Australian conservation groups have written to the Director-General of UNESCO, warning the international body of ‘alarming moves by the Australian Government to weaken legal protection for Australia’s 20 World Heritage listed properties.’

The letter advises UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azouley that the Morrison Government ‘is rushing a bill through the Australian Parliament that would hand its national development approval powers… to state and territory (provincial) governments.’

As a ratified signatory to the World Heritage Convention, the Australian Government has international legal responsibility to identify, protect, conserve and transmit to future generations its World Heritage sites, which include the Great Barrier Reef, the Gondwana Rainforests, the Ningaloo Coast, the Tasmanian Wilderness and the Wet Tropics.

“Australia’s World Heritage Areas are important homes for threatened wildlife like the koala, the cassowary and the grey-headed flying fox, but the plan to hand environmental powers to states and territories would make these species and their habitats more vulnerable than ever,” said Australian Conservation Foundation CEO, Kelly O’Shanassy.

“Weakening legal protection for these areas – some of the most important and significant natural and cultural sites in the world – would be an international shame for Australia and send a shocking message that one of the wealthiest nations can’t manage to safeguard its 20 World Heritage sites,” said Environmental Justice Australia co-CEO, Nicola Rivers.

“It’s clear protections for Australia’s globally unique natural and cultural heritage are sorely lacking and we’re looking to the Morrison Government to demonstrate that it is willing and able to address these shortcomings,” said Suzanne Milthorpe, National Laws Campaign Manager at the Wilderness Society.

“Australia played a key role in securing World Heritage listing for migratory bird sanctuaries in China’s Yellow Sea, but we risk losing World Heritage sites in our own backyard if state governments and greedy developers get their hands on Australia’s nature laws,” said Birdlife Australia CEO Paul Sullivan.

The letter is signed by the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Australian Marine Conservation Society, Birdlife Australia, the Bob Brown Foundation, the Colong Foundation for Wilderness, Environmental Justice Australia, Fight For Our Reef, Humane Society International Australia, Protect Ningaloo, Queensland Conservation Council, Tasmanian Conservation Trust, the Wilderness Society and WWF Australia.

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