Blog | 17th Nov, 2014

Needles in the haystack

Looking for environmental policy on the websites of the major parties ahead of the Victorian election is like searching for a needle in a haystack. There are no sections on environment, nature conservation or water and if you put the terms in the search engines a depressing catalogue of attacks on the other side comes up. The gloom is only lightened by the occasional gem such as ‘Only the Napthine Government can be trusted to protect Victoria’s environment’.

Given this lack of attention to environmental issues, you would be forgiven for thinking that all our environmental problems have been fixed. Nothing could be further from the truth, and the backward steps taken by the Napthine government over the last 4 years have no equal in the 45 year history of Environment Victoria.

The evidence of continued decline in environmental condition is all around us; Victoria is the most cleared state in Australia, populations of native birds and animals are in freefall, and less than 25% of our rivers and creeks are in good condition. Our national parks are underfunded and under threat of incursion from development, logging, hunting and prospecting and up to 90% of freshwater fish biomass is now composed of invasive species. The State of the Environment Report 2013 gives a comprehensive account of all of this and much more, and describes the many factors involved and the steadily growing threats to our ecosystems and species.

Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability Kate Auty is equally clear about the need for action, “the critical gap in Victoria’s current Natural Resource Management policy landscape is leadership” she says . She comments repeatedly on the need for a broader approach to protecting the environment, and the critical lack of a vision that protects and enhances environmental services and a focus on managing the state’s natural resources as a whole. Her number one recommendation is for the development of a statewide Ecological Processes Management (EPM) Plan that has sustaining and improving ecosystem services at its heart.

Far from taking up the Commissioner’s recommendations, the Napthine Government has postponed its response to the State of the Environment Report until after the election on November 29. This is despite a legal requirement for the government to respond within a year of the Report’s publication and the Commissioner giving them ample time to do so.

So what could an incoming government be looking for to address our ecosystem service and biodiversity crisis, and to ease the threats faced by so many species?

In addition to the crucial EPM Plan recommended by the Commissioner to guide statewide decision making, here’s a list of top priorities:

  • Excluding livestock from public land on river banks where stock grazing is the number one manageable impact on river health
  • Enhancing our national parks by establishing the Great Forest National Park to protect Victoria’s faunal emblem the Leadbeater’s possum, including  Wellsford Forest and its extraordinary flora in the Greater Bendigo National Park  and increasing funding and resources for park management to combat increasing threats within parks
  • Providing more water for environmental flows in Victoria’s rivers, in particular the 8 GL environmental entitlement for the Thomson River that has been promised since 2004 and the full environmental water recovery agreed for northern Victoria’s rivers under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan
  • Providing better legal  protection for environmental water so that rivers get a fair share of their own water under all conditions
  • Creating biolinks at different scales to reconnect a fragmented landscape and provide opportunities for animals and plants to migrate under climate change
  • Recognising the essential dependence of the economy on the environment and the value of natural capital in supporting economic output.

Our incoming government needs to understand that protecting the environment is actually good for people and for the economy. Victorians want a healthy environment that will help create jobs and prosperity for them in the long term. We’re looking for the policy to make that a reality, and it will take more than needles in a haystack.