Buried audit shows WA species plunging into extinction

Five endangered West Australian species have become extinct in the wild, three threatened ecological communities have been destroyed and the fate of at least 41 other species is unknown after no monitoring was done for more than a decade, shows a costly state government audit that was promptly buried without any trends being made public.

WA relies on its biodiversity as a major tourism drawcard.

WA relies on its biodiversity as a major tourism drawcard.

The audit into the state’s threatened species lists indicated much of WA’s biodiversity was “rapidly heading towards extinction in the next 10 years” and management was having limited impact, a biodiversity expert and former senior public servant with extensive inside knowledge told WAtoday. 

It is unknown whether the audit’s results were buried without any final reports being written or made public as intended, but one explanation is that the trends, if viewed overall, were simply too alarming.

Another is that severe public service cuts prevented the finalisation of the report, with WAtoday being told the audit team was dissolved straight after the information gathering was complete and several members were made redundant.

Read more at WAtoday.

How Tim Winton got my mojo back, and other stories.

They all hurled sticks for galumphine mutts, their sun-fucked faces shining with adoration.

Tim Winton, Eyrie

The 2017 state election campaign was one of the most gruelling periods of my working life.

It wasn’t all because of the self-imposed workload; equally to blame was the nature of the work.

Without really intending to, I had become what felt like the sole statewide reporter questioning the Roe 8 project, simply because for every story I wrote, more swarmed from the woodwork with questions demanding answers. The more I looked in vain for those answers, the dodgier the whole project looked.

I wrote countless reports on the protests, the machine lock-ons, the clashes with police. I wrote The Idiot’s Guide to Roe 8, and covered the Senate inquiry into the unnecessary slaughter of animals caused by the haste with which the works were being rushed through pre-election. After the release of more than 350 pages of documents when Alannah MacTiernan’s Freedom of Information application was finally approved after the government spent years fighting it, I hunkered down with the documents and finally produced one of the most demanding stories of my working life, Figures fudged in Roe 8 rush job.

Roe 8 was by no means the only environmental issue I covered in the months preceding the election. I covered the Beach not Bitumen campaign against the Esplanade extension through Bush Forever land in Scarborough and Trigg and the No Houses in Wetlands campaign against the bulldozing of Carter’s Lot in Bayswater – including another trawl through Freedom of Information documents showing the approvals for the development had been based on incomplete paperwork.

I covered the establishment of marine parks scientists were calling “paper parks” because of the lack of inclusion of any sanctuary zones for marine life. I covered the race to the bottom that was the evolution of WA’s hunt-to-kill ‘serious threat’ shark policy. I covered the new Biodiversity ‘Conservation’ Act passing into law, complete with a clause allowing an environment minister to approve the extinction of any species should ‘progress’ require it.

Hot on the heels of this charming piece of legislation came the approval of the Yeelirrie uranium mine, ignoring the Environmental Protection Authority’s knockback on grounds the mine would cause the extinction of subterranean fauna species. Things that look like prawns, and aren’t cute, but whose role in purifying our underground aquifers could be significant – things that should be studied further, not destroyed by humans drunk on their own power.

As the election drew near I was going to write an opinion piece drawing all this together, but by then I was just too damn exhausted. (Note, it’s now May that I’m writing this). The only thing that kept me going was the emails that poured in from readers after every story, saying thank you, and pointing me to the next. Still, it was disheartening. I was starting to think it was just too hard to keep caring. Those emails from LinkedIn offering cushy jobs in PR, toeing the company line, were starting to look very attractive.

Especially since more emails were coming in from people asking me to investigate more stories, more stories I would never, even if there were twelve of me, have enough time to get to.

In fact, I just looked at my Evernote and found this. A blurt, jotted then forgotten on February 21.

I am utterly competent, hard, brisk but compassionate and capable. 
I am petrified 
The emails keep coming. 
Fifty-plus a day. 
I worry when i am there, 
more when i am not  
The people continue to reply
I try to leap out of the loop
But i cant stop checking
Clicking
Pecking
At these emails that just keep coming. 

