PM's pledge to help na­tive species was about ban­ning an­i­mal test­ing, his of­fice says

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines - Paul Karp

Scott Mor­ri­son has el­e­vated an ob­scure bill to ban cos­metic test­ing on an­i­mals to one of the top two leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties for the Coali­tion in 2019, ac­cord­ing to his of­fice.

Speak­ing to ABC News Break­fast on Mon­day, the prime min­is­ter cited “en­vi­ron­men­tal leg­is­la­tion … [that] is im­por­tant for na­tive species” as among the gov­ern­ment’s pri­or­i­ties for the new year, sec­ond only to na­tional se­cu­rity.

There is no ma­jor en­vi­ron­men­tal leg­is­la­tion be­fore par­lia­ment and the prime min­is­ter’s of­fice was un­able to im­me­di­ately iden­tify what he was re­fer­ring to.

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Mor­ri­son’s com­ments also caught con­ser­va­tion groups of­f­guard.

Five hours later, a spokesman for Mor­ri­son told Guardian Aus­tralia the prime min­is­ter was “re­fer­ring to the agri­cul­tural and vet­eri­nary chem­i­cals leg­is­la­tion amend­ment”.

The bill – in­tro­duced by the agri­cul­ture min­is­ter, David Lit­tleproud, in Oc­to­ber – makes mi­nor changes to the reg­u­la­tory scheme for agri­cul­tural and vet­eri­nary chem­i­cals to pro­vide sim­pler pro­cesses for chem­i­cals of low con­cern.

The fed­eral pol­icy di­rec­tor of the Wilder­ness So­ci­ety, Tim Be­shara, told Guardian Aus­tralia the bill had “stuff-all to do with na­tive species”, a sen­ti­ment echoed bythe Aus­tralian Con­ser­va­tion Foun­da­tion na­ture cam­paigner, Jess Abra­hams.

An hour af­ter this story was pub­lished, the prime min­is­ter’s of­fice clar­i­fied the first state­ment was in er­ror and claimed Mor­ri­son had in fact been re­fer­ring to the In­dus­trial Chem­i­cals Bill 2017.

That bill es­tab­lishes a new reg­u­la­tory scheme in­clud­ing ban­ning an­i­mal test­ing for new chem­i­cal in­gre­di­ents of cos­met­ics from 1 July 2018. It passed the lower house and was in­tro­duced to the Se­nate in Oc­to­ber 2017 but ap­pears not to have been de­bated since then.

Abra­hams said: “As far as we are aware, the main gov­ern­ment pol­icy re­lat­ing to na­tive species is the plan for a one-stop shop for en­vi­ron­men­tal ap­provals, which would have the ef­fect of weak­en­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion.”

“The gov­ern­ment also has a tar­geted re­view of the En­vi­ron­ment Pro­tec­tion and Bio­di­ver­sity Con­ser­va­tion Act for farm­ers, which could also weaken pro­tec­tion of the en­vi­ron­ment.”

La­bor and the Coali­tion have been fo­cus­ing on en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, both an­nounc­ing pack­ages worth more than $200m to re­vi­talise the world her­itage-listed Kakadu na­tional park. On Mon­day Lit­tleproud promised a $5m re­cov­ery pack­age and re­view of the Mur­ray-Dar­ling River cri­sis.

In May the for­mer en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter Josh Fry­den­berg wrote an opin­ion piece trum­pet­ing the ap­point­ment of a threat­ened species com­mis­sioner.

He said 99.7% of about 2,000 of the threat­ened species and eco­log­i­cal com­mu­ni­ties listed un­der the En­vi­ron­ment Pro­tec­tion and Bio­di­ver­sity Con­ser­va­tion Act had a re­cov­ery plan or con­ser­va­tion ad­vice in place.

In Septem­ber a Se­nate in­quiry in­ves­ti­gat­ing fauna ex­tinc­tions heard that a large pro­por­tion of staff work­ing in threat­ened species man­age­ment rated the gov­ern­ment’s per­for­mance as “poor or very poor”.

The union rep­re­sent­ing staff said 91.3% of those who re­sponded to a sur­vey said the gov­ern­ment was do­ing poorly or very poorly in ful­fill­ing do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional obli­ga­tions to con­serve threat­ened fauna and 87% be­lieved the ad­e­quacy of Aus­tralia’s na­tional en­vi­ron­ment laws – the EPBC act – was poor or very poor.

Be­shara ac­cused the gov­ern­ment of fail­ing its statu­tory re­spon­si­bil­ity to fund and im­ple­ment en­dan­gered species re­cov­ery plans. He called on the gov­ern­ment to put “some se­ri­ous fund­ing to­wards sav­ing some en­dan­gered crit­ters and plants”.

“I am more than happy to brief the prime min­is­ter on what the gov­ern­ment needs to do for na­tive species if he would like.

“He might be sur­prised to know that the Dar­ling River cri­sis is only one of many eco­log­i­cal crises hap­pen­ing in Aus­tralia right now on his watch. It’s a real mess out there.”

Scott Mor­ri­son nom­i­nated en­vi­ron­men­tal leg­is­la­tion ‘im­por­tant to na­tive species’ as one of the Coali­tion’s top two pri­or­i­ties for 2019.Pho­to­graph: Paul Braven/AAP

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