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Damning Auditor General Report on Fauna protection for Victoria


Photo by Brett CliftonText added by Sheila Newman

In a press release on
April Fools Day 2009,
Victoria's Minister for the Environment,
Gavin Jennings
interpreted as a 'pat on the back' a condemnatory report by the Auditor General on the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988.[1] Jennings' response seems like a crude damage-control exercise. The report said "the government's lack of baseline data or output performance measures means that it is not possible to conclude whether or not the Act has achieved its primary objectives. The available data, which is patchy, indicates that it has not," and notes failure to use the conservation and control measures in the Act, inadequate listing of threatened species, failure to develop action statements, to monitor implementation of these, or to assess their effectiveness, and that penalties for offences under the Act have not been reviewed or updated and therefore are not an effective deterrent." The Minister and the Government should resign; they are a sad joke.

[1]The media release cited was from the Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Gavin Jennings, was dated Wednesday, 1 April, 2009, entitled, "Government welcomes auditor-general report".

The Australian Wildlife Protection Council has long said that Victoria lacks any framework within which our fauna are managed and has noted that there has never been a prosecution under the Victorian Fauna and Flora Act since it was created in 1988. Victorians who have looked and listened carefully have noted the silence in many forests once alive with song and movement, the deserted grasslands, and the corpses of kangaroos, koalas, wombats on our roads. Those of us who have tried to tackle the situation with Department of Sustainability Victoria (DSE) have also observed the avoidant, unassertive, endangered staff and ever-diminishing habitat of the biodiversity section of DSE and its encroachment by primary industries, find this comes as no surprise.

But will the backbenchers of the Bracks/Brumby government's aspirational classes come to their senses and stop chorusing on cue that Victoria is the "best place to live work and raise a family". Instead, will they stand up for their constituents on nature, justice and democracy and refuse to kowtow to hollow leaders more interested in commercially trading property and finance than good government?

Below is the summary of The Victorian Auditor General's report on the Administration of the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988

1. Audit summary

1.1 Introduction

Conserving biodiversity is core to responsible environment and natural resource management and is fundamental to maintaining both quality of life and economic well-being, both now and in the future.

The Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 (the Act) is the primary Victorian legislation providing for conservation of threatened species and ecological communities, and the management of processes that threaten the sustainability Victoria's native flora and fauna. The Act establishes a listing process. Once an item is listed the Act sets out a range of management processes and conservation tools that can be implemented to protect and conserve species.

Since the Act was passed in 1988, 653 plant and animal species, communities and threatening processes have been listed.
The objective of the audit was to review the Department of Sustainability and Environment’s (the department) administration of the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 and to assess how effective the processes and actions developed under the Act have been in preserving Victoria’s native flora and fauna.

1.2 Conclusions

The full range of ‘management processes’ and ‘conservation and control measures’ available in the Act has not been used.
Action statements are the primary tools in the Act being used to protect and conserve threatened flora and fauna. However, the effort directed to listing threatened species and processes has not been matched by effort to develop action statements, to monitor the implementation of actions, or assess their effectiveness. The gap between listed items and items with action statements continues to widen.

The lack of baseline data and outcome or output performance measures means it is not possible to conclude whether the Act has achieved its primary objectives. The available data, which is patchy, indicates that it has not.

2 Administration of the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988

1.3 Findings

1.3.1 The listing process

The department has invested most effort in listing threatened species. However, there is duplication of processes within the department and with the Commonwealth Government’s listing process. The time taken to list an item, while within the three year (156 weeks) timeframe specified under the Act, continues to exceed the department’s internal benchmark of 31 weeks. The internal benchmark is an optimum period that requires each stage to be completed as quickly and reasonably as possible. This benchmark could not always be met in part due to factors beyond the department’s control, such as the Scientific Advisory Committee requiring multiple meetings to consider a nomination.

Over 800 items have been nominated for listing and 653 have been listed under the Act. However the department’s ‘advisory’ list (a separate list not subject to the listing process), contains over 2 200 species of flora and vertebrate fauna. Many of the species on the advisory list are likely to satisfy the criteria for the ‘threatened’ list maintained under the Act.

The listing process while conforming with the Act is compromised by a lack of up-to-date scientific data and by limited stakeholder participation. The department’s information systems relating to conservation and biodiversity are incomplete and disjointed. Major system development and integration projects are underway to address current shortcomings.

1.3.2 Conservation tools

The various management processes, conservation and control measures available under the Act to conserve and protect flora and fauna are not being used, largely because of their perceived complexity and difficulty of administering these provisions.

