Push for Senate to examine impact of fires on faunal extinction

Chair of the Senate’s Environment Committee Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has announced today she will move for the Faunal Extinction Inquiry to examine the impact of the catastrophic fires across the country on endangered wildlife and flora.

Senator Hanson-Young said the already-established Inquiry gave the Parliament an opportunity to immediately get on with what needs to be done to protect our native fauna and flora in the wake of the fires.

“Before the fires started, Australia already had one of the worst extinction rates in the world. Now more than a billion animals have been killed by fires across the country and thousands of hectares of habitat destroyed and we are only half way through summer – we don’t have time to waste,” Senator Hanson-Young said.

“The Faunal Extinction Inquiry can hit the ground running. The Committee can get out into the fire-ravaged areas so senators can see the extent of the devastation first hand, and bring together stakeholders and experts so recommendations can be made to the Parliament about what needs to be done to prevent further species’ extinction.

“Species like the Kangaroo Island dunnart and black glossy cockatoo, koalas, and even mainland quokkas in WA, have been killed, injured and suffered huge losses to their critical habitat.

“The Senate needs to do what it can to aid fire recovery and ensure adequate funding and plans are in place to protect our native species and the environment they live in.

“We cannot rely on the government to get this right, they haven’t committed anywhere near enough money for fire recovery. It’s going to take a lot more than petty cash from the government to really tackle this environmental crisis.”

Supporting families affected by bushfires

Children attending child care and students in bushfire-declared communities will receive additional mental health support.

Students from bushfire-declared communities will also receive special consideration to access scholarships for higher education.

Minister for Education Dan Tehan said child care centres, preschools, schools and universities are important community touchpoints that are helping families and children get back on their feet after the bushfires.

“Our Government is supporting child care centres, preschools, schools and universities in their important work, which is why I convened a meeting of education sector representatives this week,” Mr Tehan said.

“The message from that meeting was loud and clear: we need to focus on our young people’s mental health because these bushfires will impact communities long after the flames are extinguished.

“Our Government will provide an additional $8 million for mental health support through Beyond Blue to fund an extra 25 Beyond Blue liaison officers and supporting clinicians to work with local schools and early childhood services in bushfire-affected communities.

“We are offering extra funding for school chaplains which will be available to state and territory governments on request.

“Our Government will also re-prioritise funding within the Community Child Care Fund for bushfire-affected areas. This funding could help pay for temporary premises, replacement of damaged playground equipment, or wages for affected staff.”

Mr Tehan said the families of more than 90,000 children in bushfire-declared local government areas (LGAs) that might incur a Child Care Subsidy activity test debt for the 2019-20 financial year, would be exempt. This is similar to the exemption provided to Child Care Subsidy recipients in drought and flood-affected LGAs last year.

“Families can still claim the Child Care Subsidy even if their work, study or volunteering hours have been impacted by the bushfires.

“When it comes to rebuilding schools, funding is available through the jointly funded Commonwealth-State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangement for the restoration of essential public assets, including public schools.

“Our Government is also providing an additional $400 (a total of $800) for each child that has qualified for the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment which will help families with education expenses.

“To help students from bushfire-affected communities to attend university we will give special consideration to their circumstances if they apply for one of more than 1,000 scholarships through the $58.1 million Rural and Regional Enterprise Scholarships program. Given the immediate needs of the situation, these scholarships have been brought forward and will open from Monday.

“Following our meeting this week with representatives from the education sector, our Government will also work with the sector to implement their suggestions about how to improve bushfire management and recovery.”

This includes:

  • Investigating ways to draw on the experience of retired teachers, principals and counsellors to support schools in disaster-affected areas.
  • Working with the states and territories to improve access to information for child care providers on what to do in a bushfire and resources on air quality and managing the impact of smoke.
  • Making available to children, students, educators and families the Emerging Minds material on fire trauma, smoke and general education support.
  • Sharing with families and educators research on the effects of bushfires on child wellbeing.
  • Investigating the inclusion of trauma informed learning as part of Initial Teacher Education courses.
  • Working with universities to utilise their psychology and counselling resources to support existing mental health initiatives.

Member for Lyne Dr David Gillespie said child care and school were critical considerations for families affected by bushfires.

