New Threatened Species Commissioner lacks teeth

2 07 2014

This is not Gregory Andrews

Published today on ABC Environment.

Greg Hunt, the Coalition Government’s Minister for the Environment, today announced what appears to be one of the only environmental promises kept from their election campaign in 2013: to appoint a Threatened Species Commissioner.

The appointment is unprecedented for Australia – we have never had anything remotely like it in the past. However, I am also confident that this novelty will turn out to be one of the position’s only positives.

My scepticism is not based on my personal political or philosophical perspectives; rather, it arises from Coalition Government’s other unprecedented policies to destroy Australia’s environment. No other government in the last 50 years has mounted such a breath-taking War on the Environment. In the nine month’s since the Abbott Government took control, there has been a litany of backward and dangerous policies, from the well-known axing of the Climate Commission and their push to dump of 3 million tonnes of dredge on the World Heritage Great Barrier Reef, to their lesser-publicised proposals to remove the non-profit tax status of green organisations and kill the Environmental Defenders Office. The Government’s list of destructive, right-wing, anti-environmental policies is growing weekly, with no signs of abatement.

With this background, it should come as no surprise that considerable cynicism is emerging following the Minister’s announcement. Fears that another powerless pawn of the current government appear to have been realised with the appointment of Gregory Andrews as the Commissioner. Mr Andrews is a public servant (ironically from the now-defunct Department of Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency) and former diplomat who has some minor infamy regarding contentious comments he made in 2006 when acting as a senior bureaucrat in Mal Brough’s Department of Indigenous Affairs. Apart from Mr Gregory’s general lack of specific expertise in species recovery, the choice appears to be neutral at best.

More importantly, the major limitation of the Commissioner to realise real benefits for Australian biodiversity is the position’s total lack of political power. Greg Hunt himself confirmed that Mr Andrews will not be able to affect government policy other than ‘encourage’ cooperation between states and environmental groups. The position also comes with a (undisclosed) funding guarantee of only one year, which makes it sound more like an experiment in public relations than effective environmental policy.

The appointment also comes with the establishment of a Ministerial Council on the Environment that will provide advice to the Commissioner. There are promising signs with the first members, who include Professor Helene Marsh of James Cook University (a long-time advisor to Commonwealth environmental policy), Rachel Lowry of Zoos Victoria, Atticus Fleming of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (another experienced government advisor), and Samantha Vine of BirdLife Australia.

Notwithstanding its lack of political teeth, the Council’s advice is likely at least to be evidence-based. My major concern is, however, that the Commissioner and his Council’s mandate is merely more of the same, single-species recovery-plan dogma. The bigger picture of planning for a vastly different future, wholesale changes in our approach to landscape management, carbon-based conservation, dealing with the ‘relaxing’ of environmental laws, and an ecosystem approach to threatened biodiversity does not, at least at this stage, appear anywhere in their vision. This should ring alarm bells.

In principle, the appointment of a Threatened Species Commissioner should represent a move forward in dealing with Australia’s appalling environmental record. However, I fear that it merely acts to distract Australians more from the real environmental crises unfolding around us. I also predict that it will be impossible to determine if the Commissioner will instigate any benefits for Australia’s biodiversity. We’ll see, but I remain sceptical.

CJA Bradshaw


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6 responses

20 10 2014
It’s not all about cats | ConservationBytes.com

[…] Mr Hunt’s nor Mr Andrews‘ approaches mention anything about dingoes, nor do they challenge their government’s […]

24 09 2014
We treat our wildlife like vermin | ConservationBytes.com

[…] times, feral predators and herbivores blanketing the continent, inadequate protected areas, piss-weak policies and a government at war with its own environment. Despite a few recent wins in marine conservation, […]

22 07 2014
Another 589 scientists speak out against Abbott’s war on the environment | ConservationBytes.com

[…] a Ministerial Council on the Environment to advise the Commissioner, but encourages the Government to instate some legislative power to the position as it currently lacks decision-making power to effect real change to threatened-species […]

3 07 2014
Robert Lawrence

I agree entirely that it is the bigger picture planning that is needed. Species belong to ecosystems forming one biosphere, which includes humanity.

2 07 2014
Helen

Lets give it a go instead of bagging it. Better to support anything that anyone wants to do! I also think it is not smart to dismiss the governments direct action on climate change. I have volunteered for the Sustainable Living Foundation for a number of years – where direct action – as in taking personal responsibility for your own action – and engagement in environmental projects were promoted. Too many people speak loudly about how the government should behave , then go drive home in their 4 wheel drives and and throw their cans out of the car window. Nothing wrong with adopting personal responsibility and giving positive, direct actions a go.

2 07 2014
Andrew Smith

Despite the teeth issue, his Advisory Group looks OK to me.
Andrew

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