Barely a squeak on one of nature’s biggest killers

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THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN SUPERSEDED BY A MORE RECENT ARTICLE ON THE SAME SUBJECT PUBLISHED 4 SEP 2013

What have we heard so far about tackling the growing threat from invasive species in the upcoming federal election?

So far, the two main political parties have been silent on environmental biosecurity – despite invasive species being rated by experts as one of the top two or three threats to Australia’s biodiversity. The Greens have released a policy with measures that would greatly strengthen Australia’s biosecurity capacity.

The Invasive Species Council has been calling for widespread reform of our biosecurity system: for a more precautionary approach to the entry of goods and species, prevention in-country sources of new invasive species and ecologically focused management of established weeds, ferals and other invaders.  Regular failures point to the need for change. The last few years have seen the arrival of myrtle rust, yellow crazy ants and Asian honeybees, and the unchecked spread of many other invaders.

At the centrepiece of the Greens’ national biosecurity policy is the establishment of an independent, science-based biosecurity authority supported by a commission of experts to make biosecurity decisions based on risks.

This would be a major improvement on the current system, in which the major decision-maker is the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, who also has a major role in promoting exports.  The current system lacks independence and transparency. Threats to the natural environment are often undervalued or ignored, and environmental biosecurity lags behind that for industry.

The Greens also support the Invasive Species Council’s call for a Parliamentary inquiry into Australia’s preparedness for new environmental invaders.

Labor has squandered a major opportunity to reform the biosecurity system, backing down on the key recommendations of a major 2008 inquiry to establish an independent biosecurity authority and better resource the sector. It introduced a Biosecurity Bill, now stalled in the Senate, that ignored our concerns and failed to reform decision-making processes to ensure transparency, independence, community involvement and consistently science-based decisions. The Labor government also assigned to a dusty shelf its target in the Biodiversity Strategy to reduce invasive species impacts on threatened biodiversity by 10% by 2015 – no plan, no costings, no meaningful progress. A Rudd Labor Government, if elected, has promised a modest $20m for a new Community Weed Management Fund to ‘eradicate Australia’s most noxious weeds’. These funds presumably replace the recently axed Weeds of National Significance program, but without the coordination.

The Liberal National coalition has had little to say on biosecurity during its time in opposition. However, their environment spokesperson, Greg Hunt, has indicated support for an Invasive Species Council proposal for Environment Health Australia, an institution to foster collaborative ecological solutions for invasive species.  It has not been announced as an election policy. The only relevant Coalition policy so far is $300 million over four years to develop a ‘green army’. Depending on its focus, this could help with some weed problems but for the Coalition to meet its stated goal to reverse environmental decline in five years it will need to do much more to respond to Australia’s massive invasive species threats.

The Invasive Species Council sent a questionnaire based on our election policy platform (below) to all the major parties and a number of minor parties and sitting independents. Only Labor, the Greens and Senator Xenophon have responded to date. We encourage all those who understand the threat posed by invasive species to email the parties to support our platform.

Our Reforms

The reforms below were presented to the major political parties contesting the 2013 Federal election. We believe the reforms will save big costs in the long-term, and stem losses of biodiversity and agricultural productivity.

  • Establish Environmental Health Australia. Collaboration is essential to meet the challenges of environmental biosecurity. To bring together governments, the community and industry to improve biosecurity preparedness, identify research and control priorities, and build capacity, establish a body called Environment Health Australia, modelled on the existing industry-government partnerships, Plant Health Australia and Animal Health Australia.
  • Work to achieve a strong invasive species target with a funded plan. Getting down to business on invasive species requires a national plan with meaningful targets. Commit to achieving within 5 years a net reduction in the impacts of invasive species. This requires a baseline assessment of condition, an assessment of the measures and funding necessary to achieve the target and a costed plan. Essential elements of achieving the target include measures to protect declining mammals of northern Australia, eradicate foxes in Tasmania and yellow crazy ants in Queensland and implement threat abatement plans for other invasive species identified as key threatening processes. Provide long-term funding to implement the plan.
  • Establish an independent biosecurity authority with an expert biosecurity commission. To ensure that biosecurity decisions are science-based, independent of politics, transparent and precautionary, an independent authority with an expert commission, as recommended by the 2008 Beale review, is needed. A new Biosecurity Act should be introduced to also foster a stronger environmental and community focus, which includes best practice elements of community engagement, a statutory role for the Environment Minister and a focus on environmental priorities such as islands (which are highly vulnerable to invasive species).
  • Conduct a parliamentary inquiry into Australia’s preparedness for new environmental invaders. Recent quarantine failings as exemplified in the establishment of myrtle rust, Asian honeybees and several infestations of yellow crazy ants demonstrate systemic failings in contingency planning, surveillance and responses for new environmental invaders.
  • Regulate movement of exotic plants. As identified by the 2009 Hawke review of the EPBC Act, there are major gaps in regulation of the movement of exotic plant species within Australia. If states and territories do not agree through COAG to amend their laws within one year to regulate plants consist with their invasion risks, this should be achieved by using existing provisions of the EPBC Act.
  • Restore national weed research capacity. Australia needs a research program to develop effective technical and policy responses to the great challenges of weed prevention, eradication and control equivalent to that of the former CRC for Weed Management.
  • Strengthen invasive species threat abatement. Many of our greatest threats require a collaborative approach to planning, research and control efforts. Effective action against major invasive species threats can be achieved by strengthening processes to systematically list and abate key threatening processes under the EPBC Act.

Authorised by Andrew Cox, 88B Station Street, Fairfield 3078 Victoria.


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One Response to “Barely a squeak on one of nature’s biggest killers”

  1. A healthy economy is underpinned by a healthy environment. A point forgotten by some politicians but probably never realised by most and why we’ve so little policy on the environment in amongst this whole election about the economy