5 Nov 2020


Thirty seven million birds, mammals and reptiles face death or displacement over the next decade in eastern Australia if the nation’s flagship conservation law continues to not be adequately enforced.

That’s according to a new report by the World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia which calculates the toll on animals caused by habitat destruction in apparent defiance of obligations under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, which the Australian government failed to enforce.

The report estimated that lack of compliance with and enforcement of the EPBC Act from 2010 to 2018, in Queensland and New South Wales, resulted in the death or displacement of 6.2 million native birds, 3.7 million native mammals (including 1500 koalas), and at least 20.2 million reptiles.

That’s an average of 3.7 million animals a year, or 37 million a decade.

The report states: “If habitat destruction for EPBC Act listed species and ecosystems continues unabated due to lack of compliance and proper enforcement, another 37 million native animals … will be condemned to displacement, suffering and death that results from destruction of habitat.”

Two investigations this year showed the federal Environment Department was failing in its legislated responsibility to address these issues.

In June, the National Audit Office revealed an internal Environment Department report which identified as key risks “high volumes of land clearing for agriculture without referral or approval, non-compliance in residential development projects and continued non-compliance in the mining sector”; another internal report said “despite the substantial impact of agriculture on the environment, agricultural development is rarely referred to the department.”

In July, the Samuel Review Interim Report described monitoring, compliance, and enforcement as “too weak”, it said “serious enforcement actions are rarely used” and concluded a properly-resourced “strong, independent cop on the beat is required … not subject to actual or implied political direction from the Commonwealth Minister.”

WWF conservation scientist Dr Martin Taylor said: “We estimate in just a decade habitat destruction that should never have happened resulted in 37 million animals suffering terribly with the majority likely to have perished."

“That is appalling. Those deaths could have been avoided if the law had been adhered to and enforced."

“We’ve just lost nearly 3 billion animals in the bushfires. We can’t afford not to learn from these failings and pile on to that loss with the deaths of another 37 million native animals,” he said.

Dr Taylor’s estimate was deliberately conservative and based on the best available scientific and spatial data.

He only counted destroyed habitat if it was home to at least three threatened species or at least two threatened ecological communities. Nearly 300,000 hectares of forest or woodland cleared in Qld and NSW, from 2010 to 2018, fitted these criteria.

Because the data only assessed the impacts of lack of compliance across two Australian states, the national wildlife death toll due to these failings is estimated to be far higher.

The University of Sydney’s Professor Chris Dickman provided independent oversight of the research that informed the report.

“This report comes at a critical time, for a once-in-a-decade review of Australia’s nature laws is drawing to a close. The staggering number of wildlife that Australia has already lost due to inadequate regulation of the EPBC Act highlights that without an independent cop on the beat, we will not reform Australia’s nature laws,” Prof Chris Dickman said.

The federal government introduced a Bill to make changes to the EPBC Act prior to the review concluding, with drafting instructions issued before the government had even received the interim report, and then gagged debate to ram that Bill through the lower house.

The proposed changes, now before the Senate, ignore advice from leading environmental, science and legal experts, that the government should establish an ‘independent cop on the beat’ as recommended by the government appointed independent reviewer Graeme Samuel.

“If passed the Bill will hand approval powers to states and territories – without legally binding national environmental standards and an independent regulator,” Dr Taylor said.

“The bill fails to learn from the Samuel Review and will do nothing to fix the epidemic of non-compliance. Only robust national environmental standards and ‘a strong independent cop on the beat’ can protect the environment."

“Without those reforms mass non-compliance and non-enforcement will continue and Australia’s wildlife extinction crisis will worsen,” he said.

Australians can help stop our wildlife extinction crisis by urging our leaders to take a stand for our wildlife here.