Enter Tim Winton

It was in this frame of mind I picked up Eyrie. I was innocent of its subject matter, having seen it in a bookshop and remembered that I had been planning to read it since its 2014 release. I thought, now is the moment – I was headed to Rotto for the weekend for a wedding and planned serious down time.

Eyrie starts with a jangling hangover and a weird wet patch on the carpet for Tom Keely, divorced by his wife and disgraced in the public eye after an event in his previous professional life as an environmental campaign spokesman left him unemployed. The mining companies would love to have him come to the dark side in their PR departments, but he’s not yet having a bar of it.

Instead, he staggers from blind drunk to blinding daylight, trying to work out how to pay the bills now his old career has locked him out for good. He is “doubly bound, trapped like a bug in a jar – addled, livid, dizzy, butting his head and turning circles”, high up in his ‘eyrie’ – atop a bleak block of flats in Fremantle inhabited by people down on their luck.

The block, in real life, is one nicknamed the ‘suicide flats’, generally regarded as a colossal town planning mistake in Freo.

Into this block of flats, and the mess that is Keely’s life, returns a distant childhood friend, bringing a hefty set of her own problems and a vague but highly uncomfortable sense of responsibility for Keely.

Whenever I mention Tim Winton, one of my most beloved authors, inevitably someone tells me they still have a Cloudstreet hangover after being made to study it in school. I never understood this, but I never had to read it for school. I just read it because that’s the kind of nerd kid I was.

Whether or not they have a point, I say to them – get over it! You are missing out. This book is raw, angry and humbling in its brilliance.

It casts a merciless glare on to the murky underbelly of environmental politics and activism in WA, and their uneasy coexistence with the all-powerful mining industry.

It brings Fremantle and Perth into sharp relief, cities painfully under-represented in our national literature. Ours is a culture dangerously lacking in self-reflection and as Winton shines his pitiless light on Keely, he shines it on us all.

Here’s a glimpse of Freo’s cappuccino strip through the eyes of Keely:

It’s hard to look at but harder to look away, like squeezing a zit under a fluorescent bulb.

The writing makes you realise how long Winton has been honing his craft. It’s as though every year and every book that has passed has made him more devastatingly effective

He doesn’t have to be pretty. It’s stripped down to diamond hardness.

Back to work

The emails have piled up over my long weekend. But this time, a different email lies buried among them.

Would I like to interview Tim Winton pre-election on gas fracking?

You’ve got to be kidding me. I am spent. There is a week to go until I can drop this gargantuan election effort. I am behind. I still have more stories to write than I can poke a stick at. I have researched every bloody environmental issue under the sun in the lead up to this election. Except bloody gas fracking. I have only the vaguest idea of what it even is. I thought, bless me, there was one thing I was going to let slide.

Of course, I make time. I do some hasty cramming. He’s my hero.

People say you shouldn’t meet your heroes, because they will disappoint you. But this is not always true. Winton talks like he writes. He is funny and self-deprecating and wise and full of memorable idioms. He tells me it’s normal to get discouraged when you campaign on environmental issues. He riffs on power and politics and defeat in WA with the authority of someone who knows all the dirtiest secrets. I’m entranced.

He talks for 40 minutes. I try not to interrupt in case he remembers his time is valuable.

I summon energy, pull together research and write another pre-election environmental story. The result got more than 10,000 readers – testament to Winton’s star power.

There has now been a change in government. Polling said Roe 8 was a factor in the decisions of about 20 per cent of voters – a significant influencer.

The new government has helped buy back Carter’s Wetland, stopped the Esplanade extension through the dunes, and has said that while the Yeelirrie mine approval still stands, it will not approve further uranium mines. Its true stance on gas fracking remains to be seen.

My trust in governments, like everyone else’s, runs sadly low. But the election coverage was, nonetheless, worth the effort.

Eyrie? Even more so.

 

Perth rivers in ‘palliative care’ after decades of mismanagement

The Swan and Canning rivers are on life support after a decade of being treated as a “political football”, a provocative new report by a collective of WA policy and environmental experts says.