“In my electorate we are already seeing the community beginning to get back on its feet, with rebuilding work under way,” Dr Gillespie said.

“We also need to focus on the mental wellbeing of our communities, especially our youngest members.

“Education is so important and our Government’s program will help ensure we mitigate the impact of these bushfires on our children and their education.”

For more information visit www.education.gov.au/support-bushfire-affected-communities.

Bridget McKenzie sports grants bias, rorts deserve scrutiny by the Senate

Greens Senator Janet Rice has slammed Bridget McKenzie’s handling of the sport program, giving $100 million in sport grants to favour Coalition target seats in last year’s federal election, rather than awarding grants based on merit.

Senator Janet Rice, Greens spokesperson for Sport said:

“This looks like a government rort designed to win elections.”

“Senator McKenzie should be ashamed of her actions. To ignore the merit-based assessment of Sports Australia for almost half of the successful applicants, and instead decide to award grants based on political gain, is a clear and unforgivable misuse of taxpayers’ money.”

“Australians expect transparency and accountability from those in power. Senator McKenzie’s decision-making process was completely unsporting, with clubs in safe seats hampered in their chances of winning a grant.”

“We will pursue this in Senate Estimates and will consider seeking the support of the Senate for an inquiry.”

Water and Environment Ministers must meet urgently to deal with mass fish kills and safe drinking water

Reports today of another mass fish kill in NSW caused by ash and sediment from bushfires running into the Macleay River, is the disaster experts had been warning about and needs an urgent response from water ministers, the Greens say.

Greens Spokesperson for Water Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said:

“I wrote to state and federal Water and Environment Ministers yesterday urging them to meet as a matter of urgency to coordinate a joint effort across fire-affected states to ensure safe, clean water supply.

“Today we hear of a 70km long mass fish kill on the NSW mid north coast – this didn’t just happen overnight and the catastrophe isn’t over yet. The Federal Government needs to tell us what they did to mitigate such a disaster and what they are doing to prevent future fish kill events.

“No government can say they weren’t warned. More fish kills, like that seen at Menindee last summer, had already been forecast for this summer due to drought.

“Experts have predicted waterway and catchment contamination because of ash, debris and carcass run off, posing a risk to drinking water and leading to the starvation of oxygen in our rivers and lakes.

“The Murray-Darling Basin Authority reported this week that bushfires burning across the southern Basin will impact water quality in some catchments when the rain finally comes.

“The Federal Government must lead an urgent Water Pollution Action Plan to deal with the immediate water crisis and looming consequences for Australia’s water security.

“Right now we are seeing one ecological disaster after another because of the fires. This is what the Climate Emergency looks like. The Federal Government was warned and failed to adequately prepare. They must not continue to be so complacent when public health and the future of native species is at risk.”

Murdoch University Must Drop Whole Case Against Academic Whistleblower

Greens Senator for NSW and Education Spokesperson, Dr Mehreen Faruqi, has welcomed Murdoch University’s decision to drop their counter claim for financial damages against academic whistleblower Dr Gerd Schröder-Turk but has said they should drop the entire suit. Dr Schröder-Turk spoke publicly about his concerns regarding inadequacies in Murdoch University’s policies for recruiting international students in 2019.

Dr Schröder-Turk is challenging the University’s decision to remove him from the university Senate following his comments and is being counter-sued by Murdoch University.

Senator Faruqi said:

“Academic freedom in essential to our universities. University staff must be free to critique their institutions without fear of reprisals like the one targeted at whistleblower Dr Schröder-Turk.

“The University has dropped the financial component of their claim only after sustained pressure and a public relations disaster, but it continues to pursue Dr Schroeder-Turk because he spoke out about university practices he was concerned about. The University’s decision to remove him from the Senate is just as objectionable – and just as much a PR disaster – as their abandoned pursuit of financial damages.

“I stand with Gerd, university staff and their union in their defence of the academic freedom that underpins our universities.

“I’m deeply concerned Murdoch University’s unprecedented legal action against Dr Schroeder-Turk is having a silencing effect on other academics and whistleblowers. The University should admit it was wrong and drop the entire case.”

Resignation of Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman

Will Hodgman is a Tasmanian and Liberal legend whose leadership has engineered the state’s remarkable turnaround.