The department has relied on provisions in other environmental legislation, strategies, policies and plans in preference to those available under the Act to conserve and protect flora and fauna.

While ‘action statements’ are mandatory, their development and finalisation has been protracted. There is no time limit in the Act for these tools to be finalised—‘as soon as possible’ is the time standard set. At the current rate of progress, with existing resources, it will take a further 22 years for the department to complete action statements for the 653 items currently listed as threatened.

1.3.3

The Act The Act was reviewed by the department in 2002. This review concluded that ‘the existing regulatory and policy framework for the protection of threatened species in Victoria is in need of a major overhaul.’ A number of recommendations to improve the Act resulted from this review, but no amendments to the Act have been made.

Audit summary Administration of the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 3 The state government’s April 2008 green paper, Land and Biodiversity at a Time of Climate Change, acknowledges the need for legislative reform (State and Federal) and the proposed white paper will identify the extent to which legislative change is required.

1.4 Recommendations The department should:

• review the internal timeframes it sets for listing, against the resources it applies and the processes it adopts, to confirm they are realistic

• continue to build its knowledge-base on threatened species, causes of their decline and how best to mitigate threats to them; and expedite the transfer of information held on manual files to the ABC system

• formalise its collaboration on conservation activity with the Federal Government and seek a joint agreement to eliminate duplication in the listing process (Recommendation 4.1).

The department should:

• assess the resources it applies to developing, monitoring and reviewing action statements and establish a prioritised action plan to address the backlog of listed items with no action statements
• include in new and revised action statements the processes by which it will monitor progress and evaluate the effectiveness of each initiative within the action statement • review the efficacy of conservation and protection tools available under the Act
• assess whether the listing process is the most effective and efficient means of protecting species and communities
• develop a suite of output efficiency and outcome effectiveness measures to monitor and assess its conservation efforts (Recommendation 5.1)."

The Report can be downloaded here

Comments

Ministerial Accountability

When an external auditor makes a damning audit report on a company, that company had better act post haste to rectify the problem or else both the company and its directors risk serious legal repercussions.

Australians similarly are entitled to the same post haste rectification by Government departments and ministers when an auditor general makes a damning report on a government department’s abrogation of governance.

Australian legislation is wanting in requiring mandating auditory compliance by government departments with auditor general reports. Appropriate drafting of legislation at Federal level are a priority for 2010.

So the Victorian Auditor General’s Report on Fauna Potection for Victoria concludes that
the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 has been largely ignored. The Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Gavin Jennings should be put on notice and if found negligent in executing the objectives and rules of the Act, then sacked.
The executive head of the Department of Sustainability Victoria (DSE) charged with administering and executing the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 should also be sacked.

This confirms the long known chronic neglectful failing of the Victorian Government’s custodial responsibility for fauna protection in Victoria. The oft bandied, ’no data no problem’ excuse, is the second kneejerk response to challenges of accountability after the 'lack of resources' excuse, which is a blatant mischievous falsehood.

The Victorian Government is in breach of the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment (IGAE), the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development, and the National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia’s Biological Diversity.

These delinquent authorities need to be legally held accountable for exercising the objectives and clauses of every law under their responsibility.

Victorian Government Biodiversity Obligations

In 2002, the Victorian Natural Resources & Environment department was split into the (1) Department of Primary Industries and (2) Department of Sustainability and Environment. If the Victorian Government did not openly reject the pre-existing obligations to comply with the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment (IGAE), the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development, and the National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia’s Biological Diversity, then these obligations remain in force.

The Victorian Natural Resources & Environment (NRE) established guiding principles consistent with the National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia’s Biological Diversity under three main categories:

(1) Ecological principles

(2) Risk Management principles

(3) Development principles



Ecological Principles:

”Biodiversity is best conserved in situ (within species’ natural habitat).
Central to the conservation of biodiversity is the need for a ‘comprehensive, adequate and representative’ system of ecologically viable protected areas, integrated with the sympathetic management of other areas, including urban, agricultural and industrial areas.

Conservation is enhanced by knowledge and understanding of species, populations and ecosystems. We need to continue to develop our knowledge and understanding of Victoria’s biological diversity. We share the earth with many other life forms that have intrinsic value and warrant our respect, whether or not they are of immediate benefit to us.

Applying ecological principles to ecological systems
Plants and animals depend on each other for survival. They are effectively connected to each other through a web of interactions which, at the larger level, form a series of ecosystems and help shape the landscape. Individual species are easiest to conserve when they are maintained within their natural habitats and landscapes. Therefore, to conserve biodiversity, we must consider landscapes and their management as a whole.

