Australia’s extinction crisis: public hearing statement

April 17, 2024

A koala holds her joey close
Deterioration of ecosystems and species extinction is occurring at an unprecedented rate in Australia. Photo by Scott Kelly on Unsplash.

Australia is failing to halt, slow, or reverse the loss of biodiversity. 

We have one of the worst records of species extinctions of any continent, with nearly 50% of the world’s known and historically recorded mammal extinctions.  

In that context, we welcome the announcement that the Australian Government will seek to legislate the Environment Protection Agency and particularly, Environment Information Australia. 

The Academy endorses establishing a data agency.

Australia’s biodiversity monitoring, data collection, and curation standards are insufficient.

A national biodiversity information system, overseen by an independent agency, is crucial for integrating data, supporting decision-makers, and ensuring public trust supported by a national environmental data standard.

Given this, we are disappointed in the decision to delay other important reforms recommended by the independent review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

In going forward without National Environmental Standards, we risk entrenching the failures of the current legislation. The new agencies will be locked into supporting the current—broken, inadequate—framework. 

Further, as the 2021 State of the Environment Report found, there are key scientific capabilities missing. 

For example, while the discovery, naming and documentation of Australian species by Western scientists has been ongoing for about three centuries, current knowledge of Australia’s biodiversity is incomplete. 

The best estimate is that 70% (or 420,000) of all Australian species have yet to be discovered, documented, named, and classified. At the current rate, it will take more than four centuries to finish the job.

This gap hinders the effective management, conservation, and the sustainable use of Australia’s biodiversity, Australia’s biosecurity, biodiscovery, and effective environmental regulation. Many unnamed species are likely to be rare and threatened, and many of these will become extinct before they can be recognised.

What we do not know, we cannot protect.

For the national political system, for this Parliament, to maintain these failed systems and consider that an adequate response is unfathomable.  

The Academy provides scientific advice. We’re happy to do so. We provided scientific advice to Professor Graeme Samuel, and we’re providing scientific advice to the Department of Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water. 

The scientific advice is that the situation facing Australia’s threatened species and its threatened ecological communities is dire. It is not getting better. 

The need for legislative reform is very clear.  

Failure to progress these reforms is a failure of the political system.  

This statement was provided to the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee inquiry into Australia’s extinction crisis.


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