Government appoints Australia’s first Threatened Species Commissioner

Press release from the Hon Greg Hunt MP, Minister for the Environment

The Government is fulfilling an important election commitment to appoint Australia’s first Threatened Species Commissioner to help address the growing number of native plants and animals facing the threat of extinction.

Every year millions of dollars are spent in an attempt to reverse the trend in decline of Australia’s threatened species. Despite significant investment across all levels of Government, the private sector and non-government organisations, there are a growing number of native animals and plants facing the threat of extinction.

Many of our animals and plants symbolise the uniqueness of Australia as a nation. We have a responsibility to maintain them as our natural assets.

But we cannot continue to do what we have always done. We need to rethink our approach to threatened species.

For this reason the Government has appointed Australia’s first Threatened Species Commissioner.

Mr Gregory Andrews takes up this position at a critical time in our efforts to halt a potential tide of extinctions.

In his role as Commissioner, Mr Andrews will bring a new national focus to the conservation efforts for Australia’s endangered native flora and fauna.

Mr Andrews will work closely with some of Australia’s most respected scientists in the national Threatened Species Scientific Committee to ensure that practical action is taken to safeguard our native threatened species.

As a public servant and former diplomat with experience inside and outside of government, Mr Andrews has a proven capacity to bring people together to design and successfully implement practical solutions to complicated problems.

I am also delighted to announce the first four members of the Ministerial Council on the Environment. All are highly regarded experts in threatened species and will provide advice as a group to the Commissioner. The first four members are:

  • Professor Helene Marsh – one of Australia’s leading experts on marine mammals and Chair of the Threatened Species Scientific Committee.
  • Atticus Fleming – who leads the Australian Wildlife Conservancy which is achieving tangible results turning around threatened species declines.
  • Rachel Lowry – Director of Wildlife Conservation and Science at Zoos Victoria and the head of conservation at Melbourne Zoo which is playing an integral role in saving iconic species such as the Eastern Barred Bandicoot, the Tasmanian Devil and the Orange-bellied Parrot.
  • Samantha Vine – Head of Conservation for BirdLife Australia, where she manages a diverse portfolio of conservation policies, threatened species projects and campaigns.

Saving our native threatened species from the threat of extinction is a tough challenge, but solutions do exist. The trend of extinction in Australia’s mammals is not inevitable.

The recently published ‘Action Plan for Australian Mammals’shows that targeted interventions to address predators such as feral cats can have very effective results.

As one of his first actions, the Commissioner will develop a plan of priority actions to prevent extinctions and halt the decline of Australia’s most threatened species.

As part of this plan, the Commissioner will champion the next stage of the development of a feral cat bait – called Curiosity – which is showing promise as an effective and humane approach to the problem.

The Curiosity bait for feral cats comprises a small meat-based sausage containing a small hard plastic pellet filled with toxin. Feral cats do not have molar teeth and do not chew their food so they will reliably swallow portions of the sausage including the pellet.

Most of our native animals nibble and chew their food so will reject the pellet. The pellet is designed to dissolve in the feral cat’s stomach and deliver a rapid dose of a humane toxin, which simply sends the biggest killer of our native wildlife to sleep.

The Curiosity bait for feral cats uses a new toxin called para-aminopropiophenone, or PAPP, which is considered best-practice world-wide and is analogous to putting the animal into a sleep from which they do not wake up. The RSPCA considers this to be humane.

We know feral cats kill millions of mammals every night. The Curiosity bait has the potential to make a real difference to the protection and recovery of our native species.

The application and use of the Curiosity bait will be a key consideration of the Commissioner.

The Threatened Species Commissioner will work with the community to increase awareness of threatened species and bring together the partners and resources necessary to implement priority practical actions needed to protect our species.

One of his roles as Threatened Species Commissioner will also be to contribute to the streamlining and reform of Australia’s statutory recovery processes.

As commissioner, Mr Andrews will ensure an appropriate focus in the National Landcare Programme and Green Army on habitat maintenance and redevelopment for threatened species.

Many of the Green Army’s cohort of 15,000 young Australians, for example, will be making efforts to recover vital habitats and develop important breeding grounds for our threatened plants and animals.

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