Size
Human activity in Victoria has fragmented many of our natural ecosystems and landscapes. Any area of native vegetation, whether mallee scrub, coastal heathland or mountain forest, is more susceptible to damage if it is small and isolated from other natural areas. In the long term, large, consolidated areas of native vegetation are more viable than smaller, more fragmented areas. Large, intact areas of some ecosystems, such as Victoria’s grasslands and grassy woodlands, no longer exist. In future, some of these areas may be restored or re-aggregated in pastoral areas as part of drought preparedness arrangements.

Links and corridors
Fragmented ecosystems support less species and genetic diversity. Links between fragments can allow otherwise isolated populations of flora and fauna to remain connected to populations elsewhere.

Links therefore maintain larger gene pools, contributing to evolutionary development and long-term viability.

For some animals, the ability to move between different parts of their habitat is a critical requirement of their life cycle. In urban and rural areas, corridors of native vegetation along rivers and roads are literally lifelines for these animals.

On the other hand, roads and clearings through forests provide convenient corridors for the movement of introduced predatory animals like foxes and invasive pathways for weeds.

Many fish rely on free movement up and down rivers.

For them, structures such as weirs can become impregnable obstacles. At larger scales, the extensive coastal and inland freshwater wetlands linked by waterways enable waterbirds to survive droughts.

Boundaries
The boundaries between ecosystems are where change is most active. There the ebb and flow of seasons and environmental cycles have the most influence. Rapid, sometimes irreversible, change occurs especially at the boundary between natural ecosystems and altered ones. These so-called ‘edge effects’ include progressive invasion by pest plants and animals, changes to soil conditions and water flows, increased exposure to wind and sun, and changes to fire patterns.

Risk management principles
Taking into account these ecological considerations, the following risk management principles can be identified from the IGAE and the National Strategies:

The causes of a significant reduction or loss of biological diversity must be anticipated, attacked at the source, or prevented.
Prevention is better than cure. Protecting ecosystems from damage is far more cost-effective than attempting rehabilitation once the damage is done. Besides, some ecosystem changes and losses of biodiversity (for example, extinctions) can never be rectified.

The ‘precautionary principle’ (Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, to which Australia has agreed) provides a general guide to dealing with the uncertainty and risk involved in conserving biodiversity, in two main ways:

When contemplating decisions that will affect the environment, the precautionary principle involves careful evaluation of management options ‘to avoid, wherever practicable, serious or irreversible damage to the environment, and an assessment of the risk-weighted consequences of various options.’

When dealing with ‘threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation’.”

Tiger Quoll
Snowy River 3885
Australia

I read - in The Age I think - an article about 'plagues of kangaroos' by Ellen Whinett, the girlfriend of Water Minister Tim Holding. Surely Ellen Whinett has a duty and a responsibility to tell you truth as a journalist but NO she simply THINKS that kangaroos are in plague proportions so she writes it.

...they have NO idea but a mindset and they run with it. Tim and Ellen seem to me to epitomise such callous disregard.

Your article here PROVES that the so-called authorities have no statistics to go on. It's all made up - by the government and by the newspapers. Meanwhile our poor poor wildlife suffer in ways that most humans could not even begin to imagine.

How dare DSE give out a single permit to cull. Surely they have lost that legal right because they simply can no longer claim to be 'experts' who know what they are doing or why they are doing it.

Kangaroo shot in Plenty Road Preston by police? for holding up trams

On 3AW breakfast this morning, a man rang up and said a kangaroo had been shot in Plenty Road Preston because it was holding up trams.
Don't know if it was already injured.perhaps it was..............but this culture of callousness and cruelty to our wildlife which we exploit as a national symbol yet treat with such contempt has got to stop. And the displacement of the kangaroos by the dreadful invasion of humans into their habitat must cease.

In the Age "Good Weekend" Sunday 10th Jan, there was a huge, many paged article written by Greg Bearup about someone who went out specifically to kill a kangaroo to cook and present to his friends.
He wrote , and I am not quoting exactly:
How did I feel? I felt like I did when I was spotlighting at 15. I felt excited.I had killed something.
He referred to the body as somethig like the steaming carcass. He also described how the muscles were still flexing when he was butchering it.
A demand must be made for an article of equal length detailing the nature of kangaroos. He killed some one, not some thing.
That he had been blooded as a child.
How we are taught to disconnect from empathy by regarding animals as a low life form. Experiences of people who deal with kangaroos.
Stories of the kindness of kangaroos.
The Age must grant some space as so much of its Epicure etc is dripping with blood.
Sincerely,
M K.

