The government has admitted the recovery plans for nearly 200 threatened species in Australia are overdue as conservationists and politicians call for quick and decisive action to mitigate the threat of extinction.
The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment admitted 170 threatened species had outstanding recovery plans in an answered question on notice asked by Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young.
Of the nearly 2000 species appearing on the list, 171 were in need of recovery plans to recover vulnerable populations with the department admitting 170 were overdue.
Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, recovery plans can be put in place for threatened species to help bring them from the brink of extinction. It requires the government to act in accordance with that plan and can prevent further habitat destruction.
Basha Stasak, nature program manager at the Australian Conservation Foundation, said the problem had long existed but it was crucial to solve it urgently with so many now overdue.
"Australia's in an extinction crisis and recovery plans are, especially well-implemented [and] well-costed ones, the best instruments that we have to really help these threatened species recover," Ms Stasak said.
"It's a real big problem and it's been a problem for a really long time and it's something we really need to fix if we want to turn Australia's extinction crisis around."
The department said it had added a recovery plan for the southern bent-wing bat on the day of the question in October 2019 but Senator Hanson-Young said the rest of the overdue recovery plans were a reflection of the government's priorities.
"It's appalling that 170 recovery plans for threatened species remain outstanding. In reality this means, more animals dying and at [the] threat of extinction every, single day," Senator Hanson-Young said.
"The Environment Minister needs to put funding and resources towards these outstanding recovery plans urgently before time has run out for these species to recover."
A 2018 submission by the conversation foundation said a slash in budget funding and a nearly one-third drop in full-time staff dedicated to the act's assessments could be contributing to the delays.
But Ms Stasak said the recovery plans still hadn't been sufficient to address the problems and the legislation was due for a much-needed overhaul.
"One of the greatest gaps, and this came out and Senate estimates in 2019, is the government doesn't actually monitor the recovery plans," Ms Stasak said.
"[Australia has] the worst mammal extinction rate in the world and the national environment act is the instrument by which that should be turned around and it's clearly failing.
"It needs a holistic-major reform."
A review into the act's effectiveness, led by former ACCC chair Professor Graeme Samuel, commenced in late 2019 and is expected to deliver a report by the end of this year. Professor Samuel's interim report said the act was "ineffective" and suggested an independent regulator be established to ensure compliance, enforcement and assurance.
With the effects of climate change having an immediate and devastating impact on vulnerable species in recent years, Ms Stasak said it was not only about mitigating them but looking to limit the sources as well.
"It's still within our control to lessen the impacts [of climate change] - we need to do more to lower our emissions and make sure that the temperatures don't climb too high," Ms Stasak said.
"In terms of recovery of species, climate impacts is just something we have to start accounting for and the recovery planning process should be the instrument, in part, by which we do that."