Thursday, 17 March 2016
Action to Protect Australia's Threatened Species
by leave—Let me begin by also noting my own acknowledgement of and congratulations to the member for Groom on a simply outstanding career. Whether it is the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing, the long-term future of the renewable energy target, or the stable pathway for the Australian resources sector, he has been a giant—and I think there can be no higher compliment.
I turn now to our threatened species. Australia is a unique and remarkable place. We have a rich environment with so much to protect. More than 80 per cent of our mammals and over 90 per cent of our plants are found nowhere else on earth. We name our sporting teams after our wildlife. We put our plants and animals on our money, our stamps and our national coat of arms. Our wildlife helps define us as a nation.
But since European settlement, in just over 200 years, over 130 of Australia's known animals and plants have become extinct. We have endured one of the highest rates of extinction in the modern world. They are lost to us and lost to the world forever. Our mammals have fared particularly badly, and we must be upfront and honest about this history and the challenge. No other country has lost more mammals to extinction than Australia in modern times. We name our international rugby team the Wallabies, and our biggest and oldest airline, Qantas, has a kangaroo on its tail symbolising the 'spirit of Australia'. However, Australia has lost eight kangaroo-like mammals to extinction already, and another 15 are at risk.
A new national approach to threatened species
It is time that we acknowledge that Australia's animals and plants are ours to protect. It is our watch, our time, our moment and our responsibility. We, therefore, all have a role to play in the fight against extinction, and the Australian government has chosen, on its watch, to be a leader. Two years ago, in 2014, we initiated a new national approach to protecting our unique animals and plants at risk of extinction. More of the same would have resulted in more extinctions. So as Minister for the Environment I chose, with the government, to draw a line in the sand. In July 2014, I appointed Australia's first ever Threatened Species Commissioner, Gregory Andrews, who is in the chamber today with his extraordinary team, to lead the fight to save our wildlife from extinction and focus national attention on the plight of our native plants and animals. Along with his team, he has been an extraordinary advocate, force of nature and champion of practical, real-world action to protect our threatened species.
In July 2015, at Australia's first ever Threatened Species Summit in Melbourne, we brought together the best scientists and conservation managers in Australia, as well as the New Zealand conservation minister and the United States ambassador, to begin a conversation on ending extinctions and recovering our species.
We launched Australia's first ever Threatened Species Strategy to drive that action at a national level. Practical, real-world action only counts if it is more than words and results in the change of numbers to our critical species.
Based on the key principles of science, action and partnership, the Threatened Species Strategy sets an ambitious five-year plan for prioritised effort and working in partnership to fight these extinctions.
Ambitious targets to arrest and reverse declines
The strategy's action plan sets out hard and measurable targets to recover our threatened animals and plants and to ensure accountability. It is Australia's blueprint for winning the battle against extinction. The targets are ambitious. But they are achievable. And more importantly, they are necessary if we are to avoid further extinctions and save Australia's wildlife. Therefore, we have set out five fundamental target areas.
Within the Department of the Environment, the Threatened Species Commissioner is leading implementation of the Threatened Species Strategy which has 60 targets in total spread across the five years to 2020. He is reporting to me twice per year using best-practice project management but calling me almost daily. And I am pleased to say that the science and community focused approach of the strategy is already yielding dividends. Of the 26 targets that are due for completion in this first year, 25 are already on track or overachieving. Only in relation to feral cats do we have more to do to make sure that we meet our target. That is because we have set the most challenging and ambitious of targets in relation to eradicating at least two million feral cats by 2020, something which, again, scientist after scientist has indicated is indispensable to protect our native wildlife. So I have asked the Threatened Species Commissioner to further intensify efforts, and we will have new announcements shortly on practical further feral cat eradication tasks.
Delivering real and measurable results
Let me say this: the Threatened Species Strategy is much more than commitments and traffic-light reporting. When we established the position of the commissioner, I said that the task would be to deliver physical work on the ground which removes the threats and encourages the species. In that context, it is working with programs such as the National Landcare Program, the Green Army, the 20 Million Trees Program and the National Environmental Science Program to ensure that our goals are met.
The Australian government, all up, in particular through the work of the Green Army and the Threatened Species Commissioner, has mobilised over $190 million to support recovery of Australia's animals and plants. More than 500 projects have been approved across Australia. The commissioner reports to me that over 300 species are benefiting directly; and, in addition, 267 species are benefiting from Green Army projects and 72 from the 20 Million Trees Program. These are the practical things that we are doing. Let me give a couple of brief examples.
Less than 200 kilometres south of where we stand today, the endangered mountain pygmy possums, koonooms, which are also known as smoky mice, and bandicoots in Kosciuszko National Park are recovering thanks to a $140,000 Threatened Species Strategy project that has leveraged the efforts of the New South Wales government. It is funding training and deployment of two detector dogs and a full-time feral cat trapper. As we speak, they are making that habitat safe again for the animals that belong there. Over the past few months, dozens of feral cats and foxes have been humanely, effectively and justifiably removed for the benefit of the native animals.
