Victoria failing to protect threatened species and stop biodiversity loss, report finds

About a third of species are believed to be facing extinction. (Supplied: Chris O'Connell)

The Victorian government cannot show if, or how, it is halting the decline of the state's threatened species, according to a "damning" auditor-general's report.  

About a third of Victoria's flora and fauna are believed to be facing extinction and experts say the continued decline in biodiversity will have dire consequences if it cannot be halted.

The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) told the auditor-general it could not guarantee the protection of all threatened species given its funding levels, the impacts of climate change and the havoc wreaked by 200-plus years of colonisation.

But the report, tabled in state parliament, said the department's reporting on biodiversity protection, including threatened species, "lacks accountability and comprehensiveness".

Experts say Victoria is logging areas critical to many forest-dwelling threatened species. (Supplied: David Lindenmayer)

Funding shortfall

The government's investment in a 20-year plan to halt biodiversity loss was $110 million short over its first four years, and there remains an annual shortfall of $38 million in ongoing funding.

The department had advised the government that level of funding was "likely to result in the state's inability to preserve its 10 endangered icon species" and "many more vulnerable species becoming endangered".

The audit found DELWP had not provided "detailed, evidence-based advice to the government about the cost and benefits of protecting and monitoring threatened species to support further investment". 

Bruce Lindsay, a senior lawyer with Environmental Justice Australia, said it was "deeply problematic" the department had not made a solid case for conservation funding.

Yet Dr Lindsay said the responsibility to protect Victoria's biodiversity fell to the whole of government.

"There is an obligation across all of government to contribute to biodiversity conservation outcomes in Victoria," he said of current legislation. 

Victoria has 556 critically endangered and 1,071 endangered plants and animals. (Supplied: WWF)

Legal action 'never used'

The auditor-general also found the environment department had underused legal mechanisms at its disposal to protect species, including two under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act that had never been used.

"One reason why those mechanisms are never, or rarely, used is because it's entirely discretionary on the minister to make them," Dr Lindsay said.

Environment Minister Lily D'Ambrosio did not explain why those measures had not been used to date but said the government "will use whatever tools that are available to us to achieve the outcomes that we set ourselves".

Dr Lindsay said the pandemic had shown "when we want to, we can deal effectively with emergencies and with crisis".

'Need to do much better'

David Lindenmayer from ANU's Fenner School of Environment and Society said Australia was leading the world in mammal extinctions, and similar findings had been reported from national audits and in Queensland.

"We know we're losing threatened species left, right and centre," Professor Lindenmayer said.

Professor Lindenmayer said biodiversity loss would affect the pollination of crops and erode the quality of soil, water and condition of forests.

He said Victorian logging policy was actively working against efforts to protect threatened species.

"We know from analysis using the government's own data, that places that are planned to be logged under the timber release plan are also the very same places that have the highest conservation value for Victoria's 70 threatened forest-dependent species."

'Extinction disgrace'

The Victorian National Parks Association said the report was "damning" and made clear the government was not reversing the decline of threatened native plants and wildlife but "presiding over their demise".

The association said the government should provide up to $300 million to fund a threatened species program and to strengthen legislation to protect species in decline.

Ms D'Ambrosio said the government had spent almost $500 million on conservation since it was elected and acknowledged "we will need more investment".

However, she did not commit to the levels of funding the department had outlined as being needed to adequately address the biodiversity crisis.

"There will always be more investment from our government because we take this issue very seriously."

The auditor-general's report comes as representatives from nearly 200 countries met in China this week to discuss a global framework that aspires to halt and reverse biodiversity loss.

In May, the United Nations released a report estimating one million of the world's species were under threat of extinction.


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