WA government pass biodiversity conservation act despite vocal opponents

Environment minister Albert Jacobs.

Environment minister Albert Jacobs.

The Biodiversity Conservation Act 2015 has been passed in Western Australia despite concerns from a number of prominent environmental groups. 

The act dramatically increased the maximum fines imposed on people attempting to smuggle native fauna or animals out of Western Australia from $4,000 to $500,000.

It also provides new special protections for whales, dugongs and dolphins and enables the listing of critical habitat areas of land and water to protect the survival of threatened species or communities. 

But a number of environmental groups criticised the act before it passed parliament as it included a ‘God clause’ which would allow the state government to approve activities that would lead to wildlife extinction. 

Among them were Conservation Council of Western Australia director Piers Verstegen who said aspects of the legislation could make the situation worse for unique wildlife.

A last minute amendment from the Greens aimed to water down the ‘God clause’.

The successful act now requires both houses of parliament to approve any proposal that could be expected to result in the threatened species becoming eligible for listing as an extinct species in the near future. 

South West MLC Adele Farina said the amendments do not go far enough and that the new laws fail to achieve their stated objective of conserving our biodiversity.

“When the Liberals hold government, they have a majority in both houses of parliament and will use their numbers in each house to ratify the minister’s decision, making the amendments worthless,” she said. 

“The Barnett government would, for example, be able to use the ‘God clauses’ to approve the proposed Yeelirrie uranium mine recently rejected by the Environmental Protection Authority which would likely cause the extinction of unique subterranean fauna.

Environment minister Albert Jacobs said the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2015 is superior to the inadequate and outdated Wildlife Conservation Act of 1950. 

“This act is the result of a consultation process that goes back to the early 1990s with considerable public consultation on the content of the proposed updated legislation,” he said. 

“The bill contains the key features sought by most West Australians over this time to improve biodiversity conservation while avoiding the imposition of unnecessary regulation and bureaucracy.” 

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