An official plan to protect the nation's animals and plants has been denounced by critics as a "global embarrassment" as a federal government adviser warns that future generations of Australians may never know a world rich in nature.
It comes amid figures showing 134 species have been classed as threatened in the seven years since Australia's last plan to protect biodiversity was released, including the Cape York rock wallaby, the Australian fairy tern and the blue star sun orchid.
The ever-growing list points to a disastrous failure by successive state and federal governments to reverse the crisis in species loss.
Australia has one of the world's worst extinction records and a national State of the Environment report last year declared biodiversity - which includes plant and animal species, habitats and ecological communities - was worsening.
To address the problem, the federal Department of the Environment and Energy quietly released a draft plan in the week before Christmas. Titled Australia's Strategy for Nature 2018-2030, the 17-page document aims to "care for nature in all our many environments" against threats such as climate change, feral pests, pollution and urban development.
It is a revision of Australia's previous 100-page biodiversity strategy, released in 2010. That plan contained 10 national targets - just nine of which were met, according to an analysis by Human Society International.
The new draft plan has dispensed with specific targets, and instead contains sweeping objectives such as "encourage Australians to get out into nature" and "enrich cities and towns with nature".
An alliance of Australia's biggest environment groups including the Australian Conservation Foundation, The Wilderness Society and WWF described the document as "deeply inadequate" and "a global embarrassment" which shirked Australia's international obligations to arrest a steep biodiversity decline.
The alliance, known as The Places You Love, decried the absence of measurable targets, and said the strategy contained no new funding or laws, or any other "concrete commitments to save Australia's precious natural world".
Humane Society International Australia head of programs Evan Quartermain said rather than addressing the failure to meet previous targets, the Turnbull government "has served up simplistic and unmeasurable dot points that ... fall far short of the international commitments to conserve biodiversity we have made at the United Nations".
Australian Conservation Foundation policy analyst James Trezise described it as a "wafer-thin plan ... which reads like a Year 10 school assignment".
Senior research scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Mark Stafford Smith, advised the department on the 2016 review of its previous strategy. He welcomed the direction of the draft plan, and its attempt to "articulate the importance of biodiversity to people's day to day lives".
But he said it could contain "more concrete actions and commitments that might move towards achieving the objectives in a more defined way".
This should include "utilising the partnership between the Commonwealth and the states, and other players like the private sector and community groups, to really define what could be ... committed to".
Dr Stafford Smith described Australia's biodiversity conservation task as "incredibly challenging".
"Future generations will probably have an adjusted expectation of what's acceptable. I think there will be future generations who have just never known that you could actually have that rich a level [of biodiversity] and won't have a reference point," he said.
"It's the reality we've seen over the centuries in places like Europe, that people today see a very manicured, farmed landscape and see it as natural, whereas it's actually not."
Dr Stafford Smith said the accelerating rates of climate change, land clearing, pollution and other environmental problems threatened to outstrip biodiversity gains.
In a statement, the department said the draft strategy was devised by federal, state and local officials and was not yet endorsed by governments.
"The strategy has been revised to improve its ability to drive change in biodiversity management priorities, and its alignment with Australia's international biodiversity commitments," the statement said.
It said an "action inventory" in the strategy would "demonstrate the actions of governments to achieve biodiversity conservation goals and measure progress".
The strategy is open for public consultation until March 16, and a report on this feedback will be presented to Australian, state and territory environment ministers.
The strategy's final version requires endorsement from environment ministers and the Australian Local Government Association, the department said.
The story 'Global embarrassment': Critics deride plan to stop plant and animal extinctions first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.