The Guardian April 30, 2003


Australian nature under major threat

by Peter Mac

Many of Australia's native plants and animals are threatened with 
extinction, according to a major Federal Government report, Australian 
Terrestrial Biodiversity Assessment 2002. The problems revealed in the 
report could be remedied by urgent and determined government action but so 
far no federal or state government has shown any willingness to do so.

The report, prepared after extensive national research, concluded that at 
least 1595 native plants and animals face extinction from land clearing, 
cattle grazing, feral pests and inappropriate fire regimes. Some 2900 
ecosystems may soon disappear. The threatened plants include varieties of 
those Australian icons, the eucalypts and wattle trees.

Vast areas of the continent have been devastated by salinity from land 
clearing and irrigation. Some 73 percent of Australia's once mighty Murray 
River is extracted for intense irrigation. It is silting up and will soon 
cease to flow altogether. Global warming has exacerbated all these trends, 
and Australia is one of the worst emitters of greenhouse gases.

The crisis has the potential to change forever the landscape that 
Australians know and love.

Amazingly, the Howard Government's response to the report has been upbeat 
and positive!

For example, regarding land clearing (confirmed as the single most 
significant threat) Environment Minister David Kemp trumpeted: "Under the 
NHT (National Heritage Trust) almost 400,000 Australian volunteers have so 
far participated in over 12,000 projects which have seen . 98,510 hectares 
of predominantly cleared land replanted with native vegetation species."

Kemp overlooked the fact that the NHT scheme was intermittent (compared to 
land clearing, which is proceeding all the time) and that the manual 
replanting was slow and miniscule in extent, compared to the highly 
mechanised agribusiness land clearing programs. The new species planted 
were also often inappropriate for the area.

Funding for the NHT scheme was provided by blackmailing parliament into 
approving the sale of the second part of Telstra.

State and federal governments have so far refused to clamp down on the 
agribusiness and heavy industry firms that are ruining the Australian 
environment.

Greens Senator Bob Brown commented: "The peril for thousands of Australia 
birds, animals, reptiles, plants and insects has become far worse due to 
land clearing, deforestation, urban sprawl, salination and global warming.

"All these are government promoted, or at least made worse by government 
inaction at local, state and federal level.

"The destruction of rainforests in Tasmania is authorised by Prime Minister 
Howard. The awesome land clearing in the eastern mainland states is allowed 
by Labor Premiers Beattie, Carr and Bracks.

"The release of imported and potentially disease-carrying food stocks to 
fish farms in SA and the loss of wetlands in SW Western Australia are 
monuments to how quick dollars lead to dead species.

"In Tasmania the current regeneration burns under Premier Bacon are a 
travesty of both forest ecosystems preservation and the urgent need to halt 
the release of global warming greenhouse gases.

"Last week's legislation to build Meander Dam directly overrode a court 
ruling to protect an endangered species in Tasmania.

"The Howard Government and Crean Opposition's policy directions are a 
prescription for the next generations of Australians living on a continent 
studded with monuments to deliberate extinctions of species and 
ecosystems."

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