Environmental Defender Faults Government’s New Biodiversity Law

Perth, WA – EDOWA today released a 36-page white paper recommending against passage of the WA Government’s Biodiversity Conservation Bill 2015, at least in its current form.

The Bill, introduced in the Legislative Assembly on 25 November 2015, was touted by Premier Colin Barnett as a “momentous step forward in the conservation of the State’s biodiversity” and “a very significant achievement”.

EDOWA’s paper strongly disagrees with the Government’s assessment, however. According to the paper, the new law’s touted benefits “are illusory at best – a mirage”. While the paper recognises the Bill has some good features (repealing two obsolete laws, substantially increasing potential penalties for violations, providing a process for listing protected or threatened species and ecosystems), according to EDO Principal Solicitor Patrick Pearlman, “the new law takes a giant step back in many other ways”.

The Bill, Mr Pearlman said, “gives virtually unfettered discretion to either the WA Environment Minister or DPAW’s CEO in decision-making, leaves both the scientific community and the public out in the cold when it comes to identifying vulnerable species, critical habitat or key threatening processes, gives offenders defences that will likely undermine enforcement efforts, and broadly exempts government and industry from the new law’s reach”. “Even worse”, Mr Pearlman added, “the Bill appears to promote short-term declines to foster development and permits the Minister to allow species to be taken to the point of extinction”. “That’s simply repugnant to any notion of biodiversity conservation”, he said.

The paper notes that the new law fails to provide the deterrent of imprisonment that exists under many current laws. “Removing even the threat of jail time for harming highly threatened species is particularly disturbing given the Government’s current efforts to jail peaceful protestors for ‘interfering with lawful activity’”, Mr Pearlman said.

Keith Claymore, the paper’s co-author agreed, noting that “the Bill proposes to codify and mandate some programs and processes that been around for many years, but offers little more in the way of actively promoting and advancing biodiversity conservation at a State and bioregional scale”. “Significantly absent in the Bill, when compared to other Australian and overseas biodiversity laws, are provisions for a statewide biodiversity strategy or periodic evaluation and reporting on the state and condition of WA’s biodiversity”, Mr Claymore added.

“Lack of provisions to establish an independent scientific advisory committee to assist with the future Act’s implementation, and lack of provisions for sandalwood management that reflected best practice standards and ensured sustainable use was of particular concern to us”, he said.

EDO’s white paper is being published to encourage informed debate and to ensure the new law isn’t adopted without significant amendments – including allowing citizens to enforce its provisions – and is available on request. The Bill is expected to be debated in Parliament before State elections next year, possibly in this sitting period.