The federal government should set up a new agency similar to the Bureau of Meteorology (Bombs) to observe and forecast the state of Australian wildlife, according to leading Australian scientists.
The Australian Academy of Sciences said the “biodiversity bombing” could fill gaps in data and monitoring of Australia’s threatened species, with the current information system on the country’s unique flora and fauna “damaged”.
The call for the new body was contained in a briefing sent to all members of parliament urging the government to implement the full Australian environmental law review recommendations.
Scientists include colleague Craig Moritz of the Australian Academy of Sciences, an ecologist Chris Dickman, and Helene Marsh, chair of the Threatened Species Scientific Committee who advises the government threatened species lists, contribute to documents.
“In every measure available, Australia is failing to stop, slow or reverse biodiversity loss and species decline,” said the briefing.
The scientists said in their briefing a new national agency could observe, analyze, forecast and warn about the state and trends of Australia’s biodiversity, in the same way Bombs provide similar information about weather and climate.
They say Australia’s data curation standards are currently active species in decline and its accessibility to the general public is “inadequate”.
“This is an unacceptable situation, a situation that cannot be tolerated in other domains such as weather information, biosecurity, health and wellness,” the statement said.
Scientists argue that the national agency will bring benefits not only for threatened species but also project proponents who want timely assessments.
Moritz said Australia has world-class scientific capabilities in the area of biodiversity, but data that tracks and shows trends in threatened species, even well-known koalas, are fragmented and systems inefficient.
“It doesn’t serve the purpose if our aim is to have an effective environmental assessment and almost all of this is invisible to the public, who is paying for this,” he said.
Scientists say interim report from a review of Australia’s Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, chaired by former chief competition watchdog Graeme Samuel, found that Australia’s legal and protection systems for endangered wildlife are part of the problem.
Among his findings, Samuel identified major gaps in the availability of up-to-date data on Australian biodiversity, with “no single source of national truth” that governments, developers and the public can rely on for information on threatened wildlife and heritage sites.
Samuel called for a new national “supply chain” containing easily accessible information, alongside other key recommendations for a framework national environmental standards, a independent environmentalist, and transfer of decision-making power under national law for state and territory governments.
Moritz said there was concern in the scientific community that the bill currently before parliament, which would make it easier to transfer approval powers to states, was only one part of what Samuel had recommended.
“It’s crazy that one piece has been pulled out and they’ve tried to break it without review and without Samuel’s final report,” he said.
The bill passed the lower house after the government choking debate in September. Attempts by Labor, the Greens and crossbench senators to be considered by a committee have been blocked by the government and One Nation.
The bill is now likely to be debated in the Senate during the November parliamentary session shortly after Samuel delivers his final report.
The environment minister’s spokesman, Sussan Ley, said Samuel had been involved with the Australian Academy of Sciences during the review.
“Prof Samuel’s interim report has highlighted the need for more data and indicated that the issue will be a further focus in the final report,” he said.
“The government hopes to consider Prof. Samuel’s recommendation which will be given at the end of this month.”