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Joint press conference on threats to biodiversity


Subjects: CSIRO report on the implications of climate change for Australia's biodiversity conservation and protected areas; the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, seagrass beds

CHRISTINE MILNE:  The CSIRO is reporting on the huge impacts on Australia's biodiversity, our plant and animal species, as a result of accelerating climate change. The report makes it clear that as climate change actually starts to bite all around Australia we're going to see really significant shifts in the landscape, in species going to extinction.

After the Rio conference this year the International Union for the Conservation of Nature put out their Red List, that is their list of species going towards extinction, and they said that almost a third of all plants and animals identified on the planet are already in danger. They are either endangered or critically endangered or vulnerable species. And now we've got the CSIRO telling us exactly the same in Australia. It's time that as a nation we have a conversation about what sort of country we want to live in. Do we actually value our plants and animals? Are we worried that we could lose the koala? Are we worried that we could lose the Tasmanian devil? Are we concerned that we could see a collapse in the marine food chain? We need to be talking very seriously about what we have to do to maximise the chances of survival of so many of our plant and animal species, and that means we not only manage our national parks differently but we need to upgrade our reserve systems and we need to make sure we get them all connected. So connectivity in the landscape, linking up our national parks and reserves with private land so that we get corridors where species can migrate across those corridors, so that they do not go to extinction. This is really critical and this is happening at a time when we've got the Federal Government, Prime Minister Gillard and Minister Burke saying and having already agreed that they are going to devolve responsibility for our threatened species around Australia to state governments, to the likes of Campbell Newman, to the likes of Mr O'Farrell, Ted Baillieu, we are going to hand over the decisions about whether to develop areas to go to state premiers and that just can't happen, we actually need the community to start really engaging with the fact that the Commonwealth is going to hand over those development responsibilities and assessments to the states and we have to actually start responding to that because we are getting report after report after report showing that we are losing species across Australia and we cannot afford to allow that to continue to happen, and I know people around Australia love our native plants and animals, and when they begin to realise that it's not enough just to have national parks but we need to have connection so that the species can move, that we need to actually engage this conversation.

We did with the Biodiversity Fund and the Carbon Farming Initiative, I'm really proud of the fact that the Greens achieved a billion dollars over six years to try to build these connections in the landscape, but it is not enough on its own. This report is really a flashing red light for the community saying if you really value our plants and animals around Australia, now is time to act, now is the time to Prime Minister Gillard and Minister Burke that we do not want those environmental assessments to be made by state governments. A classic case was being made today when Minister Burke was trying to make the case for offsets on seagrass.

LARISSA WATERS: Thanks Christine. Unfortunately what we've seen today is Minister Burke acting like dodgy accountant rather than an environment minister, and he's saying that somehow we can trade off some bits of its seagrass in the Great Barrier Reef for others, and expect dugongs to swim thousands and thousands of kilometres and to relocate to a completely different area. Well I'm afraid they don't really behave like that, and frankly this is just an excuse to let yet more coal and coal seam gas ports trash our reef unabated.

So Minister Burke wants the miners to be able to trash local seagrass beds which dugongs rely on, and then protect some other seagrass in nobody else's way, thousands and thousands of kilometres away. This is just yet another example of how our Federal Environment Minister is not acting to protect the environment and it adds insult to injury when he's, as Christine said, wanting to get rid of most of his environment powers and let the states do his job for him. We've have already seen that the states don't do the job properly, all of our biodiversity indicators are declining, our wildlife is heading towards extinction faster than ever before in human history, so this is exactly why we need the Federal Environment Minister to be strong and to stand up for the environment rather than flog it off to mining companies and flog it off to state premiers.

CHRISTINE MILNE: So would you trust Colin Barnett? Would trust Campbell Newman, Ted Baillieu, and Barry O'Farrell to make a decision on threatened species, on wetlands, for example, in any development application in their state? Would you actually trust those state premiers to be able to make decisions in the best interests of the environment given their record? The answer is clearly no. Look at what Colin Barnett has done when it comes to James Price point, look what Barry O'Farrell has already done allowing shooting in national parks in New South Wales. Ted Baillieu wanted to see grazing in terms of national parks in Victoria and now you've got Campbell Newman facilitating the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef and helped now by Tony Burke on this proposition of offsets of seagrass. Perhaps the Minister could explain to the dugong population or the turtles how they're going to know that the offset has actually been allocated as they lose their localised habitat and perhaps they could explain to the other marine creatures that are already reliant on the existing seagrass which is going to be the offset how they're going to manage when a whole lot more species supposedly are reallocated there.

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