Legislative Council

QUESTION: Biodiversity in the Mount Lofty Ranges

November 1st, 2017

On the 1st of November Mark asked the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation a question about biodiversity.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL:  Members would have seen a very sobering article in the press last week in The Advertiser by Professor David Paton, one of our state's foremost ecologists, based at the University of Adelaide. In his article he outlines the decline of woodland birds in the Mount Lofty Ranges. He says:

Woodland birds are disappearing from our landscapes. We are heading towards a Silent Spring.

He goes on to describe some of the facts and figures and then says:

In the early 1980s, South Australia led the country by introducing legislation that protected native vegetation. Vegetation clearance was stopped before 1984, but the birds continued to decline.

However, the declines are a legacy of vegetation clearance before the 1980s. There is a simple relationship: the less habitat that remains, the fewer species that can be supported. When vegetation is first cleared, most birds do not immediately disappear.

But as time passes, species do disappear, as they are unable to survive in the fragments of woodland that remain. This ongoing loss of species is known as an extinction debt.

Based on the area of remaining woodland, more than 50 species of woodland birds are predicted to eventually disappear from the Mount Lofty Ranges.

But he says:

There is still hope and it is not all 'doom and gloom' yet, because the populations of most species have not yet disappeared.

The time lag provides a brief window of opportunity, but we have to act now. The solution is simple. Re-establish substantial amounts of woodland habitat and give homes back to the birds.

So, my question of the minister is: does the minister agree with Professor Paton and, if so, what steps is he taking to establish substantial amounts of woodland habitat and give homes back to the birds?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change): I thank the honourable member for his very important question about birds and biodiversity. They are very important questions, because, of course, they point to the fact that in our social advances we have actually chopped down a lot of the habitat for animals. These animals, of course, provide very important services to our economy. That is not often factored into the way we consider gross state product, for example.

I think this is what Dr Paton's comments could be drawn to, that perhaps we should think differently about how we value habitat, our native woodland, and whether we use it for best use by ongoing creation of residential suburbs, particularly in areas where we have concerns about, for example, fires, particularly going into our fire-challenging season now. If we look forward a few years, with the global warming situation that we face, we know, from the expert advice we have, that fires in the Adelaide Hills, for example, will become much fiercer, much more frequent and will have a heavy cost for our community, hopefully just in economic value and not in lives, but that is something we face every year.

That is obvious: if you remove habitat then you will remove species, and that is an issue we have been grappling with for some time. Climate change and biodiversity is something we will need to grapple with in future as well.

We have been a leader in tackling some of these critical global issues, which affect not just South Australia but the whole country. The honourable member could have invited me to comment on things that are happening interstate as well, but I am glad he didn't. We have been a leader in this place in tackling the issues associated with climate change, such as renewable energy and emissions reduction targets. We were the first Australian state to enact legislation that committed us to renewable energy and emissions reductions targets.

We announced the objective of South Australia to reach zero net carbon emissions by 2050. We are working to embed this objective into our policy making and legislative frameworks, and we have worked with our regions to deal with the issues of climate change and to encourage them to think about adaptation and action plans and to identify what different parts of each state region should consider in preparing for the impacts of climate change. Every part of our state is different, and the impacts will be different, not least because of the different agricultural programs we run across the state.

These regional adaptation plans, our regions, which are made up of local councils, RDAs, NRM boards, local government associations and community groups, indicate that they are concerned about the future of our biodiversity, specifically how we identify, protect and develop corridors to enable species migration, and how these organisations collaborate across regional boundaries to protect certain plants and animals.

We are seeing species migration right now, but most easily recorded is in the oceans, and scientists are recording now, for anyone who cares to look at their reports, the southerly migration of species down the eastern and western coast to areas that would not normally be part of their range—even moving down as far as Tasmania—because of the rising sea temperatures being caused by global warming. The same thing will apply to terrestrial environments as well, but it is not quite so easy, so we need to provide for species the ability to migrate and having natural migration corridors will be very important for that purpose.

By the end of 2017 the state government will respond to priority actions that are identified in the adaptation plans from a statewide perspective. Our parks and reserves, both terrestrial and also marine, are a key plank in our parks and reserve program and our biodiversity conservation approach. These areas, particularly our marine parks, which we arrived at reasonably late (nonetheless we have a good system of marine parks in this state), are aimed at conserving and protecting a large range of not just species but of course habitat, biodiversity assets, including land and seascapes, ecosystem services (which I referred to earlier), species and genetic material.

