The Invasive Species Council has welcomed the Albanese government’s response to the independent review of Australia’s national environmental law, but warns that zero extinctions cannot be achieved unless more work is done to fix and resource Australia’s threat abatement system.
‘There are a lot of positives in the government response released today, including a commitment to national environmental standards, an independent Environmental Protection Agency and major improvements in data management,’ said Invasive Species Council conservation director James Trezise.
‘We welcome moves to modernise conservation planning under the EPBC Act and identify high environmental value areas; however, the package released today is effectively silent on fixing Australia’s threat abatement system.
‘Preventing and managing invasive species threats must be an urgent priority. They have been the major driver of extinctions in Australia and continue to be one of the most significant ongoing threats to nature.
‘Threat abatement plans are the primary mechanism under the current Act used to drive coordinated action on invasive species risks.
‘We currently have a moribund threat abatement system that is bogged down in bureaucracy and crippled by a lack of resources. Unfortunately, there isn’t much detail released today on how the government intends to turn that around.
‘Current discussions on conservation planning reform have not addressed the failures of the threat abatement system, and that needs to change.
‘We need to make sure that threats are clearly documented, with the rapid listing of priority threats accompanied by fit-for-purpose and scalable responses and adequate resourcing.
‘In 2010, myrtle rust arrived in Australia. The failure of the biosecurity and threat abatement systems means that this invasive pathogen is now likely to send at least 16 rainforest plants extinct within a generation. Similarly, invasive fish are predicted to cause the extinction of more than a dozen native species within 20 years but are not even listed as a key threat under current laws.
‘We also need increased accountability for the implementation of conservation and threat abatement planning instruments. The Environmental Protection Agency should be reporting annually to parliament on the implementation of conservation and threat abatement plans, otherwise, we risk repeating the mistakes of the past.
‘With the Act likely to be rewritten, there is a significant opportunity to revitalise threat abatement planning and embed it within a national framework that drives coordinated conservation action at scale.
‘There is also the opportunity to make sure there is a positive obligation on public land managers to effectively control invasive species in important places such as heritage areas and national parks.
‘The other key issue that the government needs to tackle is increasing funding for conservation.
‘The government response has proposed leveraging conservation payments from developers in lieu of biodiversity offsets. Whilst it is clear there needs to be a major overhaul of biodiversity offsets under the EPBC Act, tying funding for on-ground conservation to the destruction of nature elsewhere creates significant risks.
‘The environment portfolio is significantly underfunded when it comes to tackling threats to nature and implementing recovery actions. We need to make sure the government is investing more in on-ground conservation efforts if we are to recover threatened species in Australia.
‘Protecting and restoring nature for future generations is a public good. The Albanese government will have to increase its investment in conservation if it truly aims to deliver a nature-positive future,’ said Mr Trezise.