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‘Millstone’: Environmental funding cuts to hinder fire recovery plans

One consequence is that a lack of monitoring means many species were likely to be closer to the extinction edge even before the severe drought and bushfires took their toll, Professor Kingsford said.


Thirteen researchers last year estimated investment in threatened species conservation was “inadequate to address Australia’s extinction crisis”,  and only about one-quarter of international best practice.

The paper, published in October in Conservation Letters, found spending on Australia’s threatened species dropped from $86.9 million in 2017-18 to $49.6 million in 2018-19. They forecast an uptick to $54.6 million this fiscal year.

“Australia is vastly underspending on its environment and that dearly needs to be revisited. Government spending reflects on its priorities and governments of both persuasions over the past 10 years have really dropped the ball on environment protection,” said David Lindenmayer, a Australian National University professor and co-author of the paper.

A fallen tree on the Kings Highway near Nelligen. Flora losses from the big bushfires will push many species closer to extinction.

A fallen tree on the Kings Highway near Nelligen. Flora losses from the big bushfires will push many species closer to extinction.Credit:Kate Geraghty

At least 34 Australian mammal species, 10 per cent of its endemic fauna, had become extinct since European settlement – prior to this season’s fires.

The researchers said public investment for Australia’s 1700 threatened species across state and federal governments was about $122 million a year. By contrast, the US, with a similar list of 1662 threatened species, spent at least $2.1 billion a year from 2011 to 2016.

Sussan Ley, the federal Environment Minister, said she “didn’t accept the money has been wound back”.

While the Environment Department had cut some programs, spending on other programs, such as regional land management, had increased, Ms Ley said.


“98.8 per cent of our threatened species have recovery plans, or conservation advice,” she said, adding that she had stepped up the process to assess if more species would need support after the fires.

However, Terri Butler, Labor’s environment spokeswoman, said the 40 per cent cuts to the federal Environment Department had left Australia “ill-equipped to preserve and protect our beloved national icons”.

Ms Butler said the Morrison government had national recovery plans for fewer than 40 per cent of threatened species and was “clueless about whether existing plans are being implemented”.

It had also been slow to act on the bushfire crises and should immediately mobilise “Australian scientists, land and species management specialists”, including to set up a national ecological audit to assess priorities and to act on them, she said.

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