Home | Australia | Frydenberg again delays giving protection to threatened woodlands

Frydenberg again delays giving protection to threatened woodlands

Minister accused of letting political lobbying interfere with listing a year after recommendation by independent committee

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Josh Frydenberg



Environment and energy minister Josh Frydenberg has postponed a decision on a threatened woodlands until November.
Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

Conservation groups have accused the environment and energy minister, Josh Frydenberg, of allowing political interference in the scientific assessment of threatened species listings.

Frydenberg has delayed, for the third time, granting an endangered listing to woodlands eligible for protection under Australia’s national environment laws.

A notice published on his department’s website says the minister has postponed a decision on the poplar box grassy woodlands on alluvial plains, a type of grassy eucalypt woodland found in New South Wales and Queensland, until the end of November.

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The reason given is the minister wants to be able to consider any recommendations from a review into the interaction between the national environment law – the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act – and the agriculture and food production industries.

The review was announced by the government at the end of March, almost a year after the independent threatened species scientific committee recommended the woodlands for an endangered listing.

Humane Society International, which nominated the woodlands for protection more than five years ago, said it was concerned the minister was shifting the goal posts in a scientific process that was originally due to conclude before the review was even launched.

“This latest deferral from minister Frydenberg is particularly galling – yet another excuse to avoid his responsibility to list poplar box woodlands as endangered,” the HSI head of programs, Evan Quartermain, said.

“The scientific committee’s advice delivered to the minister more than a year ago leaves no doubt that the woodlands warrant listing, and neglecting to act on this advice puts remnants of the ecosystem in need of protection at unnecessary risk.”

Quartermain added the organisation was concerned the threatened species listing process had been included in the terms of reference for the review.

He said any changes to the EPBC Act that allowed political intervention or factors other than threat status to be considered during the listing process would be a blow for evidence-based decision making.

Under the act, environment ministers are only allowed to consider whether an ecological community meets criteria for listing and the effect a listing might have on its survival when making decisions about whether to grant nationally threatened status.

However, the public can make submissions to the environment and energy department about potential threatened species listings during the listing process.

Guardian Australia revealed in April national and state farmers’ groups and Tasmanian Liberals had lobbied Frydenberg not to grant threatened status to two ecological communities awaiting decisions from the minister.

Environment groups have expressed growing concern that political lobbying by the agriculture industry has begun to influence the threatened species listing process, despite a productivity commission report last year showing there are fewer EPBC referrals from farming than any other sector.

In response to questions from Guardian Australia, Frydenberg said the review into the interaction between environment laws and agriculture was “about getting the balance right to deliver the best environmental and economic outcomes”.

“It builds on the Productivity Commission’s 2017 report into the regulation of Australian agriculture, which found that improvements could be made to reduce the complexity of regulation and the actions requiring compliance with the act,” he said.

Australian Conservation Foundation policy analyst James Trezise said the decision to delay the listing of the woodlands again “demonstrates a deeply troubling trend toward political interference in the scientific listing process under our national environment laws”.

“The government is trying to hide behind its agriculture review, when in fact it’s bowing to pressure from industry lobbyists,” Trezise said. “This is further evidence that we need a new generation of environment laws that actually protects nature, with decisions made by an independent body free from political interference.”

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