Last week, the latest Australia State of the Environment report was finally made public. It wasn’t released by the previous government, despite being completed in December 2021.
Claudia Caliari from the Ballina Environment Society speaks for many when she says the delay was due to the report’s damning assessment of environmental loss and degradation across Australia under Scott Morrison’s watch.
She told The Echo, ‘so-called “development” has been smashing biodiversity despite the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, which was supposed to prevent this.’
As Ms Caliari points out, this is the sixth national report since 1996, with environmental health trends all heading into the red. ‘Most indicators of the state of plants and animals show a decline, and the number of terrestrial and marine threatened species has risen.
‘Since colonisation, Australia has lost 34 mammals, about the same number as the rest of the world combined over the past 200 years,’ she said.
‘It’s a loss for us all as living beings. However, we now have enough information to make the necessary changes to avoid the worst. But it will take money, government commitment and public support to protect and recover our precious natural places.’
Claudia Caliari says this is not just a federal matter, but has practical, immediate implications for the Ballina region.
‘The biodiversity is just outside our window,’ she said. ‘Here in Ballina, the Development Control Plan (DCP), which establishes standards, controls and guidelines for development or building work, is on public exhibition.
‘If you read it, you will see how your backyard is connected with threatened species, such as koalas and grey headed flying foxes. Many other threatened species live in our shire, so how can we ensure that we are protecting them from extinction?’
Ms Caliari says it all starts with transparency. ‘Yes, as Professor Graeme Samuel recommended a couple of years ago in an independent review of the EPBC Act, transparency is a key factor.’
She suggests that even when local governments have inadequate resources to establish local regulators with proper enforcement powers for environmental protection, enough information needs to be publicly available so that grassroots organisations such as Ballina Environment Society are able to work with councils, by ‘promoting the due diligence process, “auditing” environmental processes and, filling the gaps.’
While land clearing and invasive species of flora and fauna are the leading causes of biodiversity loss. Ms Caliari points out that different taxonomic groups are affected differently.
‘Mammal extinctions have been caused mainly by introduced species, especially predators, cats and foxes (if your cat still wanders around, it’s time to re-think his habitat) and plant extinctions were mainly caused by habitat loss,’ she said.
‘Introduced mammals such as deer and rabbits compete with natives for food and destroy their habitat. Invasive weeds have spread across the continent, replacing endemic species, dominating ecosystems and reducing plant diversity.
‘There are 32 listed weeds of national significance, such as bitou bush, gamba grass, fireweed and lantana.
‘Regarding biodiversity offsets, just remember that tree hollows, habitat for many of our native species, can take 100 or many more years to be created (according to species and size), so if all developments rely on offsets, we might not have a single hollow for a century.’
What can local people do?
Claudia Caliari says all Australians – governments, businesses, individuals and communities – must roll up their sleeves and commit to restoring our natural environment.
For people living in and around Ballina, she suggests ‘a great start will be the Coastcare tree planting coming up on Sunday the 31st of July.’
This event will be supported by Ballina Environment Society. Volunteers will be working in the site adjoining the Sharpes Beach car park from 10am-2pm. Find out more here.
‘Another giant step is writing a Development Control Plan (DCP) submission, expressing your concerns,’ said Ms Caliari.
‘Please join us in reversing biodiversity loss! It’s in our hands.’