Labor pledges millions in funding to protect threatened species and Great Barrier Reef
Labor says it will establish a national threatened species program and provide a full response to the independent review of national environmental laws if it forms government.
In a policy announced Thursday evening the party promised $224.5m over the forward estimates for a national threatened species program that will include addressing the backlog of almost 200 overdue and outdated species recovery plans.
The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, and Labor’s environment spokesperson, Terri Butler, said they would also work with state and territory governments to develop a national conservation strategy.
They did not say what the conservation strategy would entail.
The threatened species funding includes an extra $24.5m for koala conservation, $24.8m to address invasive yellow crazy ants in Cairns and Townsville and $75m for the equivalent of 1,000 full-time Landcare rangers to work on environmental restoration.
Labor is also promising an additional $194.5m for protection programs for the Great Barrier Reef, which has suffered its sixth mass bleaching and the first in a La Niña year.
The money will be used for programs including working with farmers on land management practices, $85m for reef restoration projects, and research into thermal-tolerant corals in partnership with the Australian Institute of Marine Science.
“Seeing the wonder of the Great Barrier Reef is a highlight for so many Australians,” Albanese said.
“But parents and grandparents are worried their children will not be able to see this incredible natural wonder for themselves.
“That’s why it’s so important we act on climate change and species protection – to protect the reef and the tens of thousands of jobs that rely on it.”
The 2020 independent review of Australia’s national environmental laws, led by the former competition watchdog head Graeme Samuel, found Australian governments had failed to protect the country’s unique environment.
He recommended an overhaul of Australia’s system of protections, underpinned by new national environmental standards and independent oversight.
Butler said Labor, if elected, “will provide a full government response to the Samuel review”.
“The Saving Native Species program will go towards protecting Australia’s threatened species, including by addressing the backlog of recovery plans amassed during a near-decade of Liberal-National government neglect,” she said.
Basha Stasak, of the Australian Conservation Foundation, said whoever formed government needed to deliver a comprehensive response to Samuel’s recommendations.
“If we want to see koalas, gang-gang cockatoos and bogong moths survive, we need strong environment laws and an independent regulator implemented in this next term of government,” she said.
“The once-in-a-decade review of our environment laws by Prof Graeme Samuel sets out a clear roadmap to achieve this.”
Scientists have estimated Australia needs a tenfold increase in nature spending to recover endangered wildlife.
The Invasive Species Council, backed this estimate in a recent report, saying it would require expenditure of about $1.5bn to $2bn annually.
Tim Beshara, of the Wilderness Society, said Australia’s environment was in disrepair partly because successive governments “had let their environmental protection and management frameworks fall into disrepair themselves”.
“The backlog of actions and the backlog of reforms for a future environment minister will not be solved with a couple of hundred of million dollars,” he said,
“But it’s encouraging to hear Labor acknowledge the problem in nature itself and that there is some intent to undo the damage that has happened to environmental administration over the last decade.”