Tanya Plibersek's 'first big test' could be saving this endangered species habitat

Around one hundred endangered birds have made their home in Darwin bushland set to be bulldozed by Defence Housing Australia (DHA).

While Gouldian finches once flocked in their thousands, less than 2500 are thought to exist.

Now, Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek is being urged to reconsider the approval to destroy the site and protect the finches.

An aerial shot of the housing development.
Defence Housing Australia plans to bulldoze the forested area to make way for new homes. Source: Supplied

When the 800-house project was approved by the Morrison government in 2019, it was believed unlikely the finches would call the Lee Point coastal site home.

In May 2022, that changed. Not seen outside remote areas for decades, the tiny colourful birds began returning to the capital and hundreds of bird watchers flew in to observe them.

Why have the finches relocated to Darwin?

More than 1000 people are believed to have directly contacted the government, calling for the project to be stopped.

Also opposing the development is Kirsty Howey, Environment Centre NT co-director.

She told Yahoo News Australia the reason the finches flocked to Darwin remains a mystery.

One possibility is that the region has experienced another “failed wet season”, made worse by the escalating impact of climate change.

Left - close up picture of a Gouldian finch. Right - Tanya Plibersek
Environment Centre NT believe saving the Gouldian finch habitat will be Tanya Plibersek's "first big test" as environment minister. Source: Tobias Akesson

Needing to drink regularly, the dry weather could have forced the finches to fly further north in search of water.

What’s clear, Ms Howley argues, is that the state of biodiversity across the Northern Territory is as “dire” as it is in the eastern states.

Gouldian finches rely on tree hollows for nesting, and across Australia these are being felled to make way for development and farming.

“Our savanna ecosystems, which cover a huge amount of land in northern Australia, technically meet the definition of collapsing,” Ms Howley said.

“Our biodiversity and nature are in peril.”

Tanya Plibersek's first 'big test' as environment minister

Minister Plibersek is set to release the State of the Environment Report on July 19, something the previous government failed to do before the Federal Election.

Two images of trees at Lee Point filled with Gouldian finches.
Around 100 finches have been observed at the Lee Point site. Source: Gayle Laidlaw

With the planet facing a biodiversity crisis, and the impact of climate change continuing to worsen, Ms Howey believes reexamining approval to bulldoze the site will be the environment minister’s "first big test”.

“We know that there was a review undertaken that said our federal environmental laws are failing,” she said.

“She said publicly that she wants to reform our EPBC Act… and here we have an endangered species, that's moved in, possibly due to the impacts of climate change, and she could step in right now.”

Defence Housing Australia responds to call to stop project

DHA appears determined to unleash its bulldozers despite the unexpected influx of an endangered species to the site.

Source: Yahoo
Source: Yahoo

A spokesperson said the organisation "takes its environmental responsibilities seriously", and added the project is "already underway".

"DHA has obtained all necessary approvals, consents, permits and other authorisations as required by law to undertake the project, which is required to meet the ADF’s housing requirements in the Darwin region," it said.

"The EPBC Approval was obtained following a detailed assessment of the impacts of the Project on biodiversity, including on listed species such as the Gouldian finch."

Update: In June 2023, it was announced approval had been given for the housing project to proceed. She found the project could have a significant impact on the birds, but it could go ahead with some changes.

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