Commonwealth Government turns its back on expert scientific advice and sets shocking precedent for national environment protection
Humane Society International (HSI) is extremely disappointed in the Federal Government’s rash decision this morning to disallow two Critically Endangered Ecological Communities listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, 1999 (EPBC Act). At the behest of Environment Minister Greg Hunt, the Members for Parkes and Barker respectively moved that ‘Wetlands and inner floodplains of the Macquarie Marshes’ and ‘River Murray and associated wetlands, floodplains and groundwater systems, from the junction of the Darling River to the sea’ be disallowed, with the motions carried despite sound and rational defence of the listings by Labor MP and former Environment Minister Mark Butler and Greens MP Adam Bandt.
HSI nominated both ecological communities in 2008 prior to their listing on the EPBC Act schedules by former Minister Mark Butler in August this year. This is the first time in the Act’s 15 year history that advice from the independent Threatened Species Scientific Committee (TSSC) has not only been ignored, but actively sought to be overruled by a Federal Environment Minister – an immensely worrying precedent for the future of Australia’s environment.
A vocal minority of industry groups pushed the government to disallow the listings, and in yet another case of the Coalition overturning due process for the sake of a self-interest group at the expense of greater community good, they obliged. This is despite the TSSC considering there was “overwhelming evidence” to list the communities at the highest possible threat level of Critically Endangered after more than five years of detailed assessment, with both meeting several listing criteria for a threatened status – they were among the most threatened communities to have been included on the EPBC Act schedules.
HSI Director Michael Kennedy stated that “This news will no doubt be devastating to the TSSC’s current and former members as well as the Departmental officers who have worked so hard on the listing advices for several years, it certainly is for HSI and all Australians who care about sound decision making and the sustainable future of the Murray Darling Basin. Claims in Parliament that the decision was rushed must feel like a real kick in the face.”
The listings were pioneering examples of aquatic ecosystem conservation, taking a whole-of-system approach to provide the connectivity essential to protect and improve the ecological functioning of nationally iconic ecosystems. Widespread and ongoing declines or losses of key functional species throughout both communities have occurred since at least the 1980s, and combined with often catastrophic recruitment failure have led to serious ecological decline. Clearance of native vegetation, changes to flow regimes, and impacts from invasive species and climate change have degraded water quality, increased salinity and impacted heavily upon the systems’ sustainability.
Michael Kennedy continued, “The Federal Government has ignored one of the most highly respected scientific bodies in Australia and in the process sold their constituents in the Murray Darling Basin down their own river. These disallowances are purely politically motivated considering the solidarity of the scientific evidence – the listings not only protected the ecological integrity of both systems but the continued livelihoods of those relying on the sustainability of the rivers and marshes such as graziers, irrigators and vignerons. The government has endangered the future of the entire region by ignoring the need for immediate conservation action.”