GOVERNMENTS are too often hampering landholders and volunteers who hold the key to controlling invasive species across Australia.
That's the message from Professor Paul Martin, director of the Australian Centre for Agriculture and Law at UNE, as he wraps up a four-year study of how citizens can play in combating the compounding cost of introduced plants and animals.
To address the persistent institutional barriers, Professor Martin and colleagues from the former Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre have proposed a National Invasive Species Initiative akin to the National Water Initiative.
Their research provides strong evidence of the urgent need for institutional reform, including more reliable funding to enable landscape-wide action.
"Australia’s federal and state government policies rely heavily on good people doing good work at the local level to detect and manage invasive species, and these good people have to overcome major funding and institutional challenges," Prof Martin said.
"The impact of invasive species on our natural, agricultural and human systems is increasing, and the resources for effective control are chronically inadequate.
“The Australian State of the Environment reporting indicates that we are going backwards in terms of invasive species control.
“Australia is not getting within a bull's roar of meeting its international obligations to protect biodiversity. This is a matter of national importance."
The economic, environmental and social costs of invasive animals to our country are estimated to be more than $1 billion each year.
The cost of rabbits is in the realm of $206 million, wild dogs $48.5m, foxes $21.2m and feral pigs $100m annually.
Invasive weeds cost our grains industries, alone, more than $3b a year. Invasive species also pose most of the identified major threats to our biosecurity, and significant threats to human health and welfare.
After consulting extensively with landholders and other stakeholders involved in managing invasive species across Australia, Prof Martin and his team report that national efforts are not sufficiently funded nor coordinated (laws are complex, overlapping and sometimes ineffective) and these things impede willing rural landholders.
This is particularly a problem when farmers are responsible for vast tracts of land, yet are typically older and less affluent than the average citizen.
To find new ways to support invasive species control, the UNE team is working with environmental and farming bodies to explore innovative uses of private (philanthropic, crowdfunding), market (bio-banking, carbon market credits or biodiversity offsets) and tax (rate relief and incentives) instruments.
"Current financial incentives are weak, private citizens who are trying to do the right thing have limited legal power to require their neighbours to cooperate, they sometimes face political opposition and can have too much paperwork to deal with," Prof Martin said.
"Yet landholders are on the frontline: their local knowledge and neighbourly relationships are critical to effective control. We need new kinds of partnerships and thinking, with an emphasis on citizens as partners or even customers of government. The economic viability of our rural sector and our unique biodiversity depends on us meeting this challenge."