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Speech: Wildlife carers

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 5 Feb 2020

I rise today to make an urgent plea for change. There are many things that these horrific bushfires have forced a rethink on—on this government's appalling, destructive and selfish lack of ambition to tackle the climate emergency; on how this government was warned of the bushfire crisis we just saw and did nothing. But tonight I want to highlight the need for Australia to draw a line in the sand and say that we will do everything in our power to save our wildlife.

These last few months have been a catastrophe for animals, and we are staring down the face of a wildlife apocalypse. We know at least a billion animals have been impacted and hundreds of millions killed. This is likely a conservative estimate, as that number is rapidly increasing as animals face starvation from destroyed ecosystems. At least half of the Kangaroo Island koalas are feared dead. The fires have burnt out almost a quarter of high-quality koala habitat in the north-east of New South Wales. This is an unmitigated disaster.

I have met with wildlife carers throughout the South Coast, Shoalhaven and Mid North Coast of New South Wales, and I am really in awe of the work that they have been doing. Across the country, wildlife carers are working hard around the clock to save koalas, wombats, kangaroos, bats, reptiles and other animals which have been so badly affected by bushfires. They are the unsung heroes. They were already doing it on the smell of an oily rag and they are now being pushed to breaking point by these fires.

It is expensive, time-consuming and emotionally draining work, and these carers deserve our support. I've tried to do my small part. I've been knitting furiously. I hosted a knit-in in my office and delivered pouches and baskets for kangaroos, as well as food and supplies, to carers on the South Coast. I've also been raising money for the Red Cross and WIRES. But ultimately this shouldn't be about charity. This is about government taking responsibility.

The government announced $50 million for the environment and wildlife, which, quite frankly, is miserly and a very small amount, a drop in the ocean. We need an open chequebook at this time. We need the government to commit to spending whatever it takes to save lives and to fund a viable recovery for species that have been impacted. We need more than bandaid solutions. We need funding for long-term rehabilitation and we need recovery plans that are actually resourced and implemented.

What is abundantly clear—something that the Greens have been saying for some time—is that our native animals were already under extreme stress from bad government policies that have decimated their habitat. We can't go back to business as usual, with policies that threaten their very survival. Now is the time to make sure that we take the steps necessary to prevent extinction. State and federal governments can and must make U-turns on policies that continue to push native animals to the edge. We must end logging of native forests and stop the clearing of native habitats. We must abolish the biodiversity-credits scam, which green-lights the habitat destruction of already-endangered species, a system that primarily benefits big mining and big agribusiness. We must put a moratorium on the killing of kangaroos. Kangaroos are in crisis. The public is donating to save them. But the government is still painting a target on their backs. Before the fires, commercial kangaroo killing was dubious. Now, combined with the drought and climate change, there is a real question about whether this is a sustainable, let alone humane, industry.

We need to properly fund wildlife carers to do the life-saving work that is so essential but so often overlooked by governments. We can invest in humane and effective alternatives for invasive species control. We have been trying to shoot, trap and poison invasive species in this country for decades, with little effect. Poisons like 1080 are particularly horrific. We have an opportunity to invest in the science, to develop a solution that is both effective and humane. None of us can imagine an Australia without our iconic native species, but that is really the future that we are staring into and that we are rapidly heading towards if state and federal governments don't step up and act now. Let's all agree that businesses as usual is a dangerous place to be. Let's change. That's what our people are demanding of us.

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