There is no point enabling species to migrate if they are going to be genetically islanded and reduce their ability to cope into the future with climate change challenges. We need to enable species to breed in a genetically diverse way so that they can be the strongest they possibly can be in terms of the challenges they face from climate.

The role and importance of our parks and reserves, and more broadly protecting the habitats in them—and not necessarily those habitats just in government hands—under a change in climate continues to gain recognition here and also internationally. The key message is that protecting remaining habitats remains the foundation that allows species to adapt to change, improving their resilience so they can cope with change better, and our parks and our reserves also provide South Australians with the opportunity to strengthen meaningful engagement with their environment to unlock the economic potential of these interactions.

So, we come to protected areas, proclaimed under the National Parks and Wildlife Act, the Wilderness Protection Act and also the Arkaroola Protection Act 2012 These areas combined cover a portion of our state roughly the size of Victoria, about 21 million hectares, or 21.5 per cent of the state. In addition, our marine parks, proclaimed under the Marine Parks Act 2007, cover just over 2½ million hectares, or 44.7 per cent of SA state waters.

It is important to understand that these marine parks are under challenge, because if the Liberals win government at the next election, they will roll back these marine parks. They will roll back the protected areas. They have already had a bill in this place to do exactly this. They have identified the areas, the jewels in the crown of our marine parks, biodiversity hotspots; they want to roll back and open up the fishing.

There is some clear difference just there, in the fact that the Liberals want to roll back marine parks. The work that we have done in this state bringing communities together, regions together, ecologists together and scientists together with our local communities will all be for nothing if the Liberals are elected to the Treasury benches at the next election, because one of their first actions, I have no doubt, will be to bring back that legislation, that I think the Hon. Michelle Lensink brought into this place, which was to take away some of the jewels in the biodiversity crown in our marine parks protected systems.

An honourable member: Unbelievable.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: It is unbelievable, but there you go; that's the Liberals for you. They believe in coal as the future of renewable energy as well, which is a bit of an oxymoron. Since Labor came to government in early 2002, there have been 74 new parks. The Hon. Mr Parnell might like to listen to this part of the answer I am providing for him, when he asked about what I am doing.

The Hon. M.C. Parnell: You are talking about fish; I asked you about birds. You are talking about fish.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Yes, I am talking about biodiversity. I am talking about biodiversity, the Hon. Mr Parnell. There have been 74 new parks proclaimed and 87 additions made to existing parks. Over 2.2 million hectares have been added to the state's reserve system or reclassified to a higher conservation status. As I said, just over 2 million hectares of this land resulted from upgrades in classification, while about 234,000 hectares of new land have been proclaimed. All of the marine parks have been added as well to that tally.

Coming to birds, one of the most recent additions to the park systems is the Adelaide International Bird Sanctuary National Park—Winaityinaityi Pangkara. This government is committed to the sanctuary growing into the future. It stretches for 60 kilometres from the Barker Inlet in the south to Parham in the north and provides a protected area for a diverse range of species, including 50 shorebird species. The Port Gawler Conservation Park, members will remember, was reclassified on 8 August 2017 to become part of the national park, an addition of another 418 hectares.

Members will remember that the area is a key part of the East Asian Australasian Flyway. It has the potential to be an exciting drawcard for birdwatchers from interstate and overseas, supporting both tourism and our local environment. The government has committed to invest an additional $1.7 million over four years for the establishment and ongoing maintenance of the bird sanctuary.

Other additions to our protected area system were proclaimed in March of this year, including a new 1,058-hectare conservation park—the Hon. Mr Parnell might remember this one as well—at the eastern end of Hindmarsh Island called Lawari Conservation Park. We had a question from the Hon. Mr Parnell about its establishment earlier in the year. It is situated within an area of internationally important wetlands, formally recognised as the Coorong and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert Ramsar Wetland. There are birds there as well. There is also the addition of 3,949 hectares to the Ngarkat Conservation Park on the northern boundary of the vast mallee park, which is south of Lameroo.

The Hon. M.C. Parnell: There are fewer birds there; they got burnt out.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Well, they are coming back; they are bringing them back from Victoria. The Hon. Mr Parnell might like to understand that in fact we have engaged in a program with our Victorian colleagues to bring these birds back and re-establish them on the South Australian side of the border, where they should always be, and always will be under this government. We have already badged them as South Australian birds as well.

