By Terri Butler MP

29 October 2020

Ms BUTLER (Griffith) (10:18): Stopping extinctions is crucial to preserving Australians' very special way of life and to make sure that icons like the koala don't disappear forever. National icons like the koala are at risk, as are many, many more species. Australia is a world leader in extinctions. It's not a very good distinction to have. Labor doesn't want to see a future where our children can only read about koalas in the history books, but that's the path we're on as a nation right now.

Australia was experiencing an extinction crisis even before an estimated three billion animals were killed or displaced in the summer's national bushfire crisis. Australia's environment is in decline. National icons like the koala have died in record numbers. The environment department's funding has been cut by 40 per cent. Successive ministers have run department into the ground. The Morrison government has very little idea as to what is being done to implement the recovery plans that do exist.

It's been estimated that there were up to 10 million koalas when Europeans first started arriving here en masse. But koala populations came under pressure from habitat loss, fire and even hunting in the early 20th century. Thankfully hunting stopped by 1930, but there was still a lot of hunting of koalas in those early decades of the 20th century. But other threats to koalas continued: climate change, fire, habitat loss, disease. What we saw were the koala populations in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory listed as vulnerable in 2012. The government was meant to have then prepared a recovery plan for this vulnerable species by 2015, but, guess what? The recovery plan for the koala is now five years overdue. And that's not all. There was a national conservation strategy for the koala that ran from 2009 to 2014, and this government hasn't even got around to replacing that national koala conservation strategy since it expired in 2014.

Academy of Science representatives and others have spoken to me about their concerns that there's simply not enough work being done to monitor and measure threatened species and biosecurity decline, and, of course, we saw that particularly in the wake of the bushfires, where it's estimated by experts that 30,000 koalas died. Labor called for a national ecological audit in the wake of those fires, but, instead of seeing an army of scientists in the field, we saw desktop audits from the Morrison government. And it took the minister until 25 September this year, so a year from when the national bushfire crisis started, to announce that the threatened listing status of the koala would be formally assessed—you'd know, of course, that there are a lot of people calling out for an up-listing of the koala given what's happened with the national bushfire crisis—and that came after the first tranche of bushfire funding took months to rollout even though it was so-called emergency funding. I visited a range of koala hospitals over the summer and I want to record my thanks again to all those volunteers who really helped the koala over that time. (Time expired)