Very few countries can boast as unique a biodiversity as Australia. Marsupials, not placental mammals, are the most common mammals in our island country/continent and many forests are dominated by eucalypts and their relatives. However, our country has a poor track record when in comes to protecting our biodiversity and a recent review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999 found that Australia’s environment is in unsustainable decline and that governments have failed to protect it.
We have failed in our responsibility as custodians of Australia’s biota and changes to the EPBC Act planned, making this a crucial time for Australia’s biodiversity. We therefore have the opportunity to implement changes that will safeguard our biodiversity – but first indications are not good. Instead of introducing improved protections, the first legislation relating to the review that is being introduced will transfer greater power for environmental decisions to states and territories.
Divulging power to states with less federal oversight opens up the door to further loss of biodiversity, as state and territory environmental laws and enforcement processes are not up to the federal standards. Furthermore, it is the federal government that has the responsibility to protect Australia’s biodiversity, both morally and legally as a signatory to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. In South Australia, we recently experienced the dangers of state-level decision making. Approval was given to build privately owned luxury accommodation in the iconic Flinders Chase National Park on Kangaroo Islands, with many still mystified how this could have happened. Clearly there is a need for national standards and legislation to protect our key environmental assets.
Few would disagree that we need development and that sometimes compromises need to be reached. However, we also have an obligation to protect Australia’s unique biota and this will become more challenging as the effects of climate change will intensify over the next decade. While Australia can and will recover from the current COVID19 recession, we will not be able to recover the Great Barrier Reef or the Kangaroo Island Dunnart once they are gone – just as the Tasmanian tiger is gone forever. We therefore need to make the most of our current opportunity to safeguard the future of Australia’s biodiversity.