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Extinction Nation: Four Corners program raises environmental questions

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Environment Minister Sussan Ley during her Four Corners interview (Screenshot via YouTube)

A recent Four Corners interview with Environment Minister Sussan Ley failed to ask some of the more critical questions, writes Sue Arnold.

FOUR CORNERS: Extinction Nation portrayed a vivid picture of outrageous environmental damage in Victoria and Tasmania — a timely program which barely touched the critical issues.

Of particular concern was the failure of reporter Stephanie March to ask the new Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, the most relevant questions in relation to Australia’s ongoing appalling loss of biodiversity and wildlife. Why she allowed Ley to get away with blaming the states is more than curious.

Independent Australia poses 16 questions to Minister Ley, questions which demonstrate a concerning lack of research or censorship by the ABC in its Extinction Nation program. These questions are critical in terms of the future survival of Australia’s unique wildlife.

  • Have you, as Minister for the Environment, read the UN Report on the likely extinction of one million species? 
  • Are you aware that Australia has the worst rate of mammal extinction in the world?
  • Australia's deforestation ranks in the global top ten, alongside Borneo, the Amazon and the Congo. It’s primarily driven by agriculture (mostly for beef production), mining and urban development. Is this a concern for you as Environment Minister ?
  • Are you aware the Prime Minister was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald this week advising his intent to slash “red tape” and environmental laws, declaring his intention of speeding up approvals for major projects like mines, comparing his mission to clearing the “cholesterol in the arteries”?
From the program:

Four Corners: The scientists from the Government-funded Threatened Species Hub say Australia is spending a tenth of what it needs to, to save all the species on our Threatened Species list. What are you going to do about that?


Susan Ley: I would say that State Governments need to engage on this as well and that what I see as being a key intervention is managed by the State Governments. Now, I'm not passing the buck to the states. I'm simply saying that this is not something the Federal Government can do alone. 

Senator Rice: The most important issue to arise from the Inquiry thus far is how totally inadequate our current Federal legislation is in terms of protecting the environment. We’re dealing with the drivers of extinction. The EPBC Act is totally inadequate to deal with the situation — the problem is there’s no framework for protection.


So many developments are not referred to the Federal Government for approval. There are no actions to minimise impacts, a lack of monitoring and compliance.


We have a situation where Federal legislation leaves it up to the states to implement approvals and no mechanisms for follow up. Offsets are a total joke — they don’t work. They’re accepted as the mechanics to ostensibly deal with impacts but incapable of doing the job.

The Australian Government is committed to delivering a one-stop shop for environmental approvals. This will simplify the approvals process, ensuring that only one environmental approval that covers both Commonwealth and state requirements is needed for an action. Many actions previously required approval at both the Commonwealth and state or territory level. Memoranda of understanding have been signed with each state and territory, setting out Governments’ commitment to the process, timing for implementation of the policy and key principles.  


Approval of these processes known as ‘accredited processes’ are signed off by the Federal Environment Minister. No separate Australian Government referral, assessment or approval will be required for proposed actions that fall under an accredited process.

  • Are you aware of the Memorandum of Understanding which created the Common Assessment Method allowing only one national listing of a species?
  • Are you aware that only State Governments can make submissions under the Common Assessment Method to upgrade or downgrade species and that there are no provisions for transparency, legal challenges or the public interest?
  • Are you aware of the extraordinary length of time and complexities involved in any public submission to the Commonwealth Threatened Species Scientific Committee to list a species under the Environment Protection & Biodiversity Conservation Act?
  • Are you aware that any final decision to list species is entirely at the discretion of the Minister?
  • Are you aware there are no emergency powers to list species?
  • With regard to the Toondah Harbour proposed development by the Walker Corporation, which will impact on Ramsar wetlands if approved, do you support Australia’s ratification of international treaties such as Ramsar Convention, Biodiversity Convention and Convention on Migratory Species? If so, why does the Australian Government continue to flout its obligations?

Four Corners: What about the $200,000 that the Walker Corporation, who's proposing this development in Toondah Harbour, gave to the Liberal Party during its initial proposal phase? What do you think they wanted for that money?


Ley: I have no knowledge about that, I have no personal understanding or view about the corporation, the process, or any of those on-the-ground issues. What I can categorically say is that donations, any which way, to whomever, wherever, will have no impact whatsoever on the decisions that I make as Environment Minister. 

  • How do you think the public regards these kinds of donations from mega developers?
  • Do you or the Morrison Government intend to consider and legislate to protect listed species from the impacts of climate change?
  • What’s your primary focus?

Ley: Across rural Australia, there are too many introduced pests and animals attacking and changing our native animal habitat. That's the area that I want to focus on as a minister, because something can be done.

Sussan Ley’s background provides no credentials relevant to environmental experience, knowledge or issues.

According to Wikipedia:

She has been a waitress, cleaner and trained, but did not complete training, as an air traffic controller. But she was a commercial pilot and later a farmer and shearer's cook. She met John Ley while aerial stock-mustering in south-west Queensland. They married in 1987, settled on her husband's family farm in north-east Victoria and had three children before their 2004 divorce.Ley was Director of Technical Training at the Australian Taxation Office in Albury from 1995 to 2001 before entering politics.

However, there is one redeeming feature. She did introduce a member's bill to ban live export of sheep.

Many conservation organisations can think of some live human exports which would be useful.

You can follow Sue Arnold on Twitter @koalacrisis and Koala Crisis on Facebook here.

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