A few deep breaths required on recent Murray River listing decision

In what is turning out to be a very bad week, the government has just successfully moved to disallow the listing of the Macquarie Marshes and the Lower Murray as threatened ecological communities under the EPBC Act.

As you might have heard, the Lower Murray was recently listed as a Threatened Ecological Community under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

The listing decision followed a lengthy and exhaustive process of expert input and opportunities for public comment that kicked off 5 years ago.

It’s important to try to correct reporting that might create the wrong impression about how important legislation like the EPBC Act works I think, particularly where, as here, it’s pretty clear that there is a concerted campaign afoot to convince the new government to overturn the listing (these things can be disallowed by either house of parliament).

I also really admire the work of HSI Australia, the group who made the original nomination for listing.  It’s easy to be critical of the failings of our threatened species legislation, but NGOs like HSI really lead the way in demonstrating the importance of conservation groups to the operation of biodiversity conservation laws.

Here’s a letter I sent to The Weekly Times.  As it wasn’t published I thought I would share it with you here.


It’s time for a few deep breaths and an examination of the facts about the listing of the lower Murray as a critically endangered ecological community under our national environmental protection law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Contrary to the suggestion in The Weekly Times over the last few weeks, listing decisions do not happen on a political whim. In this case the ecological community was nominated for listing way back in 2007. Listing decisions like this one are evidence based and occur on the basis of a detailed Conservation Advice from the Threatened Species Scientific Committee.

Claims that listings like this one tie rural communities up in red tape are not supported by the evidence. Ecological communities along the lower Murray have been listed under both Victorian and New South Wales legislation for many years. Wetlands along the Murray system have also been on the list of matters of national environmental significance since the laws came into force over ten years ago. Individual species such as the Murray Cod have been listed for many years too.

Listings are important because they determine the priority for on the ground conservation. The listing decision here will form the basis for Commonwealth funding of efforts by community groups, Landcare groups and state agencies to protect and restore the lower Murray (provided of course those who are seeking to have the decision overturned don’t get their way). The real concern here should be that it took six years for a decision to be made.

Let’s hope that Greg Hunt, the new environment Minister, will fulfill his promise to improve the implementation of our national environmental laws. Whether he resists the calls to reject the scientific advice and overturn this listing will be one of his first tests.

Image: Darling River by Ian Sanderson

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