Topics: Threatened Species Summit, Leadbeater’s Possum
Good morning everybody. I’d like to start this morning’s procedures by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land in which we meet, the people of the Kulin nation. Healesville Sanctuary is a culturally significant site and we have a rich Indigenous history and a rich Indigenous presence today.
So, it’s a great privilege as custodians of this land, working on behalf of the Wurundjeri people to warmly welcome to you all today, and to extend a very warm welcome to the Federal Minister of the Environment, Minister Greg Hunt, who is also accompanied today by Australia’s first Threatened Species Commissioner, Gregory Andrews.
We are honoured to have them both here today because Healesville Sanctuary is committed to fighting extinction and we know we can’t do it alone. We need to have relationships with both the State and Federal Government and a whole range of stakeholders to ensure that we manage to navigate our way through these really complex issues that our threatened species are facing.
And so I am really looking forward to hearing Minister Hunt’s announcement today and I’ll hand you over to him now to address you. Thank you very much.
And thanks very much to Rachel, to everybody at the amazing Healesville Sanctuary, which as you said has an extraordinary Indigenous history, but it’s also just an Australian icon, in terms of its conservation, its preservation, its rehabilitation of Australia’s great native species population. And I’m accompanied by Gregory Andrews, who’s our Threatened Species Commissioner. He’s the first Threatened Species Commissioner in Australian history, but I am certain he won’t be the last.
Only yesterday, we made the decision to lift the status of the magnificent possum, the extraordinary leadbeater’s possum, which yesterday we gave additional Federal protection to. Today, I want to look at a broader context and there’s no better place to do this than Healesville Sanctuary. There are many Australian threatened species that are under pressure and the work of John Woinarski and others has shown that first and foremost, it’s feral cats. It’s also fire, it’s also foxes and in the long run, it will also be climate change. Right now, we can take steps on each of those fronts.
Part of this means that we have to have a focus on threatened species, protecting the bilby and quoll, the magnificent wallabies, some of our great kangaroo species. What we’re doing is to say that it is time to draw a line in the sand that we will protect our threatened species. There should be no more extinctions. There should be a reduction in the threat level for 20 of our Australian mammal species by 2020. Twenty by 2020 – that’s what we want to achieve with regards to improving and protecting our threatened species.
Now it is possible. We know that the number one threat is feral cats. Gregory Andrews has just spent two days with the vast bulk of Australia’s experts in feral cat eradication and reduction. These potentially 20 million creatures who are invading our great natural spaces are a threat, are a deep threat. They are an earthquake in natural history. So, we have to deal with that. So, in order to do this, in order to deal with this, we will hold Australia’s first Threatened Species Summit at Melbourne Zoo on 16th July this year.
We will be bringing together State governments, Territory governments, hopefully State and Territory Ministers and then Australia’s foremost experts from wildlife organisations such as the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. From friends groups, from universities and from Landcare groups around the country. Two hundred and fifty of Australia’s leading experts and field practitioners will be part of the Threatened Species Summit.
And the goal is very simple – practical action such as occurring here at Healesville Sanctuary where they have the leadbeater’s possum recovery program, where they breed the leadbeater’s possum. They then return it to the wild. And Rachel is part of my National Threatened Species Advisory Panel. What you and your team are doing is incredibly valuable here. We want to replicate that not just for the leadbeater’s possum but for other animals right around the country.
What does it mean? We want to have a threatened species recovery plan which comes out of the Threatened Species Summit and a feral cat eradication plan, which will see, in the short term, a million feral cats removed from Australia’s native environment, and in the longer term, a progressive eradication of this earthquake, in terms of our natural environment.
It is immensely important, it’s been backed by $76 million; but it’s not the money, it’s the fact that we now have, led by Hugh Possingham and David Lindenmayer, Australia’s first Threatened Species Hub. Our first Threatened Species Commissioner. We have funding to deal with it and now it’s time for a Threatened Species Summit to say to governments in Australia, we can do this. And in order to talk about the feral cat eradication plan, I want to invite Gregory Andrews very briefly.
Thanks Minister. So, in Australia we’ve already lost 29 mammals and as Minister Hunt said, he’s ruling a line in the sand on that. And the science is unequivocal. If we’re going to tackle and save the species that are at risk from feral cats, we need to act now. Feral cats are a risk to 100 Australian species – numbats, bilbies, parrots, species here in Victoria like the eastern barred bandicoot.
