Senator WATERS (Queensland—Co-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (13:04): I rise to mark Threatened Species Day, which fell on Monday this week, 7 September. I also rise to mark National Bilby Day, which is this forthcoming Sunday, 13 September. Threatened Species Day on 7 September each year is the anniversary of the day that the last Tasmanian tiger went extinct in 1936, in a Hobart zoo. The Thylacine is an emblem of our times. It is a symbol of the way that we have failed our native wildlife and of how we have continued to fail them ever since.
Threatened Species Day provides a time to reflect and, as a parliament, to draw inspiration from some of the good work being done in our community to save our native wildlife. We must also reflect on what more needs to be done by our governments. The fact is that Australia and the world are in a biodiversity crisis. Globally, we are living through what scientists are calling the Holocene extinction. It is the sixth greatest extinction event since life began on earth, and it is the first and only time that a mass extinction has been caused by just one species—humanity.
According to a recent study, the current extinction rate could be more than 100 times higher than normal. Also according to that study, as many as three-quarters of animal species could be extinct within several human lifetimes. This is a National Geographic study, and it is incredibly alarming. In Australia, we have one of the world's worst extinction rates for our native mammals. Since European settlement, we have lost 29 species of native mammals. That is, of course, vastly disproportionate: those 29 species represent a third of all global mammalian extinctions in the last 600 years. On top of that, among what is left, 20 per cent of our remaining mammal species are threatened with extinction.
We know that global warming is the most serious threat to our Australian native wildlife, along with habitat loss and invasive species. Change is happening too quickly for plants and animals to adapt, especially where they live in isolated populations. More droughts, bushfires and extreme weather can devastate habitat, and changing temperatures can disrupt breeding, food supply and shelter. A paper in Science earlier this year warned that we are on track to lose one in six of all species on earth by 2100. Australia is more vulnerable to species loss from global warming, because many of our species are found nowhere else on earth. They exist in very specific ecosystems, and they have nowhere else to go when those ecosystems change. For example, the rainforests in Queensland's Wet Tropics are globally important, with many unique plants and animals.
A paper published by James Cook University in Townsville shows that, if we do not cut pollution quickly, global warming will make one-third of all rainforest mammals, birds, reptiles and frogs in the wet tropics either critically endangered or extinct by 2085. Among the species which are found nowhere else but the wet tropics an estimated 59 per cent are at high risk of extinction. We may well lose two-thirds of these irreplaceable animals.
Today I will cover just two of our precious native animals which provide some important lessons. Bilbies once occupied 70 per cent of Australia and now we can find them only in very small areas in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland. In Queensland, the fence built by Australians via their support for the Save the Bilby Fund at Currawinya National Park was breached by floods. Feral cats then got in and devastated the population of wild bilbies. This was devastating considering the hard work that had been put in by many organisations supporting the Save the Bilby Fund by breeding bilbies and releasing them into this important site with the collaboration of the Queensland government.
In September last year, an IUCN national bilby summit was held, driven by the Dreamworld Wildlife Foundation and the Save the Bilby Fund. Fifty-two scientists, non-government organisations, Indigenous representatives, and state and federal governments signed on to the action plan produced by that summit. I understand that will be published very soon. This document is visionary and requires support to make sure this iconic marsupial does not go extinct on our watch.
The Lumholtz tree-kangaroo is another quirky iconic Australian animal. Worryingly, it is on the decline with an undiagnosed blindness occurring in this unique marsupial on the Atherton Tablelands. Through the work of Al Mucci at the Dreamworld Wildlife Foundation and with the support of carers and the Tree Roo Rescue and Conservation Centre this issue is being followed. I have written to the Queensland environment minister asking for an investigation into the cause of this blindness and what can be done to prevent it spreading any further. Let's not allow another iconic Australian animal to head down the track of the Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease. We have to get in early and prevent this loss now.
These are serious issues, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the federal government is failing our threatened wildlife. The Abbott government is leaving our threatened species to fend for themselves by cutting staff and funding in the environment department and watering down our national environmental laws on behalf of big developers and big polluters. Despite the government announcing a flurry of action plans and strategies, the hard facts show that this government has actually cut funding to threatened species protection.
Our environmental guardians, the Department of the Environment, have suffered huge cuts since 2007. That spans several administrations. The Abbott government has made even deeper cuts. As a result of the budget cuts, the environment department will lose 26 per cent of its staff over a five-year period between 2013 and 2018. That is a total cut of 670 staff, with 430 as of today's date already having been cut already cut and another 340 still to be cut.
On top of that, the environment department has been subjected to year after year of indiscriminate efficiency dividends, which is code for staff cuts. Between 2007 and 2015, a total of over 30 per cent worth of efficiency dividends has been imposed. If future budgeted efficiency dividends in the next financial year out to 2018-19 are included, that number rises to over 35 per cent. The government has also abolished the $946 billion Biodiversity Fund, after it was sadly raided by Labor to the tune of $470 million in 2013. In the 2014 budget, the government also cut $480 million from the highly effective Landcare program.
At the same time, the government is rolling back environmental laws to suit its big mining company and big developer mates. In fact, they are debating that in the House right now. This government has never rejected a coalmine or a coal seam gas well. It is incapable of standing up against its big mining company mates. This government has approved dozens of highly damaging projects. The most recent example, of course, is the Adani Carmichael megacoalmine, which we know will push the black-throated finch close to total extinction. That is not to mention the huge climate and water impacts that would be felt from that proposal. The main population of the black-throated finch would be devastated by the destruction of underground water supplies if the expert evidence to the Land Court of Queensland is correct. The environment minister is spending less money, allocating fewer staff, approving more damaging projects, weakening environmental laws, attempting to hand powers back to irresponsible state governments and expecting things to get better. You cannot fix our biodiversity crisis by going backwards.
We know that action on global warming and stopping big polluters is the key to stopping species loss from climate change. We know that extra funding, mapping and protecting critical habitats, better biosecurity laws and stronger and better enforced environmental laws are the keys to success, but this government is going in the opposite direction, slashing the environment department's staff by 26 per cent out to 2017-18.
The Greens have a plan to save our threatened species which would identify and protect important habitat and increase funding for threatened species management and research. We went to the last election with a three-year $120 million plan which would include $30 million per annum to fund comprehensive studies to identify and map important national habitat and protect that habitat through bioregional plans that would establish clear no-go zones across the nation. They would be developed in consultation with state and local governments and rolled out progressively, with priority given to high-biodiversity-loss areas. $10 million each year would support the rapid listing of species and ecological communities which belong on the threatened list that have not yet been processed and the implementation of those recovery plans and threat abatement plans which have been prepared so successfully but are sitting on the shelf gathering dust.
Australians love their iconic animals and they want them protected. This Threatened Species Day let's mark a turning point in our biodiversity conservation and stop the trajectory of mass animal and plant extinctions.