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Swift Parrot Recovery Plan

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 25 August 2022

Tags: Swift Parrot, Threatened Species

Dr WOODRUFF - Mr Speaker, I will talk tonight about the utter perfidy of this Minister for the Environment and Climate Change, and this state Government when it comes to the failed efforts to protect the critically endangered swift parrot.

We have a Freedom of Information document from the Commonwealth Department. It shows that both Tasmanian and Commonwealth environment and forestry bureaucrats have been pushing to remove language from the draft Swift Parrot Recovery Plan that would put the finger directly on native forest logging as the key threat to the habitat, and therefore the survival, of the swift parrot.

What the documents show, is that the state environment department has threatened not to sign up to the recovery plan unless language which aims the blame squarely on the forestry industry in Tasmania - native forest clear-felling and logging of flowering and nesting habitat in old hollows - is censored out.

DPIPWE said in the draft recovery plan, that there is overall concern with the consistent narrative focus on real or perceived inadequacies in Tasmania's forest management. They accused the plan of having an imbalance in the narrative around threats that the forest industry posed to the swift parrot. They wanted significant doctoring of the forestry and land clearing threats, including removing a sentence that said 'native forest logging and intensive native forest silviculture practices poses the greatest threat to the survival of the swift parrot population'.

They also wanted the sentence 'the Tasmanian forest practices system has not protected all of the breeding habitat for the species, increasing the threats to the species' -they wanted that gone. They wanted to censor out of the document the line that said 'removing reference to forestry operations over the past 30 years have reduced the amount of available swift parrot nesting and foraging habitat'. They also wanted to remove the sentence that talked about 'the harvesting of breeding and foraging habitat in native forests remains the most significant threat to the species' persistence in the wild'.

We find that the federal department, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) and the Commonwealth forestry branch were also having a go. They described the habitat loss as 'a minor threat to the swift parrot'. They emphasise that forest harvesting was not permanent removal of habitat, clearly denying the reality that swift parrots need old growth trees with ancient hollows so they can nest in them.

ABARES and Commonwealth forestry also said that the recovery plan needs to be worded 'so as to avoid the impression that protection of critical habitat is the most important action' - when we know it is. They wanted to remove the sentence that said 'the regional forestry agreement has failed to adequately protect swift parrots in their breeding range because large areas of potential or known habitat have been logged, despite potential impacts on the species'. Their comment was that 'the statement is incorrect and of significant sensitivity to both the Australian Government and Tasmanian Government in its current forms'.

It makes it very clear that we have had federal and state bureaucrats from environment and forestry and, we do not know which other departments, all having a go. After the public consultation process is finished, they are all having a go at the scientific assessment of risk to the swift parrot. The work of scientists like Dr Matt Webb, Dr Mark Holdsworth and also Dr Jen Sanger, Dr Dejan Stojanovic [NAMES CHECKED] and all the other people who have been documenting the life cycle and the existence, the predation of sugar gliders, the threats of habitat from forestry on the Swift parrot.

These are the people who know exactly what the threats are. Yes, they include sugar gliders; but fundamentally, the increase in sugar glider predation has come from the massive loss of habitat through forestry clear-felling and logging. That has given the sugar glider far more scope to move but also, most importantly, it has removed the trees, the habitat in the first place, for the breeding and the nesting that is required.

The watering down is effectively signing the swift parrot's death warrant and it is a disgrace. We asked the minister what the role of his department has been. Clearly it was state Environment bureaucrats who were responsible for the information. We want to know exactly what his role and his predecessor's role has been in this process. It is a scandal to interfere like this with a scientific assessment of threats to a critically endangered species.

Dr Matt Webb is a conservation biologist. He was a member of the swift parrot recovery team for nearly two decades. He said that the proposed changes and the rationale given for them was 'just wrong'. They called in question what recovery teams were for at all.

He said, 'If they're accepted they'd take the efforts to protect the species back 20 years'. You would have to wonder whether that is the purpose of why they are there. It must be. It is to further the continuation of logging industries across Australia for as long as possible.

'None of these changes have come back to the recovery team, as far as I'm aware,' Mr Webb said. 'A lot of the comments are not based on what is best for the birds, they appear to be about political sensitivities over the future logging industry'.

Mark Holdsworth was also among the researchers who spent several years developing the swift parrot recovery document. He said the recovery team were totally unaware that government agencies had been trying to change the emphasis in the draft plan. He has called on the commonwealth along with the Greens and conservationists across Tasmania to reject the draft version of the plan that we have seen. This is going to go to Ms Plibersek for signoff. It has been non-science, pro industry and secretive. We will fight to make sure that there is a recovery plan that protects the species.