Tackling deadly threats to nature: Biosecurity priorities for the next Australian government

COVID-19 has taught the world a lesson about invasive species – their ability to spread, create havoc in unexposed populations and evolve to exploit our vulnerabilities.

As an island nation with a trove of unique wildlife that evolved in isolation from the rest of the world, Australia has proved highly susceptible to biological invasions. They have caused the majority of species extinctions over the past 230 years and remain the highest impact threat.

Our mega-biodiverse country – one of only a few on the planet – is in the grips of an extinction crisis. Since 2009, 3 unique animals have been wiped out and 2 others lost from the wild. Four of these recent extinctions were due to invasive species. Hundreds more native species, including more than half our nationally listed threatened species, are imperilled by invasive species. The economic costs of invasive species are also staggering – an estimated $25 billion a year, more than 1% of Australia’s GDP.

For such reasons, strengthening biosecurity – stopping new invasive species arriving and establishing and limiting the harm caused by established invaders – must be an Australian government priority of the highest order.

While stopping invasive species is often difficult, past achievements show that with dedication and resources, Australia can achieve world-leading results. We have, for example, eradicated several red fire ant populations, as well as rats and cats from many islands, and beaten back terrible weeds through biocontrol or concerted removal (bitou bush, sea spurge and prickly pear, for example). So far, we’ve been able to keep out destructive new invaders such as the Asian black-spined toad, giant African snail and wattle rusts.

But in many places invasive species are running riot. To protect and restore Australia’s ecosystems, we need a more concerted effort to tackle the likes of feral cats, yellow crazy ants, carp, myrtle rust, gamba grass and hard-hoofed invaders such as feral deer and horses. We also need stronger, more collaborative, better funded biosecurity to prevent and eradicate new invaders and stop the spread of others.

Extinction is a choice – a choice expressed in the laws passed by governments, the money invested in protection or destruction and the actions we all take. Collectively, Australians can choose to ensure that Australia’s unique species persist and thrive.

In this document, we outline initiatives and policies to improve Australia’s capacity to keep nature safe from new and established invasive species. It is not a simple task – it will take concerted action and an ambitious, long-term vision shared by all parts of society, with strong leadership by our national government.

Environmental biosecurity priorities:

1. Strengthen our national environmental biosecurity system

1.1 Support the 2021-2030 Decade of Biosecurity initiative proposed by major national industry, environmental and NRM groups and guarantee long-term Commonwealth funding for the implementation of a collaboratively developed national biosecurity strategy.

1.2 Systematically assess, identify and address high-risk pathways for environmental invasive species and undertake contingency planning for all high-priority environmental biosecurity risks over a 10-year timeframe.

1.3 Triple the resources available to the Commonwealth Chief Environmental Biosecurity Officer to adequately plan for, and respond to, established and emerging biosecurity risks.

1.4 Establish an independent panel to develop new models for financing biosecurity measures and responses.

1.5 Establish a productivity commission inquiry into the economic and environmental benefits of Australia’s biosecurity system and prevention and early action on addressing invasive species.

1.6 Ensure Australia is on target to exceed its global targets for managing invasive species, including targets under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

2. Strengthen laws, policies and programs to tackle the big threats to nature

2.1 Commit to preventing extinctions by significantly increasing investments in threat abatement and the recovery of threatened species.

2.2 Commit to introducing strong outcomes-based national environmental standards and independent oversight as part of a full response to the Independent Review of the EPBC Act.

2.3 Reform planning instruments under the EPBC Act to ensure that key threats to nature are systematically assessed and listed, and abated through national and regional planning processes.

2.4 Add a key threatening process trigger to Australia’s environmental laws to require assessment of activities that are likely to exacerbate listed key threatening processes.

2.5 Ensure new regional plans account for, and adequately resource, the retention and restoration of priority biodiversity areas with a strong focus on active management and control of invasive species.

3. Tackle some of our most damaging invasive threats

3.1 Develop national plans, with funding for implementation, to abate the threats of hard-hoofed invaders, including feral deer, horses, camels and goats.

3.2 Invest $27.6 million over 6 years to eradicate yellow crazy ants in the Cairns and Townsville regions.

3.3 Address the devastating impacts of cats on native wildlife in Australia by implementing all 6 recommendations of the parliamentary inquiry into feral and domestic cats in Australia.

3.4 Commit to revising the northern Australian pasture grass threat abatement plan, with dedicated funding for controlling invasive gamba grass.

3.5 Commit to using national environmental law to safeguard the Australian Alps from the impacts of feral horses.

3.6 Establish independent governance for, and adequately fund, the program to eradicate red fire ants from southeast Queensland by 2027.

3.7 Provide funds to support the eradication of feral deer from the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

4. Invest in biosecurity research and innovation

4.1 Commit to fully implementing the National Environment and Community Biosecurity Research, Development and Extension (RD&E) Strategy 2021-2026, with a strong focus on solving difficult highpriority problems and applying emerging technologies.

4.2 Expand the role of the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions so that it becomes a permanent body that conducts research across all categories of invasive species and all stages of invasion with a strong emphasis on environmental biosecurity.

4.3 Invest in Australia’s capacity for rapid identification of exotic species including the maintenance of validated reference collections for biosecurity risk groups in Australia’s national biological collections (CSIRO, state and territory museums and herbaria).

5. Create invasive-free islands

5.1 Establish a national islands recovery program that fast-tracks eradications of high-impact invasive species,, strengthens biosecurity and coordinates recovery efforts for Australia’s offshore islands.


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Fight fire ants!

Australia is perilously close to losing the war against red fire ants. But right now, instead of taking action, our governments have only one thing in mind: delay. They are refusing to release an independently written report that details what needs to be done to eradicate these dangerous invasive ants.