He leaves behind a record of distinguished service.

Cutting unemployment from 7.6 per cent to 6.0 per cent and creating more than 19,200 new jobs.

Turning the tide on the 1,000 Tasmanians who left the state each year with the latest figures showing the population grew by almost 2,000 people from mainland Australia in net terms.

Working closely together to deliver the Hobart and Launceston City Deals, a $2.8 billion infrastructure program for projects like the Bridgewater Bridge, Bass, Murchison and Midland Highways, not to mention the Battery of the Nation and Marinus Link projects.

I want to congratulate Will on his leadership and the achievements of his government and thank him for his friendship and support.

As the current longest serving premier, Will has also made a great national contribution not just at the COAG table but in his quiet advocacy for the interests of Tasmania and Australia at every opportunity.

In his maiden speech, Will paid tribute to the tremendous role model his father was, including as a fellow Parliamentarian, hoping to “display the same level of passion, commitment and service to the community”. I think the record shows, Will, you have done that in spades over your more than 17 year parliamentary career and your father would be rightly proud.

Will has been not just a leader for Tasmania, but a tremendous friend and support to me.

I wish him, Nicky and their family all the best as they move to this next stage.

Scott Morrison

Initial $100 million bushfire emergency support for primary producers

Farm, fish and forestry businesses in fire-affected regions will get the help they need to rebuild with an initial $100 million in emergency bushfire funding, which will be made available following agreement with relevant state governments.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Government would provide up to $75,000 in grants for farming businesses in fire-affected regions, with the funding administered by each state government.

“We will do whatever it takes to support those communities and businesses hit by these fires, and if we need to do more, we will,” the Prime Minister said.

“I need to stress this is an uncapped program so if demand for support goes above $100 million, money will continue to flow.

“As the scale of the damage becomes apparent, it is clear that our farm, our fish and forest businesses need support and along with communities who depend on them, we will help them rebuild and we will continue to back them.

“This funding will support primary producers to access essentials like fodder and water, while also help rebuild fencing or hire vital agricultural equipment like water pumps, irrigation systems, horticultural netting and generators.”

This funding is in addition to the extensive work being undertaken by the Australian Defence Force, clearing roads and properties and helping communities rebuild.

The Morrison Government will also provide $15 million to fund 60 additional rural financial counsellors and support workers.

Already the Rural Financial Counselling Service is on the ground providing free financial counselling to our farmers in times of need with now approximately 180 counsellors located within key agricultural communities across Australia.

Minister for Agriculture Bridget McKenzie said so many rural businesses had been hard hit by the bushfires and they were now looking at how they could rebuild.

“Rural and regional communities particularly across Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia have been hit hard by the bushfires and we will continue to work together to support all those Australians whose livelihoods have been devastated by these fires,” Minister McKenzie said.

“This funding could help pay for tradespeople to conduct farm safety inspections, for veterinary fees, waste disposal and to repair any damaged property.

“Our farmers, fishers and foresters have been hit extremely hard by these terrible fires. I’ve seen firsthand, farmers who have left their properties to fight fires.

“Our farmers are resilient and very generous putting themselves on the line for their friends and neighbours.

“These grants of up to $75,000 will help get them the equipment they need to start rebuilding.

“We’re working closely with farming groups to develop specific industry recovery plans.”

Minister for Natural Disaster and Emergency Management David Littleproud said the grants were designed to make sure farmers are equipped to get the job done.

“We are working with the states to get these funds to farmers as quickly as possible under existing Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements,” Minister Littleproud said.

As with the grants for the North Queensland floods in early 2019, funds under the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangement will be made available to state governments of impacted communities, on request, for delivery through their relevant state disaster response agency.

“This is critical support for primary producers to meet their immediate needs in getting their agriculture businesses back up and running where those needs are not covered under existing insurance policies,” Minister Littleproud said.

“Primary producers from farmers and fishers to private foresters and beekeepers will all be eligible to apply under the extended definition of primary producers in the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements.”

Farmers who have been tackling the drought and have off-farm income won’t be disadvantaged, the same off-farm income rules for Farm Household Allowance will apply. This means farmers that aren’t eligible for Category C payments due to off-farm income rules will still be eligible for up to $75,000 to help them normalise their farm businesses as quickly as possible.