My Clean River, a new group of chemical industry and urban planning experts, and current and former public servants, have published a confronting description of five concrete and steel oxygen injectors operating in the rivers as “palliative care systems”.

The report – Swan Resource 2017 – says the government has been for some years treating the river’s “symptoms”, but not its disease, avoiding direct action on polluters for fear of backlash from the agricultural sector.

The news follows the Department of Parks and Wildlife’s April 21 and April 28 warnings to the public not to eat shellfish from Melville and Perth as algal blooms impacted the river.

Read more at WAtoday

$3 million saves one Perth wetland – but what about the rest?

The state forking out $1.5 million will help Bayswater council double its money and save ‘Carter’s Lot’, but activists say many other vital urban wetlands are exposed to developers because of an archaic classification system.

Despite vocal disagreement from some of Perth’s most prominent scientists who rated its ecological significance highly, ‘Carter’s’ wetland management category was as low as they go.

Environmental organisations, local MP Lisa Baker and Bayswater councillors joined the community in a nine-month campaign against a large housing subdivision planned for the site.

They carried out protests outside Parliament and Ministerial offices, fundraisers, petitions and letter-writing drives, convinced development would not only devastate Carter’s but also lay waste to the millions in state and local government funds spent on restoring the adjacent Eric Singleton Bird Sanctuary.

During the campaign, documents released under Freedom of Information showed planning approvals were issued and clearing began based on half-complete environmental reports.

Planning Minister Rita Saffioti announced this week funding to honour her election commitment, to match Bayswater’s bid to buy back the land from private ownership.

Read more at WAtoday

This article is the fourth in a series:

  1. ‘Damaging’ development approved on doorstep of $3 million wetland
  2. Minister halts bulldozers on doorstep of $3 million wetland
  3. Government approves wetland bulldozing based on environmental study of wrong lot

High Hazard

WA’s shark mitigation strategy is based on sophisticated science – so its hunt-to-kill policy for sharks that are “a serious threat” remains controversial.

Aftermath of a shark bite at Mandurah, WA.

Late in the spring of 2000, businessman and father Ken Crew had his leg torn off by a great white shark in shallow water metres off Perth’s Cottesloe Beach.

Another swimmer dragged Crew from the water, in full view of bystanders and Crew’s wife, but he bled to death on the sand.

“Making matters even worse was the water was full of blood and the shark, for whatever reason, stays there and circles,” says researcher Christopher Neff. “It’s breaking news in every home; everyone is screaming, ‘Kill the shark!’

“The government, after a long and unfortunate delay trying to contact the minister for permission, while the public is freaking out, then fishes – without success – for the shark, which is long gone.”

There have been 55 incidents of unprovoked shark bites in WA since the start of 2000, according to the Global Shark Attack File – 14 of them fatal. But Crew’s death, forming a cluster with the deaths of surfers Cameron Bayes and Jevan Wright off South Australia in the same year, was a tipping point for Western Australia, says Dr Neff, a public policy researcher at the University of Sydney whose professional life has revolved around examining people’s – and governments’ – responses to shark bites.

Read more in an interactive feature at WAtoday

‘Disastrous’ planning approval to wipe out meat-eating rainbow plant: scientists

Byblis gigantea, the rainbow plant, at Alison Baird Reserve. Photo: Hans Lambers.

Byblis gigantea, the rainbow plant, at Alison Baird Reserve. Photo: Hans Lambers.

One of four remaining populations of the carnivorous “rainbow plant”, unique to Perth, could be wiped out after a planning approvals process WA’s most prominent scientists have called “disastrous” and “seriously flawed”.

Read more at WAtoday.

WA creates first oceanic marine park without a sanctuary zone

A snubfin snapped by Dr Deb Thiele, one of the scientists who has campaigned for a sanctuary zone in the marine park.  Photo: Dr Deb Thiele

A snubfin snapped by Dr Deb Thiele, one of the scientists who has campaigned for a sanctuary zone in the marine park. Photo: Dr Deb Thiele

WA has just had its newest marine park created – but also the first oceanic marine park not to contain a sanctuary zone, despite the pleas of experts to include one.

Read more at WAtoday.