The Morrison government has been accused of sitting on a major bulletin on the state of Australia’s environment it received more than three months ago to avoid “more bad news”.
Labour, the Greens, Independent MP Zali Steggall, environmental groups and scientists have called on the government to publish Australia’s State of the Environment Report, which is produced by scientists and compiled every five years.
The latest report, the first since 2016, was delivered to Environment Minister Sussan Ley in December.
The Minister is required to table the report in Parliament within 15 sitting days of receiving it. With an election due to be called within days and parliament having sat only briefly this year, the government is not legally bound to publish it before the next parliament is formed.
At an Estimates hearing last week, Labor and Green senators pushed for the government to set a date for the report to be tabled, but were only told the minister would meet her statutory obligations.
Labour’s environment spokeswoman Terri Butler called on the government to publish the report before Australians vote in May.
“It’s a shame that the Morrison-Joyce government is sitting on this important five-year report,” she said. “What are they hiding?
“Australians deserve to know how the environment fared under the Morrison-Joyce government so they can decide if they want a second decade of the same mismanagement.”
Greens environment spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young asked why Ley didn’t publish the report when she received the finished document months ago.
“The government must release it before the election is called,” she said.
“Voters deserve to know the official state of the environment under this government and what they are voting on.”
Independent MP Zali Steggall said the 2016 report painted a dire picture for nature, with the authors writing that Australia’s environment was coming under increasing pressure from land clearing, population growth, climate change, urban and industrial development and pests.
She accused the government of sitting on the report because it would bring “more bad news” and “highlight the environmental negligence of this coalition government”.
The State of the Environment Report follows a series of official reviews that assessed the performance of Australian governments in protecting the environment.
The 2020 review of Australia’s national environmental laws, chaired by former competition watchdog Graeme Samuel, found successive governments had failed to stem the decline of Australia’s wildlife and called for an overhaul of environmental protections.
Last month, an Auditor General’s review found that the federal government could not demonstrate that it was protecting Australia’s endangered wildlife because it did not monitor most species, habitats or threats and there was little evidence that conservation plans were being implemented.
Euan Ritchie, professor of ecology and conservation at Deakin University, said reports such as the state of the environment were important because they showed what needed to change to address Australia’s dire record on environmental issues. conservation.
Jess Abrahams, a nature campaigner with the Australian Conservation Foundation, said Australians had a right to know the extent of the nature crisis ahead of the election.
He pointed to the recent endangered koala and gang-gang cockatoo lists and the collapse of bogong moth populations as high-profile examples of Australia’s environmental health.
“This decline is not some kind of accident – it is happening under federal government watch and is the result of federal government decisions,” he said.
Suzanne Milthorpe, national environmental law campaign manager at the Wilderness Society, said the release of the report was vital at a time when the impacts of climate change were being felt in floods and fires across the country.
“No matter who wins the next election, the next parliament will need to take urgent action to fix Australia’s environmental laws to protect nature and communities,” she said.
A spokesperson for Ley said “the report will be released within the legal timeframe provided by law.”