The Morrison government has been accused of sitting on a major report card on the state of Australia’s environment it received more than three months ago to avoid “more bad news”.
Labor, the Greens, the independent MP Zali Steggall, environment groups and scientists have called on the government to release the Australia State of the Environment report, which is produced by scientists and compiled every five years.
The latest report, the first since 2016, was handed to the environment minister, Sussan Ley, in December.
The minister is required to table the report in parliament within 15 sitting days of receiving it. With an election expected to be called within days and parliament having sat only briefly this year, the government is not legally required to release it until the next parliament forms.
In an estimates hearing last week, Labor and Greens senators pushed the government to set a date for tabling the report but were told only that the minister would comply with her statutory obligations.
Labor’s environment spokesperson, Terri Butler, called on the government to release the report before Australians cast their votes in May.
“It is a disgrace that the Morrison-Joyce government are sitting on this important five-yearly report,” she said. “What are they hiding?
“Australians deserve to know how the environment has fared under the Morrison-Joyce government so they can decide whether they want a second decade of the same mismanagement.”
The Greens environment spokesperson, Sarah Hanson-Young, questioned why Ley had not released the report when she had received the finished document months ago.
“The government must release it before the election is called,” she said.
“Voters deserve to know the official state of the environment under this government and what they are voting on.”
The independent MP Zali Steggall, said the 2016 report painted a dire picture for nature, with the authors writing Australia’s environment was under increasing pressure from land-clearing, population growth, climate change, urban and industrial development and pests.
She accused the government of sitting on the report because it would deliver “more bad news” and “would drive home the environmental negligence of this Coalition government”.
The State of the Environment report follows a series of official reviews that have assessed the performance of Australian governments in protecting the environment.
The 2020 review of Australia’s national environmental laws, chaired by the former competition watchdog head Graeme Samuel, found successive governments had failed to stem the decline of Australia’s wildlife and called for an overhaul of environmental protections.
Last month, a review by the auditor general found the federal government could not demonstrate it was protecting Australia’s endangered wildlife because it was not monitoring most species, habitats or threats and there was limited evidence conservation plans were implemented.
Euan Ritchie, a professor of ecology and conservation at Deakin University, said reports such as the State of the Environment were important because they showed what needed to change to address Australia’s dire conservation record.
Jess Abrahams, the Australian Conservation Foundation’s nature campaigner, said Australians had a right to know the scale of the nature crisis ahead of the election.
He pointed to the recent endangered listings of both the koala and the gang-gang cockatoo and the crash in bogong moth populations as high profile examples of how Australia’s environment was faring.
“This decline isn’t some sort of accident – it’s happening on the federal government’s watch and is a result of federal government decisions,” he said.
Suzanne Milthorpe, the national environment laws campaign manager at the Wilderness Society, said release of the report was vital at a time when the impacts of climate change were being felt in floods and fire across the country.
“Regardless of who wins the upcoming election, the next parliament will have to take urgent action to fix Australia’s environment laws to safeguard nature and communities,” she said.
A spokesperson for Ley said “the report will be released within the statutory time frame set out under the act”.