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National Threatened Species Day

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Tags: Threatened Species, Wedge-Tailed Eagle, Handfish

National Threatened Species Day, Rosalie Woodruff MP, 15 September 2020


Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, I rise to commemorate national Threatened Species Day which was held in Tasmania on 7 September as it was in every state of Australia. It is held each year to commemorate the sad death of the last thylacine known to be alive in 1936. This Threatened Species Day was marked with a sad official announcement of the extinction of the smooth handfish, a species endemic to Tasmanian waters and the first modern marine fish on record to vanish. Vale smooth handfish.

We have no drawings or record of its visage or its character. We have no information of the beauty that it contributed to the web of life, but we can be sure that it played its part in the ecosystem and its loss would have been noted. That extinction emphasises how sensitive families of fishes are to environmental disruptions.

All handfish are affected by habitat destruction and pollution, but the scientists say the biggest threat to handfish is warming waters which are a direct consequence of the climate crisis. Despite the biodiversity crisis and the inexorable increasing climate heating which we are experiencing and which no part of this Liberal federal government seems to be making an effort to bring down - in fact the announcements yesterday were shocking for everyone who is aware of the realities of climate crisis - the federal government at this point in time is putting all its money into the COVID recovery and restarting anew with more energy, the gas industry, which if they have their way would be another enormous contributor of fossil fuels to the atmosphere when we have no time. We have to be doing everything we can to bring them down.

Despite these crises and the impacts on all natural systems we are seeing on the mainland of Australia after the fires and fights over trying to protect the koala, this madness is expressed in Tasmania by the policies, the actions and the inactions of the state Liberals, who clearly have not learned the lesson of the tragic extinctions of the thylacine and the smooth handfish. Their policies are hastening hundreds of other plants and animals in Tasmania along the pathway to extinction.

Our state of threatened species in Tasmania is in a very dire place. The Liberals came to office and dismantled the expertise in DPIPWE's Threatened Species Unit. In 2014 it had 15 expert, experienced full-time staff and today it has effectively zero. The unit still has a phone number but do not bother calling it - it rings out and diverts you to somewhere else. Not only are the Liberals cutting resources to threatened species protection, they are doing everything they can to increase the pace and destruction of critical wildlife habitat.

Our native forests are home to rare, threatened and endangered species but they are being clear-felled at an accelerating rate, including critical forest communities that are habitat for masked owls, swift parrot and the giant blue lobster. Along with Forest Watch, last week Cassy O'Connor, the member for Clark, documented gigantic ancient trees in the Styx that had been felled and then burnt whole on site, clearly too large even to be able to be dragged from the coop. So while threatened habitats have been destroyed, the government's legal requirements to make recovery plans for threatened species have been all but abandoned. Some 640 species of plants and animals are listed either as rare, vulnerable or threatened but only 40 of those have a plan to recover those populations to head them away from extinction. But the recovery plans for those mere 40 are either based on flawed population estimates or are totally non-existent.

Even the recovery plan for one of our most loved and iconic animals - the glorious wedge-tailed eagle - is more than 10 years out of date. The estimated population of less than 1000 birds, which was distressingly low, is a decade on. In a cynical tick-a-box approach to protecting the environment, the government chooses two animals to back in the race for its species survival in Tasmania: the Tasmanian devil and the orange-bellied parrot.

All money and all PR and media releases are focused on those two animals. Well, good on those animals, and we must do everything we can to protect them, but there are 638 other listed animals that do not get a look in. We need contemporary population data and updated recovery plans for all of those 640 animals and plants, and all the others that we are not even doing the research to update and reclassify.

When it comes to threatened species we do not get a second chance. Order of Australia Medallist, Sarah Lloyd, will be receiving her medal from the Governor this Friday at an official ceremony to celebrate her lifetime services to our country as a naturalist. Sarah recently spoke up for the strong documented natural values of the Westbury Reserve on Birralee Road, a bird and rare plant haven including the rare blue pincushion Brunonia australis, fungi, slime mould, mammals, invertebrates and all manner of other things. She issued a media release noting that when he was minister for Environment in 2019 Peter Gutwein said:

Tasmania's unique wildlife is one of our greatest assets and the Hodgman-majority Liberal Government is committed to protecting our threatened species to maintain the health of our eco-system.

Well, Madam Speaker, as Ms Lloyd said:

What meaningless and hypocritical statement could we expect to have seen given the government's lack of due diligence in selecting Westbury Reserve as the alternative northern prison site.

As she rightly says, it is sheer vandalism to destroy the values of that site. If we do not learn from the mistakes made with the thylacine and the smooth handfish, we are doomed to repeat them for so many other plants and animals that we all love and want to keep with us into the future in Tasmania.