By Maggie Wood - Executive Director of the Conservation Council of WA
The latest State of Environment Report makes for sobering reading.
Across Australia, our natural environment is under an unprecedented strain. The species which are recognised as Australia’s international icons and those that have traditionally been welcome sights in bushland and backyards are being pushed into ever smaller pockets of habitat.
Numbers of non-native plant species have now overtaken native ones. Australia has lost more mammal species than any other continent. In the past three decades, more than 6.1 million hectares of mature forest have been cleared.
The fact that this report has sat on the desks of power in Canberra for the best part of nine months – seemingly because it was considered politically inconvenient – is only more cause for alarm.
Here in WA, our natural environment is facing an assault from all sides.
In the north of our state, we have the pristine landscapes of the Kimberley threatened by multiple fracking proposals, while off shore, companies like Woodside continue to plough ahead with highly polluting gas developments which will ruin Australia’s efforts to decarbonise.
In the south, mining companies like South32 and Alcoa are stripping our native forests of bauxite and fragmenting thousands of hectares of publicly owned land with millions in government subsidies.
Inland, we have remote communities facing a highly controversial uranium mine proposal which threatens to wipe out one of the few populations of endangered sandhill dunnarts on the continent.
Poorly planned infrastructure projects like the Bunbury outer ring road are destroying vital habitat for endangered species like the western ringtail possum and black cockatoos, while in the Perth Metro area, native vegetation is being cleared at an unprecedented rate.
There is no doubt that the extent of the destruction of WA’s natural environment is unsustainable, but has not yet been any concerted effort to reverse this trend – neither from federal nor state governments.
Our environmental laws - both at a state and federal level - are weak and unfit for purpose. Nobody is enforcing environmental conditions which are treated as an optional extra by industrial proponents which have the enormous cash reserves to pay any fines, amounting to little more than a slap on the wrist, rather than a genuine punishment or disincentive.
Regulators should - by definition - regulate, but this is not happening. Instead, much of the legal framework which exists ostensibly to protect the environment is actually facilitating large-scale environmental destruction.
Unless we make a fundamental change to our relationship with the environment the outlook is very bleak.
Protecting the environment is an investment in our future. Today’s report tells us that ‘environmental degradation is now considered a threat to humanity’ and could bring about long-lasting ‘societal collapses’. Addressing the National Press Club today, federal minister for the environment, Tanya Plibersek said that ‘it we continue on our current trajectory, the precious places, landscapes, animals and plants that we think of when we think of home may not be here for our kids and grand kids’.
As bleak as the situation might be, we cannot allow ourselves to be fatalistic. To give up on the environment at such a crucial moment would be unforgivable.
There are pathways forward which will help ease the pressure on our natural environment and make lasting changes which will help protect it for future generations. This requires leadership and commitment from the highest levels of government and meaningful engagement with groups like the Conservation Council of WA and other likeminded organisations across Australia.
I remain convinced that we can reverse this trend of decline, but we need to start now.
MEDIA INFORMATION: The Conservation Council of WA (CCWA) is the state’s foremost non-profit, non-government conservation organisation representing more than 100 environmental organisations across Western Australia.
For more information, visit: ccwa.org.au.
CONTACT: For any enquiries relating to this release, please contact Robert Davies
08 9420 7291 / 0412 272 570 or by email, [email protected]