Amendments to Australia’s environment laws weaken and politicise threatened species protection
Humane Society International (HSI) and WWF-Australia are fearful for the future of threatened species protection in Australia if a Bill to substantially modify our national environment laws passes the Senate unamended.
Federal Environment Minister, Ian Campbell, introduced an Amendment Bill to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, 1999 last week which will:
- Potentially wipe 500 threatened ecological communities from the current waiting list for protection under the EPBC Act (amounting to millions of hectares of endangered habitat across the country).
- Remove the mandatory requirement to develop a Recovery Plan once a threatened species or ecological community is listed under the law as threatened;
- Remove the mandatory requirement to identify “critical habitat” for threatened species in any Recovery Plans that are developed;
- Make it harder for the public to secure legal protection for threatened species and ecological communities with a new requirement for public nominations to comply with “themes” set by the Minister or risk having their nominations left off lists for consideration;
- Give the Minister arbitrary discretion to remove a publicly nominated species or ecological community from the annual list of species to be assessed for listing (currently the Minister gives his Scientific Committee repeated extensions to postpone consideration of politically controversial nominations such as commercial marine fish and ecological communities occurring on private farm land – a new amendment will allow him to remove controversial nominations from the Committee’s consideration altogether).
- Allow the Minister to refuse to have assessed a threatened species previously rejected for protection even if its conservation status has worsened (also open to abuse for controversial species).
“HSI and WWF-Australia are alarmed by the proposed changes and the potential for the Minister to politicise what should be an objective scientific process”, said Andreas Glanznig, Senior Policy Adviser, WWF-Australia.
“At a time when experts are warning of an impending extinction crisis, Australia needs to be fortifying its threatened species legislation not weakening it and introducing political opt out clauses”, said HSI Director Michael Kennedy.
“HSI and WWF-Australia acknowledge that the current EPBC Act has not been delivering the protection that is needed. However, that has not been the fault of the law but the paltry resources given to the Department of Environment and Heritage for implementation of the Act. The answer is for the Howard Government to substantially increase funding for the running of the EPBC Act. It is not to reduce the Government’s legal responsibilities to protect threatened species”, said Mr Kennedy.
HSI and WWF-Australia do welcome the improved compliance and enforcement provisions included in the Amendment Bill, but we are calling on all MPs and Senators not to allow this Bill to be rushed through before Christmas without adequate scrutiny and amendments to address serious concerns for threatened species and habitat protection.