Environment and Planning Insights

23 December 2010

Biodiversity conservation strategy in Western Australia

By Brad Wylynko, Amanda Burt and Rebecca Shanahan.

Key Points:
Although Western Australia is yet to finalise its own State-wide biodiversity strategy, it has taken some important recent steps.

The Commonwealth Government has recently released an Australia-wide biodiversity strategy for 2010-2030[1], which coincides with the United Nations International Year of Biodiversity. While this strategy seeks to address those challenges facing biodiversity conservation on a national basis, Western Australia is yet to finalise its own State-wide strategy to deal with the increasing decline of its threatened species. However, the release of the "Biodiversity and Cultural Conservation Strategy for the Great Western Woodlands" on 3 November 2010 is one of a number of recent positive steps by the Western Australian Government to address those particular parts of the State with high biodiversity value.

Biodiversity in Western Australia

Western Australia is internationally recognised for its biodiversity, much of which occurs no where else in the world. Not only is Western Australia home to eight of Australia's 15 "biodiversity hot spots", the south-west of Western Australia has been declared one of only 34 international biodiversity hot spots.

The Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) is the primary agency responsible for conserving biodiversity in Western Australia. However, it faces increasing difficulty in performing this task, as the number of threatened species continues to grow. In 2009, the Auditor General's Report into the conservation of threatened species criticised the DEC for not effectively protecting and recovering threatened species, because most resources were allocated to those critically endangered, which placed vulnerable and endangered species at risk of further decline.

A 100-year Biodiversity Conservation Strategy for Western Australia

In 2006, the DEC released a draft paper, "A 100-year Biodiversity Conservation Strategy for Western Australia". The strategy was prepared in response to the continuing decline in indigenous biodiversity, with an aim of ensuring continued protection and restoration of biodiversity within the State over the next 100 years.

There has been no final report issued by the DEC, and there is no indication of when one may be released.

Lack of legislative protection and State policy

One of the key issues in Western Australia is the lack of legislative protection for threatened species. The primary legislation is the Wildlife Conservation Act 1950 (WA), a statute which is 60 years old. The Conservation Council of Western Australia has criticised the Act as "extremely outdated and no longer provid[ing] an adequate legislative basis for biodiversity conservation in this State". In addition, the 2009 Auditor General's Report noted that the Act did not establish a process for listing and recovering threatened species, thereby not providing these species with adequate protection.

There has been increasing pressure in recent years, for Western Australia to introduce a Biodiversity Conservation Act. Although approval was granted in June 1999 for the drafting of such legislation, progress of the bill has stalled, and there is no indication as to when a bill may be introduced.

Current measures to ensure biodiversity protection in Western Australia

Despite the lack of overarching state policy and legislation, the State Government is taking steps to ensure conservation of particular pockets of the State's vast biodiversity.

On 3 November 2010, the Minister for Environment and Youth released A Biodiversity and Cultural Conservation Strategy for the Great Western Woodlands. The Great Western Woodlands covers an area around the same size as England, and is the largest remaining area of intact Mediterranean climate woodland on Earth. Together with a commitment of $3.8 million from the State Government to support its implementation, the strategy aims to ensure long-term conservation of the area while balancing competing interests of miners, pastoralists, forestry, tourism, recreation and its natural and cultural values.

On 22 October 2010 the Premier announced the formation of the Kimberley Wilderness Parks, created under the Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy. The Kimberley Wildlife Parks will cover an area of land more than half the size of Tasmania. The Environment Minister also released the indicative management plan for the proposed Camden Sound Marine Park, one of four new marine parks to be created along the Kimberley coast. Importantly, the proposed Camden South Marine Park will protect the largest humpback whale nursery in the southern hemisphere.

The State Government also recently announced a slate of financial commitments with the aim of conserving biodiversity.

On 28 October 2010, the DEC announced a $1 million investment into priority nature conservation projects in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions, $780,000 towards priority biodiversity conservation projects in the mid-west, $650,000 towards nature conservation projects along the south-coast and South-West regions, and $320,000 for priority nature conservation projects in the Goldfields.

In addition, practical measures such as environmental offsets are also used to ensure biodiversity is preserved, and to counter adverse environmental impacts arising from increasing development in the State. The Environmental Protection Authority is responsible for these measures, and their implementation is supported by a number of policy statements, bulletins and guidelines. The use of environmental offsets to help achieve sustainable outcomes during the environmental assessment process is another way in which biodiversity is protected in Western Australia.

Conclusion

It is encouraging that despite the lack of co-ordinated policy and legislation within the State, the Western Australian Government is taking steps to conserve important pockets of the State's vast biodiversity.

Now that the Commonwealth has released its overarching nation-wide strategy, Western Australia has guidance for finalising its own draft biodiversity conservation strategy. This strategy, when combined with the State's current environmental offsets position, will provide greater guidance for business in this buoyant economy, and provide greater structure for the protection of the State's biodiversity.

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[1] On 27 October 2010 the Commonwealth Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities announced a nation-wide strategy for biodiversity conservation, "Australia's Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010 - 2030", which sets ten targets to measure Australia's progress in protecting its natural environment.

For further information, please contact Brad Wylynko.

Disclaimer
Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this bulletin. Persons listed may not be admitted in all states or territories.