Australia’s ‘extinction crisis’ laid bare
WHEN it comes to protecting wildlife species and Australia's unique biodiversity, we have one of the worst track records in the world.
Environmental campaigners say we must stop the growing animal extinction crisis taking place in our country by introducing new laws and regulatory oversight to address the problem and avoid ecological disaster.
In the face of growing calls from environmental groups, a government inquiry was set up earlier this year to look at the declining population and conservation status of Australia's nearly 500 threatened species, and environment laws and monitoring programs.
At a hearing in Melbourne today, the inquiry, Australia's Faunal Extinction Crisis, heard from groups including the Wilderness Society, which is recommending a complete overhaul of environmental laws in the country.
"Australia has one of the world's worst records for extinction and protection of animal species," it said in its submission. "Australians depend on thriving ecosystems for their wellbeing and prosperity, and extinction fundamentally threatens the healthy functioning of these ecosystems."
The group said it "strongly recommends a complete overhaul of Australia's national environment laws" to better protect threatened species.
It is also calling for enhanced protection for the habitats of at-risk animals and a national environment plan to set objectives for state and federal governments that would be reviewed every five years.
"Australia needs to act quickly to stem the tide of extinction," the organisation said.
Experts say efforts to reverse course in the face of dwindling animal populations are hampered by lack of funding, cuts to environment department budgets, poor co-ordination between state and federal departments, a lack of accountability and failure to implement comprehensive management plans for species.
"Legislative reform should include natural and heritage protection across jurisdictional boundaries for stronger protections and the restoration of threatened species, endangered ecological communities and damaged marine ecosystems," wrote independent Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie in his submission to the inquiry in September.
"The current silo approach where local, state and federal governments work independently of one another must end," Mr Wilkie urged.
DISAPPOINTING RECORD LIKELY TO GET WORSE
Roughly 11 per cent of Australia's 273 endemic land mammal species are already extinct since European settlement, according to a 2015 study. And things have only continued to decline in recent years, environmentalists say.
"We're in a situation that is spiralling out of control. I don't want to be too superlative or sensationalist about it, but we've been saying this for so long and yet every single index we're looking at is getting worse and it'll only continue to do so," Professor Corey Bradshaw, a fellow in global ecology at Adelaide's Flinders University told news.com.au in May.
"Most of the damage has been done in the past 50 years and it's accumulating - we're reaping the unfortunate harvests of past deforestation and evasive species that we brought in with gay abandon during development," he said.
Despite our already disappointing record, he believes things are only going to get worse.
"I suspect we're just starting to see the first wave of extinctions," he said. "We're already leading the world in mammal extinctions - not something we should be terribly proud of."
JUST ANOTHER INQUIRY
The inquiry - the second in six years - was prompted in June by a vote initiated by Greens senator Janet Rice and supported by Labor and crossbenchers.
At the time Senator Rice said the country was facing an "animal extinction crisis" and accused the Government of standing by while more species marched towards their demise.
"A staggering one in three global mammal extinctions in the last 400 years have occurred in Australia," she said.
"It's simply not good enough for a country as advanced and wealthy as ours to be leaving the next generation with a crisis like this.
"We urgently need this inquiry to identify the funding resources and legal protections that have to be in place to ensure that not one more animal species goes extinct in Australia."
The inquiry's report is due next month.