Funding will be available through the Emergency Bushfire Response in Primary Industries Grants Program.

This assistance will be provided through a joint Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangement between states and territories and the Commonwealth Government.

Further details will be announced as soon as state-based delivery arrangements are confirmed.

This initiative forms part of $2 billion commitment the Morrison Government has made to address the impact of the recent bushfires.

For more information on the Emergency Bushfire Response in Primary Industries Grants Program please contact 1800 900 090.

Greens Senator Speaks at Big Wollongong Climate Rally Calling for Urgent Climate Action

Greens Senator for NSW, Dr Mehreen Faruqi, has addressed a big climate rally in Wollongong yesterday, condemning Prime Minister Scott Morrison for his lack of leadership and called for more funding for firefighters as well as urgent climate action. Senator Faruqi said:

“The community gathered to first and foremost thank the firefighters, emergency workers, animal carers and thousands of others from around Australia who have sacrificed so much to protect people, homes and habitat, and those who have opened up their homes and hearts for bushfire affected communities. It’s clear that it is the community, not the Government, who have shown leadership through these terrible months.

“What we need at this time of disaster is courageous, truthful, and wise leadership.What we are sadly and shamefully getting from our government is the exact opposite. They are cowardly, dishonest and incompetent. This Liberal-National Government is full of science deniers. They have behaved like a bunch of climate criminals.

“We are literally in a fight for our lives. We need a wholesale shake up of our political, social and economic systems.

“The Liberal and Labor parties won’t say it because they’re too addicted to donations from the fossil fuel industry, but the Greens will. We need an immediate end to new coal, oil and gas – we need a plan to phase out existing coal. Clinging to coal as our country burns is just plain reckless.

“We need to give our firies the pay, resources and support they need instead of ignoring their pleas for years like the Government has. We need a huge investment to build climate resilience and plan for the new normal – that starts with a royal commission and getting parliament back to work.

“We are capable of massive change. It’s now up to us to force Governments to listen to us. As our movement grows, our actions must grow more bold and radical to shake Scott Morrison and his mates out of their climate denying stupor and out of government.

“Together, we will not let the tragedy and trauma of these bushfires pass without the change we need,” she concluded.

Govt’s $50m for wildlife just petty cash for environmental catastrophe

The Federal Government’s announcement of $50 million to wildlife affected by the bushfire crisis is nowhere near enough and should be at least ten times as much, the Greens say.

Greens Spokesperson for Animal Welfare, Senator Mehreen Faruqi said:

“The Government is taking a miserly approach to our iconic wildlife.

“We need an open chequebook and the Government to commit to spending whatever it takes to save lives and to fund a viable recovery for species that have been impacted. This is a bandaid solution, we need funding for long term rehabilitation and recovery plans.

“Animals are in crisis. Wildlife carers are on social media begging for bandages, syringes and animal feed. The Government has been slow to support these heroes and they need money in their bank accounts and supplies on their shelves today.

“Fifty million across the entire country is just a drop in the ocean. We have seen at least a billion animals die and that number will rapidly increase as wildlife face starvation from destroyed ecosystems.

“We have seen so many Australians and people around the world open their hearts and wallets to support animals with unprecedented generosity. The Government should follow that example instead of clutching at purse strings.” she concluded.

Greens Spokesperson for the Environment, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said:

“When Celeste Barber can raise as much money as the Federal Government has committed to this tragedy, it shows their heart’s not in it,” she said.

“This is an environmental catastrophe and saving, restoring and protecting our wildlife and their habitats must be a fundamental part of the recovery from these bushfires,” she said.

“I saw first-hand on Kangaroo Island last week, what wildlife carers and conservationists are going through, they deserve and need far more support.

“This can’t just be a fluffy PR exercise from the Environment Minister because the whole world is talking about Australia’s koalas being burnt and killed.

“Our beautiful environment and wildlife is what makes Australia the place people want to come and visit, it deserves more than this token announcement.

“The Greens called for a Fighting Fund for the Environment and this is not it – this is petty cash.

“We need significantly more money and a proper commitment from the Government to the restoration of the environment and ecosystems, or we may just lose some of our precious wildlife and flora for good.