In Kosciuszko again, as a further example, we have also intervened to avoid extinction in the wild of the magnificent southern corroboree frog. After advice from the commissioner that only four male frogs were identifiable in the wild, we approved a $150,000 Threatened Species Strategy project to establish large disease-free enclosures in Kosciuszko, and they are also being bred, protected and maintained within the conservation project inside Taronga Zoo, which I visited only a couple of weeks ago. The scientists advise that over 200 frogs are now calling in the wild and the project aims to triple these numbers again. That is success in real terms.
In the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara, or APY, lands of South Australia, the government is working with local Indigenous rangers and Monarto Zoo—which, again, I visited with Tony Pasin very recently—to make the region safe again for the warru, the black-footed wallaby. Feral cats and foxes have been removed. Two of the most recent feral cats weighed over 6½ kilograms and had remains of the warru, which itself can weigh up to five kilograms, in their stomachs. The rangers are proud, the lands are safer and the warru is now recovering.
There are many other examples, right around Australia—in your own home state, Mr Deputy Speaker Goodenough—of threatened species activity through the application of the Eradicat bait to remove feral cats, to support Gilbert's potoroo. But, right around the country, this $190 million investment is producing outcomes. This week, I received advice from Atticus Fleming, the CEO of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, that work has commenced to establish what will perhaps be the largest ever feral-cat-free area. The Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary in the Northern Territory is benefiting from $750,000 of Threatened Species Strategy investment. Most importantly, it will create a safe haven. I want to acknowledge Atticus Fleming's work, along with Professor John Woinarski and others. They are the founders and drivers of the work which we have put into being. Threatened species have been ignored for too long.
In Victoria, the Italian maremma sheepdogs are being trained as bodyguards for endangered eastern barred bandicoots. Our children understand the work that is being done from the movie Oddball, and they can see that these magnificent maremmas are protecting penguins near Warrnambool. They will be protecting eastern barred bandicoots. Together, this is a fabulous example of practical, modern, real-world action. The Leadbeater's possum is receiving over $700,000 and $1.8 million in practical on-ground action beyond what is going into research. These are major, major projects.
In particular, it is supported by the $30 million Threatened Species Recovery Hub under the National Environmental Science Program. This is the first such hub in Australian history, and I believe it is one of the first such hubs anywhere in the world and is certainly leading the world in threatened species recovery. It is bringing together Australia's greatest threatened species scientists and our practitioners such as the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.
Where to next?
So where to from here? We have set a benchmark and a set of goals in relation to threatened species conservation. In the coming weeks, the commissioner will be advising me of the 30 plants for recovery by 2020 and the identification of the five feral-free islands targets, which I hope to have announced before the end of April. These islands will transform into safe havens. They will be arks of biological safety for Australia's native wildlife. Indeed, the commissioner and one of my own staff have just returned from Kangaroo Island, where the islanders are working on a proposal to be feral cat free. Through programs such as the Green Army, 20 Million Trees and the National Environmental Science Program, we will create these safe havens and we will continue to mobilise enormous sums of money.
I have noted Atticus Fleming and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. I note the work of the departmental advisers under the commissioner. I also want to take this moment to note that one of my own staff, Sarah Meredith, has played an absolutely fundamental role, along with Tina McGuffie. Sarah Meredith has managed the National Landcare Program and the Green Army. She will be leaving at close of business tomorrow to take up a role leading a major NGO. I will save that announcement for her for another time, but nobody could find a better, stronger adviser. She has been in service for 14 years, since she left school, which is more than what one receives for many major crimes, and she has been extraordinary. I hope one day she comes back to this place in her own right as a member of parliament. She is one of those people with unique capabilities. The Green Army would not have been the success it is without her; nor would the threatened species program have been the success it is without her work and Tina McGuffie's work.
Let me conclude. Australia can have development that is sustainable, as the member for Groom and the member for Brand have jointly shown. At the same time, we can and must protect our remarkable animals and plants. We can avoid extinctions, protect our unique wildlife for the future, for ourselves and for our children. When we lose Australia's animals and plants to extinction, we lose a part of what it is to be our full self and our full, historic nation. It is a point of enormous grief to Indigenous Australians, as they have pointed out, but they are at the forefront. It is a point of pride that our first Threatened Species Commissioner has strong, deep, personal Indigenous heritage; and it is a point of optimism that our Indigenous land managers are at the forefront of protecting the warru, the mala and so many other animals, going forward. In that way, our plants, our animals and our people define us as nation. The Threatened Species Strategy will help protect that heritage, both cultural and natural, by acting in a different, more adaptive and decisive way.
Ultimately, this great task is a shared passion. It is a deep, personal passion for myself, but it is a shared commitment of tens of thousands of Australians—indeed, hundreds of thousands, millions of Australians—to protect our wildlife. It will be a great task. But we now have the tools; we have the people; we have the funding, with $190 million; and we have the direction to protect our great and our iconic species. In the end, confronted by this task, I believe that we will rise to the challenge. I am reminded of Tennyson's words, at the end of Ulysses:
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
And so it shall be. Thank you.