Australian Wildlife Protection Council

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Open Letter To Federal Environment Minister - You Have The Powers To Protect All Native Species

Open Letter To Federal Environment Minister
- You Have The Powers To Protect All Native Species

The Australian Wildlife Protection Council is dedicated to conservation of all remaining native Australian animals, and plants, to stem further loss and rebuild as possible Australia’s degraded ecosystems and biodiversity in a challenging age.
“Native herbivores such as kangaroos and wombats play a vital role in ecosystem functioning but are often victimised and treated with a lack of concern because of socio-political factors and historical value judgements rather than heeding biological and ecological information,” wrote ecologist Dan Ramp in a paper examining the role of biodiversity in climate change adaptation.
He’s referring to the lethal and ongoing removal of native herbivores from a landscape dedicated to grazing herds of introduced animals and to cropping. This status quo follows 200 years of habitat removal and the killing of some wildlife specifically as commercial product, for ‘pest management’ or recreational hunting. AWPC says an urgent review is needed to understand the benefits of conserving the remaining large herbivores and other native species not already endangered, in order to save remaining biodiversity. The AWPC committee reached out to the Commonwealth Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek, and has the same message for state environment ministers.
The message to Minister Plibersek was an opportunity at a call-out for solutions to the biodiversity crisis. AWPC said: You, Minister, have some unused powers, a pathway to conserve all our wildlife and flora. Don’t deflect with talk of States’ rights that prop up property rights that outbid conserving Australian nature – a formula proven disastrous for wildlife and biodiversity. Unwrap treaties signed by Australia that come with conservation obligations and use the powers you already have.
AWPC President and environmental scientist Frankie Seymour unearthed hidden treaty and existing legislative possibilities and put them in context with current practice. AWPC sent the Minister the following summary along with an expanded submission. We now offer the summary as an open letter for all to consider.

TO THE FEDERAL ENVIRONMENT MINISTER

The Australian Wildlife Protection Council (AWPC) is glad of the opportunity to offer ambitious and innovative ideas to halt and reverse decline in our biodiversity. We are pleased to learn that the federal/ Commonwealth Government has committed to: reduce climate changing emissions by 43% by 2030, on a path to net zero by 2050, and to protect and conserve 30% of our land for the natural environment by 2030.

We submit, however, that this is only a beginning if we are to have any hope of preserving the ecosystems on which all living things depend for our collective survival. A more comprehensive legislative approach at the federal level is needed to stem biodiversity decline. Such an approach is available, under the Commonwealth’s external affairs and corporations powers.
Australia is a signatory to three international agreements which require us to protect our biodiversity: The Earth Summit, 1992, The Biodiversity Convention of 1992; and The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 1992, all of which commit us to (among other things) the ‘Precautionary Principle’ – that means acting before species are threatened to stem further biodiversity loss.
The Commonwealth’s external affairs powers enable the Commonwealth to comply with these agreements by making laws to protect biodiversity, over the heads of the States.
The situation for Australian biodiversity, and the species that comprise it, is grave, primarily because most of our native species and ecological communities are currently virtually bereft of any protection under either State or Commonwealth law.
Most of the animal species currently listed as ‘threatened’ are too reduced in numbers to provide any significant ecological services. It is the unprotected species that now provide most the ecological services without which ecosystems cannot survive.
Functional ecosystems are, in turn, essential to the viability of vegetation sinks that provide carbon sequestration.
Since all native species and ecosystems collectively constitute and individually contribute to Australian biodiversity, and to carbon sequestration, the Commonwealth should, in order to comply with its international agreements, use its external affairs powers by deeming all native species and ecosystems to be Matters of National Environmental Significance (MNES).
All native species and ecological communities are under threat from a multitude of anthropogenic pressures.
On a precautionary basis, the Commonwealth should therefore deem and declare all native plants, animals and ecological communities comprising Australian biodiversity to be ‘threatened’, and list them accordingly for protection.
Commonwealth law – via the Environmental Protection Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act under the Commonwealth’s corporations powers – already requires the Commonwealth Environment Minister to take action that would protect biodiversity in particular circumstances. For example, by refusing to support a State wildlife management plan that breaches the requirements set out in the EPBC Act.
The NSW Kangaroo Management Plan is one such example, now known to have breached EPBC requirements in a number of ways, and there is no reason to believe that other State kangaroo “harvesting” plans are any more compliant. No Commonwealth minister, required to review and authorise state plans, has rejected such a plan.
Rather than just rubber stamp these plans, the Commonwealth Environment Minister can protect kangaroos and other biodiversity from State government management plans that breach the EPBC Act’s requirements, by scrutinising State government claims in regard to compliance, and by rejecting plans that breach the Act.
AWPC believes that Australia needs to move away from lethal control of wildlife because killing animals is destructive to biodiversity that depends on their roles in ecosystems and cruel to the animals. We encourage reconciliation, respect and far better understanding of ecological roles held by fellow species on this continent.
We urge the Minister to use her office to encourage a culture that is more respectful of Australian nature, and to consider how Australia’s current cruel and lethal culture vis a vis wildlife (and other non-human animals) might prepare for an international convention on animal welfare.