Australia Fails to Update Threatened Species Habitat List for 15 Years

threatened species black cockatoo
Red-tailed Black Cockatoo (Calyptorhynchus banksii) in a tree near Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia. Image: Getty Images

A list of habitats critical for a number of Australia’s threatened species has not been updated for 15 years, according to a report by the Guardian.

The list, Register of Critical Habitat, is used to record land that is critical to the survival of a threatened species.

Damaging a habitat located on any piece of land included on the register would be an offence, in accordance with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC). Doing so would result in 5,000 penalty units for an individual and up to 50,000 penalty units for a company. In 2020, that would amount to just over $1 million for the former and just over $11 million for the latter.

But the last time a piece of land was added to the register was in February of 2005.

Part of the reason for its limited usage, the Guardian’s report suggests, is that the register only applies to Commonwealth land, not to state or privately owned land, seriously restricting its scope and power.

However a spokesperson for Sussan Ley, the Minister for Environment, told the Guardian a piece of land did not have to be on the register for an environmental impact assessment to be undertaken.

“Identification of ‘habitat critical to the survival of the species’ in a recovery plan or a conservation advice ensures those particular areas are taken into account in the environmental approval process, regardless of tenure,” the spokesperson said to the Guardian.

A review of how the Act functions launched in October 2019. It’s set to look at the Act’s ‘green tape’ provisions and how it can come to decisions more efficiently.

“Delays in EPBC decisions are estimated to cost the economy around $300 million a year and frustrate both business and environmental groups,” a media release from Ley’s office read.

“The Act has been a world benchmark in environmental protection but needs to be adapted to changes in the environment and economy.”

An interim report on its findings is expected to be released in the coming weeks.