'Exploited by an old rule': Loophole closed to protect Aussie icon

A loophole that allowed wombats to be killed without authorisation across large parts of Victoria has been closed.

The state’s environment minister Lily D’Ambrosio confirmed on Thursday the rules, in place since the 1980s, had been revoked.

“We’ve ended the unauthorised killing of wombats in Victoria,” Ms D’Ambrosio said in a statement.

A wombat lying in a person's arms on his back. The Victorian government has closed a loophole to protect the species.
Humane Society International have welcomed the added wombat protections. Source: Getty Images

“The previous rules were outdated – wombats deserve the same protection as other native animals – and that’s what this change delivers.

“This change will ensure wombats can’t be exploited by an old rule.”

The development brings wombat protection in line with other species, meaning anyone caught killing without a permit faces a fine of up to $39,000 and up to two years’ jail.

The minister’s decision comes amid a number of high-profile cases in which wombats have been killed.

Last year the government announced an investigation into so-called “wombat hunting tourism” in which it was alleged Chinese high rollers shot them for sport.

The hunting is alleged to have occurred in Murrindindi, which is not one of the 193 Victorian parishes where wombats were unprotected, but the coverage led to a greater awareness of wombat welfare.

‘It’s a very welcome step’ for wombats

With so many wombats impacted by ongoing bushfires, drought, vehicle impact and mange, the Humane Society International’s Evan Quartermain welcomed the news as a win for wildlife.

“It is an excellent thing because what that loophole mean is that in much of eastern Victoria landholders could basically kill wombats with impunity, with very little oversight and no reporting requirements,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

“We really don’t know the scale of suffering that loophole caused because of that lack of oversight, but we expect that it would have been tens of thousands of wombats in the last 30 years.”

Wombat and kangaroo signs fixed to a pole rise out of a burnt out forest.
Australia's native wildlife has been severely impacted by bushfires. Source: Bloomberg via Getty

Mr Quartermain stressed the government still had a lot of work to do in protecting animals, noting that despite wombats being protected, landowners can still apply for permits to kill them.

“It’s a very welcome step and we applaud the Victorian government for closing that dreadful chapter in the state’s history, but it’s just the first step,” he said.

“The downside to the announcement is that even when protected, wombats can be killed through an authority to control wildlife (ATCW).

“Even legally over the last 10 years in Victoria, more than 25,000 wombats have been killed through that process.”

‘No excuse for this carnage to continue’

Mr Quartermain highlighted the importance of wombat burrows to the ecosystem, noting they provided refuge to animals escaping from the bushfires.

While farmers cite fence destruction as a major reason for applying for an ATCW to kill them, Mr Quartermain noted there were now technologies like wombats gates as well as burrow highlighting that allowed farmers to live in harmony with them.

“There is just simply no excuse for this carnage to continue in Victoria,” he said.

“Wombats have a place in our landscape and should be able to live their lives without the threat of shooting.

“The news is welcome, but we’ve still got a lot more to do. We need to build the momentum on this positive move from the Victorian government.”

A dead wombat lies on grass at the side of the road.
Wombats face threats from humans and Humane Society International would like to see them have greater protection. Source: Getty

Following the news, the Victorian department of environment issued a statement, highlighting what the changes meant for landholders.

“The Victorian Government has increased protection for the Common Wombat by revoking an order made in the 1980s that had allowed them to be controlled without a permit in parts of eastern Victoria,” it read.

“Common Wombats are now protected across the whole of Victoria and landholders seeking to control Common Wombats have to apply for an Authority to Control Wildlife from DELWP’s Conservation Regulator.

“Landholders experiencing damage from Common Wombats will need to receive an Authority to Control Wildlife (ATCW) from DELWP’s Conservation Regulator prior to undertaking control.

“The ATCW system allows damage and control to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.”

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