Endangered species enter ‘palliative care’

| May 30, 2024

Record numbers of Australian species are entering “palliative care” following a 50% increase in critically endangered animals – the last step before extinction in the wild – in the two-years since the Albanese Government launched its Nature Positive Plan.

A fact the Government failed to declare when announcing a shelving conservation laws reforms central to the NPP last month, despite being aware of the sharp increase in threatened species months in advance, requiring a possible “independent inquiry”.

Particularly since the Albanese Government recently declaring the NPP would increase data transparency “so governments can’t hide the truth about the Australian environment, like the last Liberal Government.”

The findings coincide with the Albanese Government today introducing a new Federal Environment Protection Agency and Environment Information Agency to Parliament as part of its Nature Positive Plan, but without the matching reforms to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act promised in December 2022.

National nature body Conservation Volunteers Australia have released a discussion paper – Australia in Danger – which was developed with public affairs analysts Provocate to support Federal MPs and Senators in the legislative debate.

CVA Executive Manager of Policy and Government Relations, Stephen McDonald, said he hoped the discussion paper would help generate a thorough and informed debate, rather than just “waving legislation through”.

For example, Mr McDonald said an EPA without matching law reforms required a species to “effectively enter palliative care for plants and animals” before it could act under current rules.

“Our experience in bringing animals such as the Eastern Barred Bandicoot back from the brink of extinction shows there is hope. But the sheer size of Australia – and the problem – means we need more community action, not less,” Mr McDonald said.

“Sadly, since the Albanese Government was elected, we have seen the largest increase in threatened species in a generation coupled with the largest loss of conservation volunteering capacity as well.

“The environment sector has lost tens of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of conservation volunteers critical to saving native species the past two years – a round error against the $30 billion in cumulative budget surpluses over the same period.

“It’s clear the Albanese Government is prioritising budget savings over saving threatened species, which is as much an economic risk as it is an environmental one.

“That’s why we’re advocating a nationally consistent framework for community action and citizen science that can deliver the impact and measurement at scale needed to reverse the decline in our native species in line with government targets.”

Mr McDonald said Albanese Government’s shelving of law reforms followed their Federal Budget surplus ($9.3b) quadrupling the amount spent on overall environment protection funding ($2.0b) – and 15 times core spending on conservation community actions ($0.6b) over the same period – while making up less-than 0.3% and 0.1% of total budget spend respectively.

It also comes on top of the Albanese Government’s decision to quietly shelve its signature $90 million Landcare Rangers election commitment until 2027-28, and quietly axe the nation’s marine litter and environmental disaster volunteering programs, managed by Conservation Volunteers Australia, which had 25,000+ volunteers signed up between them.

This was despite the previous Government’s commitment to continue funding them as part of the $100 million Environment Restoration Fund extension announced in their final 2022-23 Federal Budget (March) but axed by the Albanese Government to fund its ‘Saving Native Species’ election commitment in their revised October 2022-23 Federal Budget.

CVA and Provocate found there had been a net increase of 133 threatened animal (92) and plant (41) species in less-than two years since the launch of the TSAP and NPP, which are covered by the same data point in time. Nearly half (43;+46%) of these animal listings – and three-quarters (34;+15%) of plants – were critically endangered. This is the last step before extinction in the wild.

The proportion of critically endangered animal species grow from 16% to one-in-five (21%) in less-than two years, yet the number of threatened species covered by ‘priority’ recovery plans has remained flat at 110 over this period. This means the proportion of threatened animals covered fall from 14% to 12%, and just 2% of plants.

Coverage is expected to fall further with no new priority species or recovery plans added in the May 2024-25 Federal Budget, and the next round of threatened species listings imminent (decisions were due by 30 April 2024).  Species also require a ‘priority listing’ to access funds under the Federal Government’s $224 million ‘Saving Native Species’ fund, which requires projects to “reduce the risk of extinction in all priority species”.