There has also been the addition to the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park of Sacred Canyon, a site of profound cultural and spiritual significance to the local Adnyamathanha people that has been added to our parks and reserves system. The list will go on, but the honourable member seems to be getting the gist of my answer.

The state government, primarily through our NRM regions and NRM boards, will lead policy and management on pests and diseases that threaten our native species, including birds, and by doing so contribute to improving the state's capacity to respond to climatic extremes and ecological disturbances.

The red-whiskered bulbul was one of those the Hon. Mark Parnell would be very interested in. We have a program of trying to trap those, engaging the community to alert us if they see the sightings of what is a rather attractive bird but apparently should not be here. So at the risk of offending some of the sensitive souls in this chamber, we are carrying out as best we can an eradication program of the red-whiskered bulbul. We have not found a home that wants to take them. We will continue to do that ourselves.

We are working together with our partners (too many to mention) but some of the key projects are: DEWNR is currently working with its Victorian colleagues, as I said earlier, and Zoos SA, to work on the recovery of the Mallee emu-wren which has become threatened through prolonged dry spells, increased frequency and severity of fire in its Mallee habitat and the direct effects of climate change, we believe.

The Australian government Threatened Species Recovery Fund has recently announced support for the important recovery work, approving funds of $225,322 to translocate Mallee emu-wrens into the Ngarkat Conservation Park to establish a new population—a South Australian population—of proudly South Australian Mallee emu-wrens. In the South-East, the Australasian bittern is being recovered by DEWNR and key partners through the restoration of wetland habitats at Piccaninnie Ponds, Pick Swamp, Lake Hawdon, Lake Bonney and Iluka in the South-East. This has also helped the threatened dwarf galaxias fish—although the Hon. Mark Parnell is not so concerned about fish at this stage—but also the pygmy perch, mud fish and a range of migratory birds.

Also in the South-East, revegetation has been undertaken at Bangham, Lake Bonney, Naracoorte Range, including creating additional habitat for the nationally endangered red-tailed black cockatoo—one of the Hon. Mark Parnell's favourite cockies. Bounceback, founded on feral animal control and habitat restoration, has seen significant increases in the nationally vulnerable yellow-footed rock wallaby populations in the Flinders Ranges over the 25 years of the program which in turn has enabled the reintroduction of the western quoll and brushtail possum into the area after decades of local extinction. That is what this government is doing, Hon. Mark Parnell. That is what we are doing.

Nationally vulnerable warru, or black-footed rock wallaby, populations within the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands have been protected and declines halted by working to alleviate feral animal predation, changes in fire regimes and pressure from grazing.

The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS: Point of order, Mr President: the minister is obviously on his feet trying to stop the Hon. Mr Parnell from having the opportunity to ask a supplementary question. He has been going for almost 13 minutes.

The PRESIDENT: My advice is that he can ask a supplementary, and he will ask a supplementary if he wants to. Minister.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Thank you, Mr President, and I thank you for your protection. This is an incredibly important—

An honourable member interjecting:

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Well, it is an incredibly important question. The Liberals do not care about the environment, they do not care about biodiversity, they want to hack in to our marine parks.

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order! Minister, sit down. The Hon. Mr Parnell, do you have a supplementary?

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I do have a supplementary and I thank the minister for his extensive answer on quolls, rock wallabies and various sea creatures, but if he could answer the question I asked: what is he proposing to do to re-establish substantial amounts of woodland habitat, particularly in the Mount Lofty Ranges? That was the question.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change): The honourable member seems to want to focus on one little part of biodiversity which is a bit of an oxymoron because everything is integrated, but to give him a more specific, narrow-focused answer, the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges NRM Board has supported recovery actions for 39 threatened animals and 106 threatened plants. They have done work to support the recovery of four nationally listed threatened ecological communities—the Fleurieu swamps, the greybox woodlands, the peppermint box woodlands and the irongrass grasslands.

In addition, 48,477 hectares of native ecosystem have been actively improved through protection and management of remnant native vegetation such as by fencing and abatement activities, and 4,705 hectares of native ecosystems have been reconstructed to support declining woodland birds. I have pages and pages of more detail that I could give the honourable member. I invite him to ask me another supplementary question or to ask this question again because this government has been active in managing the biodiversity across our state, unlike the Liberal Party whose only proposition for the environment is to slash our marine parks.

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