10 February, 2006

EDITORIAL: Potoroos and parrots need better protection

The Age, February 10, 2006

'You're gunna get stung!" That greeting on the Environment Protection Authority website is aimed at anyone who discards rubbish carelessly. Under Victorian law, litterers face hefty fines (ranging from $210 to $6289), which the EPA says are to deter people from actions that "can cause injury to people and wildlife".

How then should the EPA deal with businesses and government agencies that put protected flora and fauna at serious risk? According to an EPA audit - commissioned by the State Government at the urging of environmentalists - there were at least four breaches of the Environment Protection Act in 2004 and 2005, three by VicForests near Cann River in East Gippsland, and a fourth in the Barmah State Forest, near Echuca, where the Department of Sustainability and Environment logged more than half of a 35-hectare protected nesting colony for the endangered superb parrot. The EPA found the breaches were due to poor management and inadequate staff training.

The long-footed potoroo, a small kangaroo unique to the forests of south-east Australia, lives in Gippsland. Possibly the only thing it has in common with the superb parrot, a bird with a striking green body, is its vulnerability. Both are at greater risk as a result of these breaches but the offenders have escaped with what amounts to a slap on the wrist after they promised to behave more responsibly in future.

The EPA was not asked to consider penalties and the auditors concluded that there is a legal question as to whether government officers are bound by codes of practice outlined in the Conservation, Forests and Lands Act 1987. If this is the case, an amendment is urgently needed. It is ludicrous that an individual could face a penalty of $4192 for depositing household rubbish in a litter bin, yet agencies that do far more environmental damage get off scott free.

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