GRegory Andrews, Australia’s first threatened-species commissioner, was appointed by Greg Hunt (the Coalition’s environment minister) in 2013. After serving as high commissioner in Ghana, he returned to Australia and was disillusioned by the results.
Andrews believes that the country’s natural biodiversity and wildlife is at its worst and calls the continuing destruction of forests and other habitats crazy.
He sees it as a major problem after a political term marked with consecutive summer disasters, and multiple reports highlighting government failures. The environment may not exist in the first two weeks, however.
He claims that the campaign has been devoid of any mention of nature and biodiversity.
This makes me sad, because Australians are defined by their wildlife. They’re on our money and our sports teams. Our coat of arms and tail of Qantas are all examples of them. We can’t continue to be defined by our wildlife when it is threatened with extinction.
He believes that Australia’s landscape was cleared enough to allow for a dialogue about sharing what is left with its unique and declining wildlife.
If you are serious about what it is to be Australian, you will find that we are a rich country with enough habitat to preserve the remaining land. The problem is that only the Greens can say this, and it is seen as fringe or extremist.
Andrews was the threatened species commissioner for three years. Andrews says that while he was proud to see Hunt accomplish some things, he felt limited by climate denialism within Coalition and the refusal of habitat degradation.
He is not the only one who raises concerns about the campaign’s impact on the environment. Others are also working to increase its visibility.
A new report by a coalition conservation groups states that Australia should spend ten times as much on nature protection if it is serious about its commitment. It highlights 100 species and plants that are at risk of extinction, including the orangebellied parrot (pictured above) and the grassland earsless dragon (pictured below).
Rex Patrick, a senator from South Australia, called for a change in how the environment is treated by the next parliament. This includes requiring that the prime minister makes an annual extinction declaration listing all species newly declared extinct or critically endangered.
The question is, is anyone listening?
It is well-known that Australia is not doing enough for its environment.
Three reports were issued in the past term, two from Australia’s National Audit Office and one independent review of Australias environmental laws conducted by Graeme Samuel (ex-head of competition watchdog), highlighting a multitude of environmental failures.
The fifth-annual State of the Environment report (five-yearly) will also highlight the continuing decline. The Morrison government could have presented this report before the campaign started, but it has been withheld.
Land-clearing has been increasing in Queensland and New South Wales. Australia’s worst bushfire catastrophe accelerated the addition of threatened species to its national list.
The Australian Capital Territory’s faunal emblem, gang-gangcockatoo (or gang-gang cockatoo), was listed as endangered by the expert scientific committee. They cited the climate crisis, which is the major driver of population declines.
A week before the election, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change sounded another alarm that the world was quickly running out of time to limit global warming to 1.5C.
Globally, it’s well-known that climate and natural crises are interrelated.
However, the campaign has so far been dominated by comments on power bills, which are based on unsourced modeling, and a $220m pledge from Scott Morrison for native forestry in Tasmania.
Before the election was called the Morrison government also promised $50m in funding for a single species: the koala. In February, its conservation status was upgraded to endangered from vulnerable.
Carol Booth, principal policy analyst for the Invasive Speies Council, said that the silence by the major parties on the next government’s plans to change the trajectory speaks volumes.
She says they are clearly judging that it is not going to turn the election in their favor.
They pay attention only to the individual crises, such as the fires. It’s a long-term, complex problem. And there are so many threats interacting and coalescing it is hard to grasp.
You won’t see any results in one term.
The new report was released by the Australian Land Conservation Alliance, Bush Heritage, Humane Society International, BirdLife Australia and Bush Heritage. It notes that Australia’s failure to address the major threats of invasive species and habitat destruction, climate change, and climate change will lead to a dramatic increase in extinctions over the next 20 years.
It identifies 100 endangered species, including 20 freshwater fish and nine birds, as well as eight frogs, six reptiles and six butterflies at greater than 50% risk of extinction in the next 20 years. Additionally, 55 plants are at high risk within the next 10 years.
After years of neglect, the Coalition has failed to properly list major threats for almost a decade.
This week, the streak was broken after 14 years of being proposed, fire regimes that cause wildlife loss were officially listed as a key threat for Australia’s environment.
Shortly before the election, Sussan ley, the environment minister, signed off on this decision.
The Invasive Species Committees report proposes solutions. This includes that governments simply apply the laws they have neglected for so many years. That is, listing major threats and developing and implementing plans for addressing them.
It also reaffirms earlier work by Brendan Wintle (conservation ecologist) that showed Australia needed a tenfold increase of nature spending in order to recover endangered species.
Booth estimates that this would require an annual expenditure of approximately $1.5bn to 2bn.
Although it’s not much, it’s a lot more that they have committed to so far.
Samantha Vine, BirdLife Australia’s head of science and conservation, said that most voters care about the environment, but that this passion is not always visible to politicians.
She believes that governments can reverse the trend of species at risk by making an effort to address them.
For example, Macquarie Island’s breeding population of grey-headed albatross is recovering after governments prioritized the elimination of rabbits and rodents.
She says it shows what you can achieve if you put in the effort.
Guardian Australia asked Labor, the Coalition and the Greens their priorities for the environment.
Morrison’s term has been dominated by its environmental deregulation agenda and the attempt to transfer environmental approval power to the states and territories.
Ley points out that it has also spent over $6bn in environmental expenditures since 2019 and cites budget announcements of $100m for Environment Restoration Fund and $1bn for Great Barrier Reef.
She was the minister who established a new threatened species strategy over a 10-year period and presented a long-awaited recovery plan to save the koala.
She says that the Morrison government is committed in taking practical action and working with traditional owners, communities, land managers, traditional homeowners, scientists, and other stakeholders to protect the environment. This includes heritage places, the health of our oceans, and native species.
Terri Butler, Labor’s environment spokesperson, stated that the party will have more information about the environment closer the election. However, she has already pledged to increase funding for Indigenous rangers/Indigenous Protected Areas and $200m to urban rivers and catchments.
She said that Ley’s Australia State of the Environment Report should be made public.
Butler states that after floods and bushfires, it is more important than ever to protect and restore the environment.
The Morrison-Joyce government’s mismanagement of the environment is unacceptable. [it]You can also search for another term.
Sarah Hanson Young, Greens environment spokesperson, stated that the party has been fighting against Liberal-Nationals attacks upon our environment ever since they came to power.
She says that the environment is in crisis and that the Greens are vital to protecting it in parliament.
She said that the Greens have a comprehensive policy to protect the environment. It includes a zero-extinction target and a commitment ending habitat destruction.
Rex Patrick, who fights to keep his seat in the House of Representatives, said this week that he would push for the prime Minister to be held accountable for Australia’s irreversible environment failures if he is reelected.
Patrick proposes to include in Australia’s environmental laws a requirement that the prime minister submit an annual statement on extinction and endangered species to parliament listing species newly declared extinct or critically endangered.
He said that no prime minister will be keen to stand in the parliament and scream death to unique Australian species.
This is what is likely to be required to get governments to act before the irreversible point of extinction is reached.