Press conference at the Taronga Zoo, Sydney with Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek

4 October 2022

SUBJECTS: THREATENED SPECIES ACTION PLAN – TOWARDS ZERO EXTINCTIONS; ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION AND BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION ACT REFORM. 

MINISTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER, TANYA PLIBERSEK: The Threatened Species Action Plan is an ambitious and a specific plan to stop further extinctions in Australia. We learnt from the State of the Environment Report which I released some months ago that the state of the Australian environment is bad and getting worse. We are the mammal extinction capital of the world. We've seen around 100 species lost in the time since colonisation, and we absolutely have to turn that around. If we keep doing what we're doing, we'll keep getting the same results. 

This plan is a more ambitious plan with a target of zero new extinctions. It delivers on our target of protecting 30 per cent of our land and 30 per cent of our oceans by 2030. The Prime Minister and other world leaders have signed up to that ambitious conservation target. By protecting more habitat, we can protect the homes of these precious plants and animals and the landscapes that mean so much to Australians. 

So, this new plan, as well as drawing much more on First Nations knowledge, also prioritises 110 species and 20 places. Now, this doesn't mean that we don't look at other threatened species, but it means that these prioritised species create a kind of halo effect by focusing in on these species and these places, we have the biggest chance of success. If we focus on these species, we also protect the species around them. The ones that are interdependent and living in the same environment. And by protecting 20 priority places, that give us a really broad range of Australian landscapes and ecosystems, we can create little Noah's Arks, places that we can be confident we are returning to healthy populations of plants and animals. 

Now, of course, that means extra investment and the Australian Government went to the last election with a commitment to invest $224.5 million on threatened species, $1.2 billion on the Great Barrier Reef and to make a number of other environmental investments. But it's not just about what Government does. Of course, this plan has been created in cooperation with scientists and conservationists, working with incredible conservation organisations like Taronga Zoo. 

There's also a real opportunity for ordinary Australians to play their part. Lots of Australians are involved in organisations like Landcare. They donate to environmental groups. They look after their own backyards. And you know, one of the features of this plan is to deal better with feral species like cats and foxes. One of the best contributions people can make is keeping their cats inside. Cats and foxes together, kill an average of seven million Australian animals every night. So we have to do much better in dealing with feral species. And also introduced weeds like gamba grass particularly across northern Australia that really change our landscapes and make them hostile to the creatures that are dependant on them. 

So I'm very pleased to be releasing this report today. I really hope that Australians take the opportunity to have a read of the report and work in partnership with the Australian Government to protect our precious plants and animals and precious places for future generations. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: Can you talk us through some of the commitments and targets of the action plan and what we can expect to see in the next couple of years?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Yeah. I think the no new extinctions target is really important. It does focus our mind. When we know that a species is on the brink of extinction, it means we can make sure that we're protecting its habitat, making sure that that species has the opportunity to survive and recover and rebuild. 
After the black summer bushfires and the drought that preceded it, the floods we've had since, a lot of our habitats and our species are under extreme pressure. So, really focusing in on those species that are on the brink is very important. The 30 per cent of oceans and 30 per cent of land conserved by 2030 is also really important. We're talking about an extra 50 million hectares of landscape that we need to find and to manage in a way that protects the landscape and the species that depend on it. That's a very ambitious target, a very ambitious target. But it brings us in line with other global leaders in the environment. And I'm really pleased that our Prime Minister has committed to that target. 
I'd also like to say that we know that climate change is one of biggest threats to our natural environment. And that's why it's so important that one of the first measures introduced by the new Government was more ambitious targets on climate change.

JOURNALIST: How do you plan to deliver on [inaudible]?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: It is very important that we recognise Australia has a continued need to develop. We do have a responsibility to make sure that Australians have jobs. That we're able to build the new roads and housing and solar and wind farms that will power the nation. But we need to do it in a way that is environmentally responsible. We need to do it in a way that gives business faster decisions, but gives the environment better protections. And that will be the focus of our environmental law reform. We'll be introducing new environmental laws into the Parliament next year.

JOURNALIST: There are a number of proposals to expand lifetimes and even reopen mines in the Hunter Valley. Is today's announcement a blanket no from your Government because species could be threatened?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: It's absolutely not a blanket no. But we know that our environmental laws at the moment are not fit for purpose. Our environmental laws at the moment are slow and cumbersome for business, and don't give plants and animals and landscapes the protections they need. So we do need to reform our environmental laws. Professor Graham Samuel did a very thorough review of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act for the previous Government. He made a number of very important recommendations. We're working through the recommendations at the moment and our Government will provide a response to the Samuel Review by the end of the year. We'll use that response to inform the redesign of our environmental laws. We'll introduce those new laws into the Parliament next year. But right now, we know that our environmental laws aren't working. They're not working for business. And they're not working for the environment. We need to do better.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] in Mount Pleasant near Muswellbrook, a new species of lizard was identified a few months ago but it was approved by New South Wales authorities. How will your Government manage the protection of this species and others in the Hunter?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: I'm not going to make comments about individual projects today. But I'll say this - we need to work cooperatively with state and territory governments to better protect our environment. Yes, to give faster decisions on projects, but also to better protect our environment. And I think that there's a lot of good will and a lot of willingness there. Australians made it very plain at the last election that they care about the environment. You see by the number of people who volunteer and donate to environmental organisations, that Australians care about the environment. I think that state governments realise that and I'm very much looking forward to working cooperatively and in partnership with state governments to protect our precious places.

JOURNALIST: Is the biodiversity offsets scheme which New South Wales planning authority [inaudible] and how will biodiversity offset management be strengthened at a national level?

MINISTER PLIBERSEK: Again, I am not going to comment on individual projects today. But I'll say this. We have individual businesses approaching us all the time as a government saying we are interested in investing to nature. What we need is a scheme that gives us assurance, that gives us longevity for our investments. That's exactly, exactly what we are seeking to develop as a Federal Government. A nature market. Businesses get pressured by their customers. They have pressure from their own staff. They want to show that they are investing in nature because of that pressure, but also because international accounting is taking more and more notice of the nature impacts of businesses. 

END