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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1996 Week 9 Hansard (27 August) . . Page.. 2618 ..

Nature Conservation - Vulnerable or Endangered Species

MS HORODNY: My question is directed to the Minister for the Environment, Land and Planning, who has not had a question so far today, and relates to the provisions of the Nature Conservation Act. Under that Act a species or ecological community can be declared vulnerable or endangered. Once this declaration is made, the conservator is required under the Act to prepare an action plan to identify and protect the species or community and to minimise the impact of any threatening processes. You will recall, Mr Humphries, that you made a declaration in March this year of a number of vulnerable and endangered species and of an endangered community, being natural temperate grasslands. Given the immediate threats to the small remnant areas of native grasslands in the ACT, particularly in the developing areas of Dunlop and Symonston, can you advise when these action plans will be released and how they will be incorporated into Government decision-making over development proposals in these areas?

MR HUMPHRIES: I thank the co-leader of the ACT Greens for her question. I am not sure what to call her, but that will do. Ms Horodny is quite right to raise the issue of protection of endangered species and habitats. She also recalls correctly the decision which I announced earlier this year to establish the first of those endangered species and one endangered habitat and to proceed with the process through the Conservator of Flora and Fauna protecting the environment in which those species and that habitat exist.

Mr Speaker, to make it clear to Ms Horodny, having declared a particular species, for example, to be endangered or threatened does not then entail an automatic decision that every place in the Territory where that species might be found is somehow a de facto reserve which is free of any activity on it to prevent any threat to that particular species, whether it is endangered or threatened. The Government is committed to the goal of protecting the biodiversity of the ACT and to ensure that, in general, the conservation of animals and plants that are considered threatened with extinction is a priority which comes before other considerations.

The fact, however, is that with all decisions of this kind a balance needs to be struck between the needs of the environment and those particular species or habitat and other considerations. Ms Horodny, for example, has made reference to the West Belconnen problem, with the discovery of an area of wet themeda which, potentially, is the host to a number of, if not endangered or threatened, at least unusual or rare species of plant. Mr Speaker, my response to that problem has been to isolate, as much as possible, that area from further development, until we have further information about what the impact on the environment may be of a decision to proceed with a development in that part of West Belconnen.

I have taken that decision in consultation with my colleague the Deputy Chief Minister. It is a decision which will be, I am sure, one that we will have to balance, over a period of time, with the other considerations. Considering the value of that site to the environment versus the value of that site to the construction industry in the Territory - and I say that both of those things are important; I do not put one higher or lower than the other - there will need to be a consideration of those issues. I see Ms Horodny is upset with that fact.

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