JRigory Andrews was Australia’s first Commissioner for Endangered Species, appointed in 2013 by the new Alliance’s Environment Minister Greg Hunt. He recently returned to the country, after serving as High Commissioner to Ghana, and was disappointed with what he found.
Andrews believes the state of the country’s natural wildlife and biodiversity is “the worst it has ever been” and calls the ongoing destruction of forests and other habitats “crazy”.
After a political period marked by successive summer disasters and multiple official reports highlighting the failure of the government, he sees it as a major issue. But for the first two weeks of the election campaign, the environment may not be there.
“Biodiversity and nature have been completely absent from this campaign so far,” he says.
“It makes me really sad because Australians define ourselves through our wildlife. We get them from our money, our sports teams, our logo, our Qantas tail. We can’t continue to identify ourselves with our wildlife when we lose it to extinction.”
With so much of Australia’s landscape already cleared, he thinks it’s time to have a conversation about sharing what’s left with the country’s unique and increasingly struggling wildlife.
“If we are serious about what it means to be Australian…we are a rich enough country with enough habitat and enough space to set aside the remaining land for protection,” he says. “The problem is that the Greens are the only party that says that, and it’s seen as a fringe or extreme position.”
Andrews spent three years as the Threatened Species Commissioner. He says while he was proud of some of the things that had been achieved under Hunt, he felt constrained by climate denial within the coalition and refused to deal with habitat degradation.
He’s not the only one who has raised concerns about the environment missing from the campaign. Others are also trying to raise his profile.
A new report from the Coalition of Conservation Groups says that if Australia is serious about protecting nature, it will increase its spending tenfold. It highlights the 100 animals and plants – including the orange-billed macaw and the earless dragon in the grasslands – that are at risk of imminent extinction.
This week, Independent South Australian Senator Rex Patrick called for a change in the way the environment is handled in the next parliament, including by requiring the prime minister to issue an annual statement on extinction, and to include newly declared species as extinct or endangered.
The question is: is anyone listening?
It is well known that Australia is not doing enough to protect its environment.
In the past quarter alone, three official reports, two from the Australian National Audit Office as well as an independent review of Australian environmental laws by former competition watch chief Graeme Samuel, have highlighted a series of environmental failures.
A fourth report, the State of the Environment released every five years, is also expected to highlight the continuing decline. The Morrison government could have submitted this report before the campaign began, but it has been withheld.
The rate of land clearing is increasing in states such as Queensland and New South Wales, and the addition of new species to Australia’s national list of threatened wildlife has accelerated due to the country’s worst bushfire disaster.
The animal emblem of the Australian Capital Territory, the gang cockatoo, has entered the list as endangered, with a specialist scientific committee highlighting the climate crisis as the main driver of the bird’s decline.
A week before the election was called, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change sounded the alarm once again that the world was quickly running out of time to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C.
It is universally recognized that the climate and nature crises are intertwined.
But talk about either of those issues in the campaign so far has been marked by commentary on electricity bills, based on unsourced models, and a $220 million pledge by the prime minister, Scott Morrison, to local forests in Tasmania.
Before the election was called, the Morrison government also promised $50 million for one species, the koala, which was upgraded in conservation status in February from weak to endangered.
Carol Booth, principal policy analyst at the Invasive Species Council, says the silence of the major parties about what the next government will do to change course says a lot.
“Obviously they are ruling that they are not going to overturn the election for them,” she says.
They pay attention to individual crises, such as fires. But because it is a long-term malicious problem and there are many threats that combine and interact…
“You won’t see results in one state in government.”
Council – Supported by BirdLife Australia, Bush Heritage, Humane Society International and Australian Land keep Alliance – released a new report indicating that extinctions are expected to escalate dramatically in Australia over the next two decades due to Australia’s failure to deal with major threats to invasive species, habitat destruction and climate change.
Identifies 100 species at risk of extinction at that time, including 20 freshwater fish, nine birds, eight frogs, six reptiles, one mammal and one butterfly with a risk of extinction of more than 50% within 20 years, and 55 plants At risk of extinction within 10.
He argues that reform of Australia’s threat mitigation system is necessary after years of neglect, as evidenced by late, outdated and nearly a decade-old species recovery plans. fail By the coalition to develop an official list of major threats.
That line was finally broken this week after wilderness-degrading fire regulations were officially listed as a major threat to Australia’s environment, 14 years after they were first proposed.
The environment minister, Susan Lee, signed off on the decision shortly before the election was called.
The Invasive Species Council report puts forward solutions, including that governments simply enforce laws and protections that they have neglected for so long. That is, systematically list the main threats and develop and implement plans to address them as well as restore the species.
It repeats the previous work of a group of scientists led by conservation ecologist Brendan Wintel who found that Australia needs a tenfold increase in spending on nature to restore endangered wildlife.
Booth says this will require spending of between $1.5 billion and $2 billion annually.
“It’s not a lot in terms of the entire budget, but it’s a lot more than what they’ve committed to so far,” she says.
Most voters care about nature, says Samantha Fine, Head of Conservation and Science at BirdLife Australia, but that passion is not always visible to politicians.
And when governments make efforts to tackle threats, she says, the course of species facing extinction can be altered.
On Macquarie Island, for example, the gray-headed albatross breeding population on Macquarie Island is recovering after governments prioritized eradicating rodents and rabbits on the island.
“It shows what can happen if you invest only in the work that needs to be done,” she says.
Guardian Australia asked the Alliance, Labor and the Greens about their priorities for nature.
Much of the Morrison government’s mandate has focused on the environmental liberalization agenda and the attempt to transfer the powers of environmental approval to states and territories.
But Ley also says she has “delivered more than $6 billion in environmental spending since 2019” and points to budget announcements of $1 billion for the Great Barrier Reef and $100 million for the Environmental Restoration Fund.
As a minister, she developed a new 10-year threatened species strategy and introduced a long-awaited recovery plan for koalas.
“The Morrison government is committed to practical work and working with communities, land managers, traditional owners and scientists to protect the environment, from our heritage places to the health of our oceans and local species,” she says.
Labor environmental spokesman Terry Butler says the party will have more to say about the environment so close to the election, but has already committed to increasing funding for Indigenous rangers and Indigenous Conservation Areas as well as $200 million for urban rivers and watersheds.
She says the State of the Environment in Australia report, which Lay has been sitting on, should be made public.
“Protecting and restoring the environment has never been more important after wildfires and floods,” Butler says.
“The environment cannot stand the mismanagement of the Morrison Joyce government [it] for another term.
Green Party environmental spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young says the party has been “fighting against liberals’ attacks on our environment since they came to power”.
“Our environment is in crisis and the Greens are important to protect it in Parliament,” she says.
She says the Greens have the Parties’ most comprehensive policy for environmental protection, which includes a zero extinction target and a commitment to end habitat destruction.
This week, Rex Patrick, who is struggling to retain his seat, said that if re-elected he would move for the prime minister to be “personally responsible for Australia’s irreversible environmental failures”.
Patrick wants to create a requirement in Australian environmental laws that the prime minister must submit an annual Extinction and Threatened Species Statement to Parliament listing newly declared species as either extinct or endangered.
“No prime minister would be so eager to stand in Parliament and ring the death knell for the unique Australian species,” he said.
“But this is probably what is needed to focus the minds of governments on taking action before the point of irreversible extinction is reached.”