Minister Ley interview with Fran Kelly, ABC Radio National

13 October 2021

FRAN KELLY: As the world focuses its attention on the Glasgow talks, climate talks at the end of the month, another important environmental summit is underway in China. It's the UN Biodiversity Conference, it's known as the other COP, this one's COP15, and its aim is to halt global biodiversity decline. Australia is the one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world, but we also have one of the highest extinction rates in the world.

[Excerpt]
MARTINE MARON: Australia is actually right up there with one- as one of the leaders in both species loss and habitat destruction. So, we don't actually have to look very far to see the biodiversity crisis in action. In fact, in the last 20 years, Australia's cleared over 7 million hectares of threatened species habitat.
[End of excerpt]

FRAN KELLY: That's Dr Martine Maron from the Threatened Species Recovery Hub - we spoke to her yesterday.
Sussan Ley is the Federal Environment Minister. Last night, the Minister delivered an address at the virtual COP15 Summit. Sussan Ley, welcome back to Breakfast.

SUSSAN LEY: Nice to be on the program, Fran. Good morning.

FRAN KELLY: Australia is a wealthy country, we have one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, but we are nowhere near the front of the pack when it comes to protecting our biodiversity. Why not?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, we certainly are near the front of the pack when it comes to the subject matter of COP which is 30x30, protecting 30 per cent of the globe's land and sea. And I was delighted to speak to that last night, and I'm talking again today, with some of the things that we're doing, Fran. Because the important message I want to give is that we are doing an awful amount- you know, an incredible amount in protecting marine species, protecting marine parks, working in Antarctica, our Indigenous protected areas, our bushfire recovery and so on.
But of course, we are challenged by climate change, the human footprint, by invasive species, by pathogens and, you know, by many factors. You know, some of that is due to the fact that European settlement created a lot of the pests and weeds that we're now dealing with today. And one of the things have got to do is ask our traditional owners how they managed our landscape so well for over 40,000 years. But...

FRAN KELLY: Clearly, we need to do more. I mean, Australia has more than one million species of plants and animals, but we have one of the highest rates of species loss - third in the world for most species extinction, and number one in the world for mammal extinctions. So why are we such poor performers and why have- you know, is it just a matter of more effort, more resourcing, to stop this, to halt this?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, the resourcing and the effort at the moment is huge, and our bushfire recovery is a good example of that. But in your interview yesterday, the Threatened Species Hub, which is part of the funding that the Australian Government gives to the science in this area, will talk about the billions of native mammals that are killed every night by cats. So, cats and foxes…

FRAN KELLY: Yeah.

SUSSAN LEY: … and hard hooved animals are an incredible pressure on our environment. And Australia knows that while we act as much as we can, we have to continue, and we are.
So, you know, I absolutely point to the work that's being done tackling feral species around the country. And let's not forget, Fran, that wildlife trade has been identified within the Convention for Biological Diversity as another issue, and we do that very well as well. So, biosecurity - the movement of pathogens around the world - is affecting our species everywhere. So look, the COP15...

FRAN KELLY: Yes. All I'm talking about is the effort. I mean, we doing- clearly need to put the shoulder to the wheel more if we're number one in the world for mammal extinctions, for instance.

SUSSAN LEY: Well, I think we can, I think we can demonstrate how we're putting the shoulder to the wheel. We've just declared another 7.2 million hectares of Indigenous protected areas within our 78 million hectares; we're expanding our network of marine parks from 39 to 45 per cent; we're consulting on new marine parks in the Christmas and Cocos Islands. I mentioned the work we're doing in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica, and a lot of that revolves around science. How -Our approach to species following the bushfires is a lesson internationally that I'll talk about today. Because it's not just about putting the money out there on the ground and building back, its building back better with programs that lock in the future of these species.
Of course, there are challenges of course there are pressures - we understand that. They're global pressures, they're not unique to Australia. And I reckon, Fran, that if I could take you to the Blue Mountains and show you where we fenced off a hot pink bottle brush that's incredibly rare, to stop it being dug up by pigs; where I could go to the Bellingen River and see the release of our captive breeding turtle programme; if I could show you the bushfire recovery on the South Coast where, you know, the rainforest is coming back differently, but stronger, after the work that our communities are doing on the ground. And only yesterday, we released it, we open sourced, through a program that we, we help fund with the University of Sydney, the koala genome - the entire genomes of 116 koalas so we can accelerate vital genomic research…

