Federal budget must do more than stop the ants

The 2017 budget handed down in Australia's Parliament has been a missed opportunity for environmental biosecurity. Photo: Sam Ilić | Flickr | CC BY-NC 2.0

The 2017 budget handed down in Australia’s Parliament delivered funds for red fire ant eradication but has been a missed opportunity for stoping new biosecurity threats. Photo: Sam Ilić | Flickr | CC BY-NC 2.0

The Australian Government’s 2017 budget was a disappointing, missed opportunity for environmental biosecurity, and puts at risk native plants and animals over coming decades.

It was positive to see a clearly stated intention to fund red fire ant eradication out of the $1 billion National Landcare Program. This provides a funding source for the deputy prime minister’s promise to support the full eradication program.

We look forward to further details on the federal government contribution towards fire ant eradication, expected to be 50% of the needed $380 million over the next ten years.

The confirmation of $20 million over five years to support the Invasive Animals CRC transition to the permanent Centre for Invasive Species Solutions is welcomed.

Left unfunded is general biosecurity research and coordinated research on weeds and most other environmental pests and diseases. The environmental biosecurity research and development plan released last year is without funding for implementation. The closure of the Plant Biosecurity CRC in June 2018 will leave a significant gap.

The new indigenous ranger and Indigenous Protected Area programs have potential to provide greater protection for our environment.

Beyond this there was very little else put on the table in the fight against the arrival of new invasive species despite the string of recent serious biosecurity breaches.

There was also no funding allocated to support the upcoming government responses to the 2017 review of the Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity (IGAB) or the 2015 Senate inquiry into environmental biosecurity.

The IGAB review stated that “evidence to date indicates that environmental biosecurity risks are yet to be fully defined, and preparedness, surveillance and response arrangements are not yet mature”, while the Senate inquiry into environmental biosecurity warned that the effective operation of the national biosecurity system is threatened by a lack of resources

Overall Australia will be left in a much weaker position to respond to environmental invasive species threats with the environment budget cut by 14% since 2013 and a further 27% reduction projected by 2020.

The 2016 State of the Environment report and our recent review confirmed that Invasive species are a leading threat to Australia’s wildlife and the lack of action on environmental biosecurity in this budget will only make the situation worse.

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