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The backwards spiral continues - Baillieu Government axes threatened species officers
The Baillieu Government has continued its relentless attack on environmental conservation with the upcoming dismissal of DSE threatened species officers around Victoria. In June of this year, 10 of the 11 staff who make up the south-west biodiversity team will not have their contracts renewed, with similar cuts expected in other regions of the State. The implications of this move are alarming. Many species of flora and fauna in south-west Victoria are on the brink of extinction and require urgent proactive management. The government’s dismissal of threatened species officers will ensure that next to nothing is being done to save these species, thus totally ignoring its legal requirements under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 and the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. If you would like to learn more about this serious issue, see the link below to an objection letter the IFFA committee has prepared to be sent to the Baillieu government. Members are encouraged to write their own objection letters to the government to let them know how we feel about this serious issue.
Re: dismissal of Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) threatened species officers
The Indigenous Flora and Fauna Association (IFFA) has recently learned of the Liberal Government decision not to renew the contracts of 10 of the 11 threatened species officers for the south-west region, and that this may extend to other DSE staff across Victoria. We have grave concerns that this will have serious implications for the conservation of many of Victoria’s most threatened and iconic species, and that the decision is at odds with the State government’s obligations to Victorian and federal legislation as well as international agreements.
For many years the south-west threatened species officers have been coordinating recovery projects for a collection of our most rare and endangered flora and fauna species. Through their work these officers have undertaken active management to counter threatening processes and improve habitat and have collected many years of important monitoring data. This work has reversed the trend of decline for many species that might otherwise have succumbed to extinction.
Some of the achievements of the threatened species team in recent times include:
• Management and propagation of over 40 species of endangered native orchids. This has included ground-breaking work from staff at a laboratory in Horsham where they have discovered how to propagate a range of species that were previously thought to be impossible to grow ex-situ. This has created the opportunity to greatly increase population size of some species, drastically reducing the threat of extinction. This work is some of the most ground-breaking orchid management that has been implemented anywhere in Australia.
• Re-discovery of the Swamp Pipewort, a species that had not been observed for over twenty years. Seed has now been obtained for the first time and stored in a secure location, providing some security for this species.
• Monitoring of the Orange-bellied Parrot and restoration of its habitat. This is one Victoria’s most endangered fauna species. The south-west Victoria region has in recent years supported more of the migrating population than anywhere on mainland Australia. Urgent work is required to save this iconic species.
• Collection of location data for a range of threatened species across the region.
The south-west region is widely recognized as one of the hotspots for biological diversity in Victoria. It provides critical habitat for a highly diverse assemblage of fauna and flora, many which occur nowhere else in the world. The region includes the southern section of the Grampians National Park, an area that is internationally renowned for its natural wonders. It is of utmost importance that the south-west region is adequately staffed and resourced to allow land managers to effectively deal with the huge challengers of land degradation and ecosystems decay.
The State government has strong obligations under State and National legislation and international agreements
Australia is signatory to the United Nations ‘Convention on Biological Diversity’ which has in turn adopted the ‘Global Strategy for Plant Conservation’. This strategy operates under five main objectives:
• Objective I: Plant diversity is well understood, documented and recognized
• Objective 2: Plant diversity is urgently and effectively conserved
• Objective 3: Plant diversity is used in a sustainable and equitable manner
• Objective 4: Education and awareness about plant diversity, its role in sustainable livelihoods and importance to all life on earth is promoted
• Objective 5: The capacities and public engagement necessary to implement the Strategy have been developed
Without the threatened species officers, the south-west region has no way of implementing these objectives, thus failing to honor this global agreement.
In the south-west region, a total of 39 taxa are listed under the State Flora and Fauna Guarantee (FFG) Act while 29 are listed as threatened under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. Without the threatened species officers, management of these species will effectively grind to a halt. The government will be almost totally ignoring its obligations to the EPBC Act and the FFG Act.
The State Government promised that no front-line jobs would be lost
When the State Government announced that public service jobs would be lost, it was promised that this would not include ‘front-line’ positions. So why are the DSE threatened species officers losing their jobs? These are front-line workers who are undertaking highly important services for the benefit of all Victorians, not back-room administrators. By discontinuing the contracts of the DSE threatened species officers your government is breaking this promise only weeks after it was made.
DSE Staff should not be replaced by private contractors
We understand that it may be the government objective to replace the DSE threatened species officers with out-sourced private contractors. We consider this a strategy that would be far from sufficient to effectively manage threatened species programs. The DSE officers are highly trained and experienced personnel that have built-up knowledge of their species and regions over many years. There are currently no experienced personnel available in Victoria that could fulfill this role to such a high standard. Private contractors would lack the knowledge required for the job and would not be able to provide the level of consistency that is required to effectively manage threatened species.
The dismissals will likely lead to loss of valuable expertise from Victoria
We understand that many of the DSE threatened species officers may already be looking for work elsewhere in Australia due to the lack of opportunities provided by the State government. The move to dismiss the threatened species officers is leading to a loss of highly skilled personnel from Victoria, a tragic outcome considering the huge challengers in biodiversity management that we are currently faced with.
What will happen to approximately 7000 threatened orchid plants that are currently being held at Horsham?
There are currently over 7000 threatened orchid plants in propagation at the Horsham DSE laboratory that were planned to be re-introduced to the wild in the near future. The dismissal of the threatened species officers will leave no one to look after these plants, wasting a huge amount of work and significantly impacting the recovery of these highly threatened species. The laboratory houses plants not only from the south-west region but from throughout Victoria, including nationally threatened species as the Small Golden Moths and Sunshine Diuris.
Many years of data collection will be wasted
The DSE officers have been consistently collecting important data on the growth and ecology of many threatened species for a number of years. Terminating these projects now will lead to an interruption in the data collection, ruining the chance to identify long-term trends and patterns.
The majority of funding comes from federal grants
When the majority of funding that pays for the threatened species officers salaries and budgets comes from federal grants, then how does cutting these positions save money for the State government anyway? It is curious, and makes us wonder if the move is not aimed at merely undermining the environment conservation movement in general.
Questions we would like answered
• How does the DSE/Victorian Government intend to enact their legal requirements under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 and the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 while dismissing the vast majority of staff involved in this work?
• In south-west Victoria how can 1 staff member be expected to be responsible for and implement the recovery plans for 29 EPBC listed species and 39 FFG listed species?
• Are there going to be any new permanent positions created to ensure a long-term commitment to threatened species recovery?
• What is going to happen to the plants, in both the short and long term, currently under cultivation at the Horsham laboratory?
• Can funding be found to ensure that the valuable work at the Horsham facility continues into the future?
• Why are staff at the front line of threatened species protection not having their contracts renewed despite the Premier committing to retaining front line positions?
• What is being done to prevent the loss of skills, knowledge and continuity of work in threatened species?
• What is being done to prevent the loss of these skilled people from Victoria or Australia?
• How does the dismissal of these staff help improve working opportunities in rural Victoria?
With the worst modern extinction record in the world, Australian governments should be doing all that is possible to prevent further losses rather than cutting environmental funding. The current budget that is expended on environmental management is tiny when compared to the funding that is poured into infrastructural projects every year.
We sincerely hope that you are able to reverse this decision and ensure ongoing firm commitments to the conservation of our threatened flora and fauna.
Ecological Information Officer
Indigenous Flora and Fauna Association (IFFA)