Agriculture review calls for $1bn investment to address EPBC Act perception problem

By : Humane Society International June 27, 2019

Humane Society International (HSI) welcomes many of the recommendations within Dr Wendy Craik's report on the interaction between the agricultural sector and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act), which was released today.

The report makes clear that there is a perception problem surrounding our national environment law, citing widespread beliefs that it is detrimental to farmer productivity in the face of little evidence of impact on the agricultural sector. It notes that "the number of referrals under the EPBC Act received from the agriculture sector has remained consistently low since 2000” and that "the general trend over the past decade is toward reduced numbers of referrals.”

"Dr Craik's report shows that just 2.7% of EPBC Act referrals are from the agriculture sector, and that in 20 years only two were not approved while 28 had some conditions placed on them – that's less than two instances of EPBC Act impact on agricultural projects each year, nationwide,” said Evan Quartermain, HSI's Head of Programs.

"The report states that these numbers mean there is no real evidence to suggest this should be cause for concern among agricultural stakeholders, a point HSI made in our submission to the review. We question why what seems to be a relative non-issue has received such intense scrutiny when this data has been available to the Government all along,Mr Quartermain continued.

HSI supports a number of common sense recommendations within the report, such as increased regional outreach and support for farmers in understanding their obligations and opportunities relating to conserving our precious biodiversity.

"Any apparent lack of outreach is a consequence of successive Governments cutting Department of Environment funding. It's no surprise the perception is that communication with regional communities is down while the money for Department officials to get the job done has dried up,” said Mr Quartermain.

"Australia is in an extinction crisis. The Government needs to take this matter extremely seriously and significantly bolster funding for our threatened species and habitats, which currently stands at less than 5 cents of every $100 of public funds.

HSI similarly welcomes Dr Craik's recommendation for a $1 billion fund to establish a National Biodiversity Conservation Trust to support the public benefits of protecting our most threatened biodiversity, though this fund's design and establishment will need to be carefully managed.

Another positive is the recommended focus on conservation efforts at a regional scale, with Recommendations 18-20 noting a need to prioritise research into a coordinated regional approach to conservation management of protected species and ecosystems, along with determining best-practice approaches for the assessment of cumulative impacts.

However, HSI holds serious concerns with some aspects of the report. Recommendation 10 allows for potential interference in robust and scientifically-based decision making by calling for advice on the 'social and economic impacts of a listing decision' to be provided to the Minister along with the Department's listing brief.

"Science alone must be the basis for recognising the true conservation status of a species or habitat. Any potential socioeconomic impacts are a matter for Government to address through measures such as landholder support after listings are made.

"It's about good planning and protecting the parts of Australia's nature that need it most. Factoring socioeconomics in before a listing is made undermines the vital work that must be done to stop the extinction crisis. Australia's nature deserves better, and it is of the utmost importance that the listing process itself remains based solely on scientific evidence,Mr Quartermain concluded.

Image: Don Butler

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About HSI Australia

HSI concentrates on the preservation of endangered animals and ecosystems and works to ensure quality of life for all animals, both domestic and wild. HSI is the largest animal protection not-for-profit organisation in the world and has been established in Australia since 1994