We may stamp on a snail because it is a pest that our ancestors introduced, despite it about to eat our introduced exotic garden plants - so we feel justified. But it is only a bug, so who cares how it dies?

We may shoot, poison or trap a fox in a cruel jaw trap because it is a pest that our ancestors introduced, despite one assuming it could kill our own introduced chickens and lambs. But it is only vermin, so who cares how it dies?

We may shoot a native kangaroo because it is in the way (holding up tram even). But it is only native wildlife, it shouldn't have been there, and there are plenty of kangaroos anyway, so who cares how it dies? No Australian government monitors anyway.

Back in early colonially-minded Australia [1770-1970] after annexing it and declaring it 'terra nullius' and ruthlessly taking possession of it as 'British territory', then labelling stolen land as ‘peaceable settlement', colonists shot native Aboriginals because they existed on colonial land.

The following historical excerp elaborates this reality somewhat:

"The British invasion claimed at least 600,000 Aboriginal lives (66). Live babies were buried in a line up to their necks in sand and their heads kicked off in a contest to see who could kick a head the fur¬thest. Men had their testicles cut off and were left to run around screaming. (67) Women had their throats slashed, they ran until they collapsed and were then thrown, alive, onto a fire. (68) Live children were thrown onto fires. (69) ‘Sport' was the shooting of blacks, men, women and children, on sight. (70) Staving blacks were invited to a feast, then shot as they came in for food. (71) Whole family groups were poisoned by strychnine in the flour or water. (72) Children were stolen. Many never saw their families again. Over 5000 children in living memory have been removed from their group. (73) Whole tribes/groups have been forced to live in exile alongside incom¬patible tribes at close quarters. Punishments of 21 days solitary confinement were given to those speak¬ing their own language. Women were kept im¬prisoned for prostitution. Men were tortured, (74) etc. etc.. The litany rolls on."
[Source: AIATSIS]

In colonial Australia, Aborigines were valued only as savages and almost vermin. Australia's colonists didn't care how they suffered and died? Australian governments still ignore the genocide and refuse to acknowledge Aboriginal genocide as the first war on this continent at the Australian War Memorial. Despite colonial culture perpetuating in 2010, lest we forget the colonial genocide of Australia's indigenous!

Today, if a man loses his temper and shoots a child playing on tram tracks, despite any sense of him feeling 'justified', how many years goal would our culture assign to the man?

Human value of life is quite relative...and quite cultural

Tiger Quoll
Snowy River 3885
Australia

"Human value of life is quite relative... and quite cultural". Our Colonial for-bearers were guilty of shocking and horrific crimes against humanity. The value of these lives were denigrated as to be no more than the wildlife of Australia - and we all know how little status they have! The culture, colour of the skin, and the fact that they were not European were the prime attributes that gave them little value, not the fact that they were humans too. There are some very irrational values out in society, such as the mentality that humans can't be an "over-abundant" or "pest" species like feral, or even native, animals. There is a narcissism about just how society values humans so highly above animals, and violent people are called "animals". Animals will be violent to protect their territory, their families, and for food. However, humans will be violent purely for entertainment and sadism!

There are millions of animals captured, confined, experimented on, tortured and killed in laboratories around the world, but there are religious groups that object to stem cells from human embryos, a few cells, being used to end crippling degenerative diseases. No words against the animals suffering and dying, but they take the moral-high-ground because the cells they use are human, and "sacred"! Doesn't make sense.

The British colonists were ruled by a caste that owned most of the land and treated the Irish and the non-land-owning English in the same way that they treated the Aborigines. The British built Australia on the backs of political prisoners - people who mostly had no land and therefore could not vote in their country of birth. Other ruling cultures have performed similarly, but the British colonial movement was boosted by coal and later by petroleum, which gave it incredible powers to destroy entire cultures and people. Everywhere it changed the land-use planning laws to advantage land-aggregation, destroying stable societies which had had limited opportunities for marriage and children due to incest avoidance laws and non-mixing with adjacent cultures. So we got India and Africa - with their populations out of control and a land-owning class with no allegiance to anyone else. What most people still cannot see is that Australia, Canada and the USA have the same futures.

And the British diaspora (along with Irish, Scottish and Welsh) continues!

Unless we change our land-tenure and inheritance system to one more like the Napoleonic, Roman-based one, which trends control of land and resources to the government and guarantees a code of rights to the people which makes it difficult to dispossess them and to inundate them. However, as long as the British and the US are able to exert much influence on the EU that good system is at risk of erosion.

Sheila Newman, population sociologist