Media release

Victoria’s laws are failing wildlife and need urgent modernisation

January 22, 2021

In a report released today, conservationists decry Victoria’s Wildlife Act as part of the problem confronting wildlife in the state, rather than an effective tool to protect it.

The report Failing Our Wildlife has been released by Humane Society International and Environment Justice Australia in support of a review of the Act announced by Victoria’s Environment Minister early last year. It explains how the laws, dating from 1975, enshrine outdated attitudes and anachronisms and are in urgent need of modernisation.

Humane Society International Head of Campaigns, Nicola Beynon, said: “The Act has its origins in very old laws governing hunting, with concerns over conservation and care for native wildlife only built into the scheme through ad hoc inadequate amendments. It’s time for a major overhaul to bring the 45-year-old laws up to date with modern community expectations”.

Environmental Justice Australia Senior Lawyer, Dr Bruce Lindsay, said: “Our wildlife is in the gun-sights of rapidly accumulating extinction and climate crises. Our laws are hindering and enabling the problem, not confronting it or overcoming it. Generally, the Victorian Wildlife Act is outdated, not driven by clear policy or science, and its administration is mired more in obscurity than good governance”.

The report critiques the existing Act and sets out expectations for reform. It comes following egregious recent incidents involving the illegal killing of protected native wildlife such as wedge tailed eagles, koalas and wombats, and uproar over the inadequacies of the law and its penalties.

The law further sanctions the legal killing of tens of thousands of native animals every year. In 2019 alone, 3441 ‘Authorities to Control Wildlife’ (ATCWs) were issued authorising destruction or harm to a staggering 185,286 animals. This included 966 emus; 3,655 wombats; 3,152 ravens; 6,919 little corellas; 4,570 sulphur-crested cockatoos, 77,300 kangaroos (on top of a commercial quota), as well as 6,604 grey-headed flying foxes which are a threatened species.

The law also allows the handing out of ‘unprotection orders’ to kill possums, dingoes, long billed corellas, and other animals. An ‘unprotection order’ for wombats was recently removed following outrage over tourists shooting wombats, but the killing of wombats can still be authorised by ATCWs.

Ms Beynon added: “The purpose of wildlife legislation should be to protect our native species, and not sanction its decline. Australia is currently leading the world in the extinction of mammals and is ranked fourth when it comes to the extinction of all species. This is no time to be legally authorising the killing of thousands more native animals. The current review of the Wildlife Act provides a critical opportunity for a reset.”

Dr Lindsay added: “We hope that this report will provide the review with an indication of the scope of substantive changes needed to bring the law in line with best practice for protection and recovery of Victoria’s native fauna. It will need strong scientific and principled foundations for biodiversity conservation, transparent decision making, a major upgrade in accountability, an independent regulator and a proper compliance and enforcement regime with strong, effective penalties”.

HSI and EJA look forward to working with the Victorian Government on the reform of the Act this year.

Read the full report here.

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