'A game-changer': Plan announced to save Australia's koalas from extinction

New reforms were announced on Thursday in a bid to stop native species like koalas and greater gliders being wiped out by the very real threat of extinction.

Federal laws to protect Australia’s threatened species were independently reviewed in 2020 and found to be “weak” and “tokenistic”. Working to combat Australia’s embarrassing record of ongoing biodiversity loss, Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek announced new reforms to Commonwealth protections. They are part of her target to achieve zero extinctions across the Australian continent.

The Nature Positive Plan is the federal government’s long-awaited response to Professor Graeme Samuel’s scathing independent review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

Two aerial images of land-clearing that have affected the habitat of koalas.
The government has released a plan to save koalas from extinction in response to a scathing review of Australia's failing extinction prevention laws. Source: AAP

A key feature of the government’s plan will be to adopt his recommendation of having a new independent environment protection agency to help “restore public trust” in national environment law.

Ms Plibersek announced the plan would be “a win for the environment and a win for business” and controversially includes includes mechanisms for environmental offsets.

“Our reforms are seeking to turn the tide in this country – from nature destruction to nature repair,” she said in a statement.

Critically, national standards will be applied to Australia’s failing Regional Forest Agreements which allow state logging operators to destroy endangered species habitat without Commonwealth scrutiny. These gaps have forced species including Leadbeater’s possum, greater gliders, swift parrots towards extinction.

'Our wildlife can't wait for the reforms'

Peak environment non-profits Humane Society International, Greenpeace, Australian Conservation Foundation and WWF-Australia appear to be encouraged by the government’s reforms, but they have also noted a number of key concerns.

WWF-Australia’s Rachel Lowry said the report had potential to “be a game-changer”, but said there was a lack of urgency.

Greater glider (left) and swift parrots (right).
Greater gliders and swift parrots have been pushed to extintion by logging. Source: Kinglake Friends of the Forest/Getty

“On the government’s own timetable, the reform package will be introduced into the parliament before the end of 2023, which means it is unlikely to be implemented until 2024,” she said. “Our wildlife and wild places cannot afford to wait this long for action. Australia’s list of threatened species has grown by 8 per cent since 2016 and we’re losing vast stretches of forests and habitat every year.”

Australian Conservation Foundation CEO, Kelly O’Shanassy, said a “great deal more detail needs to be fleshed out” if the “alarming” destruction of Australia’s forests is to be halted. “Strong national nature protection laws that halt the destruction of wildlife habitat and ecosystems are critical if Australia is to meet its worthy goal of no new extinctions,” she said.

Greenpeace’s Glenn Walker said the plan was “very welcome” but like Humane Society International, added the devil would be in the detail. “This government will either be forever celebrated for their strong leadership to protect Australia’s extraordinary environment, or will be remembered harshly for failing a once-off opportunity to save our wildlife and natural wonders from oblivion,” he said.

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