Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Threatened species face extinction owing to ‘God clause’, scientists say

Western Australia’s government is seeking the power to approve activities that could ‘take or disturb’ an endangered species

The law would allow the environment minister to decide which species are most worth protecting – meaning that numbats are probably safe, though less well-known species may not be

Wednesday 6 July 201601.02 BST Last modified on Wednesday 6 July 201601.03 BST

Western Australia’s government could have the power to approve activities that could make a threatened species extinct, under biodiversity laws now before state parliament.

The provision has been dubbed “the God clause” by scientists and conservationists, who say giving the environment minister discretion to effectively authorise the extinction of a species contradicts the very purpose of biodiversity legislation.

It is part of the biodiversity conservation bill 2015, introduced by the Barnett government as an update to the 66-year-old Wildlife Conservation Act.

Under that legislation, the environment minister may authorise a person, corporation or government authority to “take or disturb” a threatened species. If the taking or disturbance “could be expected to result in the threatened species becoming eligible for listing as an extinct species in the near future”, the minister must also get the approval of the state governor.

The state opposition voted against the legislation in the WA lower house last week but it passed without their support. It is due to be debated in the upper house in August, where the Greens have said they’ll support Labor in opposing the bill unless significant amendments are made.

Labor’s refusal to support the laws came after the Environmental Defender’s Office called them “illusory at best”.

The environment minister, Albert Jacob, said Labor’s decision not to back the proposal was “irresponsible and short-sighted”, saying the legislation “has the right key features sought by most of the community”.

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