, which came under the purview of state and territory governments, and said it preferred mediation to prosecution when laws were breached.

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