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Tom Arup The Age, August 18, 2009

ENVIRONMENT Minister Peter Garrett has warned that money to save endangered species is limited and he will have to make hard decisions on the fate of some species in the future.

Mr Garrett told the International Congress of Ecology in Brisbane yesterday that the Government would shift its focus to protecting ecosystems rather than individual species.

His speech follows a report by the Department of Climate Change that finds global warming will severely threaten a high proportion of Australia’s native animal and plant species.

Mr Garrett said funding on an animal by animal basis was the equivalent of paramedics waiting at the bottom of a dangerous hill performing triage on those who fall down.

”Australia has 1750 species now on the threatened list,” he said. ”While … we will have to act in an urgent way from time to time to prevent their extinction, it won’t always be effective to keep tackling them one by one. We will need to take a more holistic and strategic approach, building the fence at the top of the hill rather than staffing the ambulance at the bottom.”

Australia registers species on the endangered list based on the advice of the Threatened Species Scientific Committee. The minister then decides whether he will fund a recovery program for that species based on its chance of success.
Mr Garrett asked the scientists at the conference to help policymakers and the community ”understand what is required in terms of public policy, resources and priorities” to save Australia’s environment.

WWF policy director Averil Bones said Mr Garrett’s broad protection program would require a large injection of money in next year’s budget.

Phil Gibbons, of the ANU’s Fenner School of Environment and Society, said focusing on ecosystems was the most cost-effective approach but Mr Garrett had recently spent a lot of money on politically popular animals, such as $10 million on a program for Tasmanian devils.

Mr Gibbons said Mr Garrett and the Rudd Government were not prepared to have a debate about ”the links between economic growth and the damage we are doing to our natural ecosystems”.