“The PM should also be leading from the front on this issue yet seems to be in hiding today. Bad news poll or not, restoring the environment and habitat, and protecting our native animals should be more of a priority for this PM.”

Initial commitment of $50 million for emergency wildlife and habitat recovery

In response to the devastating bushfires the Federal Government is today making an initial investment of $50 million, as a down-payment to support the immediate work to protect wildlife, and work with scientists, ecologists, communities and land managers to plan the longer-term protection and restoration effort.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the Government’s focus was to support a coalition of groups to assist in the protection and restoration of our environment following the bushfires.

“This initial investment of $50 million into the protection and restoration of our wildlife and habitat is a critical step in creating a viable future for the animals that have survived,” the Treasurer said.

“As part of the Government’s support $25 million will be provided for an emergency intervention fund to be used on critical interventions where required and to help with the immediate survival of affected animals, plants and ecological communities and to control pests and weeds.

“A further $25 million will be made available to support wildlife rescue, our zoos, Natural Resource Management Groups, Greening Australia and Conservation Volunteers Australia with on the ground activities.

“This support will help provide much needed shelter and protection for our native animals and plants from feral predators and pests while local habitats are rehabilitated.”

The immediate priorities are to:

  • Care for and rehabilitate injured wildlife, and secure viable populations of threatened species.
  • Control feral predators, other pest animals and noxious weeds that are a major threat to vulnerable animals and plants at this time.
  • Scientifically map and understand the true impact of these fires.
  • Work with landowners to protect those precious remaining unburned areas, which will serve as ‘arks’ and allow our native plants and animals to recover.

At a local level, up to $25 million will be made available. This will include:

  • Up to $7 million for Natural Resource Management groups in bushfire affected areas to carry out emergency interventions including control of feral predators, other pest animals and weeds, and habitat protection measures (such as fencing and nest boxes).
  • Up to $7.5 million to support on-ground wildlife rescue, protection and care services and address emerging needs on the frontline.
  • Up to $5 million for Greening Australia to increase supply of seed and native plants for revegetation.
  • Up to $3 million for Taronga Zoo, Zoos South Australia and Zoos Victoria for treatment and the establishment of insurance populations. This is in addition to the $3 million supporting Queensland Koala Hospitals and the $3 million for Koala habitat restoration in northern NSW and south-east Queensland.
  • Up to $2.5 million for Conservation Volunteers Australia to mobilise volunteers through a national coordination point.

The Government will coordinate with organisations across Australia to ensure the money goes where it is needed and complements the wave of generous private donations that has flowed in recent weeks.

At a national level, the Threatened Species Commissioner, Dr Sally Box, will Chair a panel of experts charged with advising the Federal Government on further immediate actions funded through the $25 million emergency intervention fund and in developing a long-term wildlife protection and habitat restoration plan. She will work closely with the National Bushfire Recovery Coordinator – Andrew Colvin.

This panel will include members from the Australian National University, University of Melbourne, Charles Darwin University, Charles Sturt University, Zoos Victoria, CSIRO the Australian Government’s Indigenous Advisory Committee and representatives from each state and territory.

Dr Box and the panel will:

  • advise the Minister for the Environment on further critical interventions required to support the immediate survival of affected animals, plants and ecological communities and to control pests and weeds.
  • assess and map the scale of the impacts of the bushfires on our environment and prioritise recovery efforts, which will inform development of a strategy for building populations of native plants and animals back up again and ensuring their resilience into the future.

Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said it is still too early to know the full impact of these fires other than it is catastrophic.

“The environmental recovery effort requires collaboration between governments, environment organisations, scientists, farmers, communities, business, philanthropists and industry.

“This is an historic environmental challenge and we need to be guided by scientific experts in the field, by our national research bodies, the traditional owners who have managed this land over tens of thousands of years, our farmers whose passion and commitment to the land spans generations and our local communities.

“The resources and innovation of the private sector will also play a critical role in drawing this national effort together.

“A series of Ministerial roundtables comprising communities, farmers, environmental organisations, business and scientists will also be held and work closely with the expert panel.”

The long-term plan will set out clearly the direction we need to go, the actions to take and outcomes to be achieved to restore our fire-damaged environment. It will guide funding allocation by Government and ensure all sectors are working together.