FRAN KELLY: All right. So- so, there is work going on - of course, there is. I mean, we are one of the world's richest countries, as I said. But let's go to the 30x30 pledge that you're supporting. There are 70 countries at the COP15; part of this push to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. The pledge is 30 per cent of global land and oceans by 2030. Australia has signed up, willingly and enthusiastically, as you've said, to the global target. But we don't have a national commitment to holding that level of, of biodiversity loss, do we? Why not? Other countries do?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, what we are doing today is actually signing on to the Kunming Declaration - so I'm happy to make that statement on your program, because it's got 17 detailed paragraphs within it that I'd encourage people to read and be reassured that Australia is taking all these steps. We have to get to the global 30x30 target first - we're well ahead of many other countries. So that's what this is about.
Let's, in the second part of the COP - which is in April, May next year - get as many countries on board with the 30x30. Now some of them are saying, at this point in time, they don't want to do it, or they only want to do 20 per cent. So we're taking a global leadership approach in this. And I might point out that we are also members of the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People - a lot of acronyms of these international bodies, I know - but what that is, is a, if you like, a sub grouping of about 70 countries that's really driving how we get to this 30x30 target. And not every country is in that group - New Zealand is not in that group - and not every country is taking the leadership that Australia is. Because, while our landscape is threatened by climate change, we've been adapting to climate change in our farming systems, in, you know, in our national parks, with our traditional owner management. And this incredible leadership when it comes to the oceans, our $100 million Ocean Leadership package is about restoring coastal ecosystems and shellfish reefs so we can generate, you know, cleaner water, protect our fish-

FRAN KELLY: What about at home, though? I mean, since 2000, when we introduced the National Environment Act, Australia's cleared, as my team mentioned earlier, 7.2 million hectares of threatened species habitat; Australia is still logging native forest; we're still approving new coal mines. You know, I met- I quote Professor Brendan Wintle, an expert in Conservative Ecology from the University of Melbourne who says, we're seen as a global pariah on biodiversity protection. What are you doing to stop land clearing?

SUSSAN LEY: Explaining to the world that not all of what they might hear from some of these organisations and bodies is actually the full picture. Land clearing is a state government matter, so the Commonwealth Government doesn't regulate that. But what I do is approve ..  if it gets to an approval (consider, assess, and, possibly approve projects under the EPBC Act)... But to take into account every single species that is listed from either vulnerable to critically endangered, and require the developer to adhere to conditions, to provide offsets. So taking into account the effect of every single development on our, our list of threatened species.
And as we came out of the bush fires, what we did with our Threatened Species Scientific Committee was turbocharge it to consider so many of the species that are most vulnerable. And at this moment, they are making considerations and recommendations about new species, up liftings, and further work…

FRAN KELLY: Okay.

SUSSAN LEY: … that actually protects these fragile ecosystems.

FRAN KELLY: You mentioned bushfires there. Perhaps one of the major threats globally to biodiversity is climate change. You're going to be in Federal Cabinet today considering a revised climate plan, which the Energy Minister, Angus Taylor, will bring to the table. Will the Australian Government sign on to 2050 net zero emissions target? Will Cabinet sign off on that by the end of the day?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, I'll leave the Prime Minister to make statements about what we'll do as a National Government. What I've always said, no secret, as Environment Minister, I want to get to net zero as quickly as possible. I believe there are huge advantages for us, for regional Australia.
The area that I represent- as you may know, Fran, I've represented Western New South Wales, including the Western Division for much of my time in Federal Parliament. This is some of the most marginal farming country and I think there are opportunities for agriculture and additional revenue streams. And I think there are opportunities for the environment too, because we know that...

FRAN KELLY: So you don't agree with Bridget MacKenzie's- that the region's need to be worried and threatened by this? This is an opportunity?

SUSSAN LEY: No. Look, I don't see, I don't get a sense of feeling worried or threatened around me, and I feel that I know my communities very well. But every community is different let's not forget that. You know, I'm a rural Liberal, there are probably 30 rural Liberals in the Parliament. We will all bring different perspectives, as I know the National Party members will, as I know the National Party leadership has made clear.
So this is a good discussion to be having, because it thrashes out the perspectives from every, every single point of view - and of course, I will bring mine. And of course, I want us to be heading to net zero and doing it with confidence, and actually seizing the opportunities that it provides.

FRAN KELLY: And just on that, what about, as we head to net zero, heading to a stronger target by 2030? There's lots of speculation that the Government's going to indicate that we're going to head- to get the early to mid-30s anyway. Some of your colleagues, Andrew Bragg, today will propose a 2030 target of 40 per cent, I think David Chalmers has already said 45 per cent. As the Federal Environment Minister, where do you think we should be by 2030?

SUSSAN LEY: Well, I know that we're meeting and beating our 2030 targets. Not every country in the Paris Agreement is doing that, and...
FRAN KELLY: So where would- where should we- what should our ambition be for 2030?

SUSSAN LEY: I, I think we'll leave that for the discussion that we're, that we're taking, that's very live at the moment, I think that's clear to all your listeners - it's a very live discussion. And I think it's an important one.

FRAN KELLY: Sussan Ley, thanks for joining us.

SUSSAN LEY: A pleasure.

FRAN KELLY: Sussan Ley is the Federal Environment Minister.