So I’ve spent two days with some of Australia’s leading experts on feral cats to develop a plan that we’ll be launching at the summit to tackle feral cats, which are the number one threat to our mammals in Australia. And we need to act because when we lose our animals, we lose a part of what it is to be Australians.
Okay. Happy to take any questions.
Minister, can I just ask you about the leadbeater’s possum. What was it that prompted you to, I guess, elevate it to critically endangered?
It was the science and it was the science provided by the Threatened Species Science Committee and it was unequivocal. It would have been negligent and irresponsible not to say to the people of Australia – this icon, Victoria’s faunal emblem, is not just endangered but is critically endangered. So I’ve written to the Victorian Minister. We’re looking to work with the Victorian Government on practical action.
There’s already $11 million that’s in the pipeline to protect species around areas that are under threat, but I think we can do better. And this sends a message not just around Victoria and Australia but around the world, that we’re deadly serious about protecting this most vulnerable and iconic of Victorian species.
So should logging in the Toolangi State Forest then be banned?
So there are some difficult questions for the Victorian Government now. I don’t mean that in the critical sense, but they will have to respond. This is a critically endangered listing. It’s not something that comes along very often, but the leadbeater’s possum is our state emblem.
It is a vital part of our natural environment and I’ve written to Victoria in the best cooperative sense, offering to develop a national recovery plan with them and I hope that they will take some very constructive steps. I won’t pre-empt what they do, but this gives them the opportunity to take some real and significant steps in conjunction with the Commonwealth to provide better habitat and better protection for the leadbeater’s possum.
How urgent is the need for action? How long do critically endangered species typically have before they are extinct?
Well it’s already critically endangered. We need action now. And now fortunately because of Healesville Sanctuary and Zoos Victoria, there is a recovery program and a breeding program. We are happy to invest further in that and there will be additional support, but unless we take action within the next 12 months, then I fear that we could see critically endangered become worse.
Professor David Lindenmayer has said that the only way to protect the central highlands leadbeater’s possum is to establish a new national park in the area. Does the Federal Government have any thoughts on establishing a new national park and whether it would be – you’d want that?
So, I have immense respect for David Lindenmayer, he’s arguably Australia’s foremost natural ecologist with regards to threatened species. He is co-leading the $30 million Threatened Species Hub which we’ve established. His work has been critical in this decision. So, our part in this decision is to ensure that the listing as critically endangered has been put in place for the leadbeater’s possum. Of course, there are some who wouldn’t have wanted it. I understand vested interests; I recognise that they are out there.
The next step is up to the Victoria Government. I’m not going to sort of try to snooker them for political gain, but I would urge them to take this listing seriously. I’m offering in the best sense to work with them. This is our watch. In public life, you have a short watch where you might be responsible and on our watch, threatened species are front and centre.
The leadbeater’s possum has been given a unique listing, in terms of its history, and that’s the opportunity. Yes it is critically endangered, but it’s also an opportunity now for the Victorian Government to work with the Commonwealth on making changes to see the species recover, because we can do it. We can actually improve things.
So do you think the Great Forest National Park is a good idea?
Look, I think that there is significant merit in far greater protection for the species with appropriate parkland, real changes. Later today we’ll be announcing our Emissions Reduction Fund results and some of the very significant projects are about much greater forest protection for native forests than has ever been in place in Australia. So, this afternoon I’m putting the Commonwealth’s money exactly where our mouth is and I hope the State follows suit.
Tony Abbott once said in Tasmania that there would be no new national parks under the Federal Government. In regards to the Great Forest National Park, do you think there could be some leeway there?
Look, these are about State decisions. The Prime Minister also visited the Yarra Ranges and Dandenong Ranges and expressed his real concern. I remember he expressed his concern about native forest management. And so – he and I have talked often about this, he has a real passion about native forest management and this afternoon there are some very significant announcements in the Emissions Reduction Fund.
So, I think we can do both things. We can manage to ensure that there are sustainable industries, but we can manage to ensure that there is better protection and this afternoon some tens of millions of dollars will be announced in additional funding for native forest protection. Right now, we’re setting out a threatened species plan and if you come back to when the Prime Minister visited with Tony Smith not that long ago, he made a very specific statement about native forest protection and clear felling.
Given what the experts have said, would you look at attempting to intervene to stop logging in the area to protect the possums?
Look, I think it’s got to be a Victorian Government initiative, but we would be supportive of practical steps that they take. Alright, thank you very much.