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Flora and Fauna Guarantee Amendment Bill 2019

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Samantha Ratnam
Leader of the Victorian Greens
15 August 2019

I rise to speak on the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Amendment Bill 2019. This bill is amending an act which purports to guarantee Victoria’s precious native plants and animals, their homes and ours. And while the bill makes some improvements to the conservation scheme created by the act, it represents a missed opportunity to create laws that would truly safeguard the environment that gives us life. The Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 is Victoria’s major piece of conservation legislation. It sets out the framework for how we care for the world around us. It is a framework for making decisions about how we look after the world, but sadly it lacks teeth. As a result, when faced with choice between caring for country or propping up corporate profit-driven interests, successive governments have chosen the latter. And now, in 2019, 30 years since the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act began, we are facing an extinction crisis. Today between one-quarter and one-third of all of Victoria’s plant, animal and other species are threatened with extinction. The unique flora and fauna that make Victoria special—animals like the swift parrot, the spotted tree frog, the golden-rayed blue butterfly and the brush-tailed rock wallaby—are critically endangered and facing extinction. The things that threaten the existence of our plants and animals, and by extension all of us, include climate change, introduced species, out-of-control development and logging.

Our government continues to log old-growth forests, destroying the habitat of some of our most threatened species, including the greater glider and our state’s faunal emblem, the Leadbeater’s possum. This logging is also destroying the source of Melbourne’s clean water and the tree technology which is our absolute best chance for tackling the climate crisis. Climate change is the biggest threat to the existence of all of us here and the plants, animals and other creatures around us. Global inaction on the climate crisis means that Earth is now in its sixth mass extinction event and the first since the dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago. All over the world more animals and plants are threatened with extinction than ever before. In Australia we have the worst extinction rate for mammals of anywhere in the world. In Victoria we have the worst record on logging in Australia, with 70 per cent of our forests—the habitat for so many of our native species—destroyed since colonisation. Since colonisation we have lost the pig-footed bandicoot, the white-footed rabbit-rat, the brush-tailed bettong and the eastern hare-wallaby, and the more we fail to adequately confront the impending climate apocalypse the more likely it is that we will lose even more of the unique plants and animals that make Victoria so special. Rising temperatures, more frequent and intense fires and less rainfall will all contribute to the continued destruction of Victoria’s habitat, putting our possums, our birds, our insects and our plants at risk of extinction. This year’s Victorian state of the environment report found that of 25 environmental health indicators, zero rated as good, only four rated as fair and 18 as poor, with three unknown.

The ecosystem of Victoria that gives us life is in trouble and it is clear we need to do so much better to look after our environment. In this context the bill before us today is a missed opportunity to take real action against extinction and to put in place mandatory frameworks that would ensure protection, conservation and recovery of our endangered plants and animals. The bill still uses the language of 'consider’ or 'take into account’ or 'may’. This means that the government can consider the objectives of the act all they like but they are still free to ultimately decide to chop down our forests to create paper rather than make a plan to save the greater glider. There remains no requirement of the government to actually plan or put money behind protecting endangered plants and animals. Given the state of our environment after 30 years of this act, it is clear that these optional rules have not and will not do anything to protect our precious wildlife, birds, mammals, trees, flowers and shrubs. I do want to acknowledge that the bill does make a number of important improvements, however. It updates the way the legislation will categorise plants and animals so that it is both nationally consistent and consistent with international practice. It increases the penalties for some offences such as the illegal taking of plants and animals. It requires all ministers and government bodies to consider the objectives of the act when performing their roles. Because of these improvements the Greens are supporting this bill. However, we want this bill to do so much more. It is for this reason that the Greens are proposing amendments to the bill to make it stronger, to give it real teeth and to ensure that the government must take action to protect and conserve our precious endangered native plants and animals. I wish to circulate the amendments now. Greens amendments circulated by Dr RATNAM pursuant to standing orders.

Dr RATNAM: I look forward to discussing these amendments in more detail in the committee stage. The reality here in Victoria is that we are not separate from the extinction crisis facing the world. In fact we have been contributing to it, with 70 per cent of our forests destroyed. The reality is that as humans we are not separate from nature, we are part of it. We just cannot continue to destroy our environment, kill off our biodiversity and think human life will continue as it has in the past. If we want future generations to be able to see a greater glider or a Leadbeater’s possum, not just read about them like we do the Tasmanian tiger, we need governments to act, and given governments in Victoria have steadfastly refused to do so of their own volition, we need laws that make it mandatory. This will ensure we have a government acting in the best interests of all of us and all of the life around us.

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Samantha Ratnam
Leader of the Victorian Greens
15 August 2019
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