The equivalent of 200,000 football grounds (400,000 hectares) of threatened species habitat was destroyed in a single year for sheep and cattle grazing in Queensland, new research by the Australian Conservation Foundation and researcher Dr Martin Taylor has revealed.

The Double standard report shows none of the clearing was approved – or even assessed – under Australia’s national environmental law.

The report identifies thousands of possible breaches of the Act that should have been investigated by the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water.

There is no record of the department taking any enforcement action on these breaches.

“A double standard in the enforcement of Australia’s national environment laws is allowing hundreds of thousands of hectares of habitat for threatened species to be bulldozed without penalty or consequence,” said ACF’s national nature campaigner Jess Abrahams.

“While mining companies and property developers sought and received approval to clear 25,000 hectares of habitat in the last decade, this research shows in a single year pastoralists destroyed three times that amount in Queensland alone without even seeking approval.

“We all know land clearing is terrible for threatened species, climate change, water quality and human health, yet this report shows nature destruction is still rampant.

“If we are to achieve zero extinctions, we must bring an end to the wanton destruction of threatened species habitat.

“And there’s no way Australia will achieve net zero emissions or meet our international obligations without ending land clearing and deforestation.

“The shocking compliance failures uncovered in this report show why we need fundamental reform of Australia’s national environmental laws.

“Strong national environmental standards, and a fully resourced and independent regulator to enforce them, are urgently needed.

“ACF calls on Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek to instruct her department to use this new data to investigate unauthorised habitat destruction in Queensland.

“Now is the time to close regulatory loopholes, stamp out double standards and make sure our national environment laws and institutions are up to the task of protecting our wildlife.”

Key facts from Double standard:

  • A total of 421,246 hectares of mature or advanced regrowth forest (more than 15 years old) – habitat where threatened species or threatened ecological communities are ‘likely to occur’ – was wholly or partly cleared in Queensland in 2018-19. This is roughly the same area as the Gold Coast.
  • The koala (listed as endangered) had 75,547 hectares of the habitat where it is likely to occur destroyed. The endangered northern quoll was the next most impacted mammal species with 67,115 hectares of its ‘likely to occur’ habitat destroyed.
  • Almost all of the ‘likely to occur’ habitat destroyed (96%) – a vast area of 404,652 hectares – was for pasture expansion on thousands of properties. There was no evidence of any referrals for assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, or approvals granted.
  • Thousands of prima facie breaches of the EPBC Act may have occurred in 2018-19 that should have been investigated by the regulator. Most of these possible breaches are in the Brigalow Belt of central and southern Queensland.

ACF has joined with the Queensland Conservation Council, the Wilderness Society and WWF-Australia to form the Queensland Forests Alliance in an effort to reverse deforestation and protect Queensland’s remaining forests and bushland. 

Read the report: Double standard

Header pic by Dr Martin Taylor

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Journalists with enquiries may contact Josh Meadows on 0439 342 992. For all other enquiries please call 1800 223 669 or email [email protected]