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A rabbit-proof fence enforces a barrier to protect agriculture areas in Western Australia. Rabbits are an invasive species in Australia.

Environmental issues in Australia describes a number of environmental issues which affect the environment of Australia. There are a range of such issues, some of them relating to conservation in Australia while others, for example the deteriorating state of Murray-Darling Basin, have a direct and serious effect on human land use and the economy.

Many human activities including the use of natural resources have a direct impact on the Australian environment.

These issues are the primary concern of the environmental movement in Australia.


Climate change

Climate change has become a major issue in Australia in recent years. Much of the country's population appears to be losing its traditional water sources due to persistent drought even as most of the outback receives large increases in rainfall. At the same time, Australia continues to have the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions and academic studies have clearly shown the influence of fossil fuel and light metal (aluminum and titanium) industry lobby groups on the country's political system to be both strongly established and highly extensive.

All federal and state governments have explicitly recognised that climate change is being caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Sectors of the population are actively campaigning against new coal mines and coal fired power stations because of their concern about the effects of global warming on Australia. Other sectors of the population, however, believe it is still too early to tell whether or not there has actually been human induced climate change and believe the natural variability of Australia's climate too high for panic. After publication of the [Garnaut Climate Change Review|Garnaut] draft report and the Green Paper on the proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme members of this group are increasingly viewed as "climate sceptics".

There is expected to be a net benefit to Australia of stabilising greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at 450ppm CO2 eq[1] although vested interests such as the coal industry argue this proposition.


Energy use

Australia is a major exporter and user of coal, the burning of which creates CO2. Consequently, in 2000 Australia was the highest emitter of CO2 gasses per capita in the developed world irrespective of whether or not emissions from land clearing were included.[2] It is also one of the countries most at risk from climate change according to the Stern report.

Many of Australia's power stations are coal fired.


Conservation in Australia is an issue of state and federal policy. Australia is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world, with a large portion of species endemic to Australia. Preserving this wealth of biodiversity is important for future generations.

A key conservation issue is the preservation of biodiversity, especially by protecting the remaining rainforests. The destruction of habitat by human activities, including land clearing, remains the major cause of biodiversity loss in Australia. The importance of the Australian rainforests to the conservation movement is very high. Australia is the only western country to have large areas of rainforest intact. Forests provide timber, drugs, and food and should be managed to maximize the possible uses. Currently, there are a number of environmental movements and campaigners advocating for action on saving the environment, one such campaign is the Big Switch and I Love Earth.

Land management issues including clearance of native vegetation, reafforestation of once-cleared areas, control of exotic weeds and pests, expansion of dryland salinity, and changed fire regimes. Intensification of resource use in sectors such as forestry, fisheries, and agriculture are widely reported to contribute to biodiversity loss in Australia. Coastal and marine environments also have reduced biodiversity from reduced water quality caused by pollution and sediments arising from human settlements and agriculture. In central New South Wales where there are large plains of grassland, problems have risen from—unusual to say—lack of land clearing.

The Daintree Rainforest, a tropical rainforest near Daintree, Queensland covering around 1200 square kilometres, is threatened by logging, development, mining and the effects of the high tourist numbers.

Native fauna

The Tasmanian Devil, officially listed as an endangered species in 2008.

Over a hundred species of fauna are currently under serious threat of extinction. The plight of some of these species receives more attention than others and recently the focus of many conservation organisations has been the critically endangered Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat, the endangered Tasmanian Devil,[3] Northern Tiger Quoll, South Eastern Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, Southern Cassowary, Tasmanian Wedge-tailed Eagle, Leadbeater's Possum and Southern Corroboree frog.

Australia has a poor record of conservation of native fauna. The arrival of humans is attributed to the extinction of Australian megafauna and since European settlement, 23 birds, 4 frogs, and 27 mammal species are also known to have become extinct.

Marine conservation

Recent climate change reports have highlighted the threat of higher water temperatures to the Great Barrier Reef

One of the notable issues with marine conservation in Australia is the protection of the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef's environmental pressures include water quality from runoff, climate change and mass coral bleaching, cyclic outbreaks of the crown-of-thorns starfish, overfishing, and shipping accidents.


Whaling in Australia took place from colonisation in 1788. In 1979 Australia terminated whaling and committed to whale protection. The main varieties hunted were Humpback, Blue, Right and Sperm Whales.[4]

Oil spills

While there have been no oil spill environmental disasters of the scale of the Exxon Valdez in the country, Australia has a large oil industry and there have been several large oil spills [1]. Spills remain a serious threat to the marine environment and Australian coastline. The largest spill to date was the Kirki tanker in 1991 which dropped 17,280 tonnes of oil off the coast of Western Australia.

In March 2009, the 2009 southeast Queensland oil spill occurred, where 200,000 litres were spilled from the MV Pacific Adventurer spilling more than 250 tonnes of oil, 30 tonnes of fuel and other toxic chemicals on Brisbane's suburban beaches. Premier Anna Bligh described the spill as "worst environmental disaster Queensland has ever seen".[5]

Ocean dumping

A serious issue to the Australian marine environment is the dumping of rubbish from ships. There have been a number of cases[6], particularly involving the navy of Australian and other countries polluting Australian waters including the dumping of chemical warfare agents. Recently documented cases include the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in 2006 which was found to be dumping rubbish off the shores of Moreton Island.[7] In Victoria, a large number of toxic drums containing 1,2-Dichlorobenzene xylenol, a substance very toxic to aquatic creatures washed up on beaches during May, 2009 presumably fallen off a passing container ship.[8]

Invasive species

Introduced cane toads threaten native species

Australia's geographical isolation has resulted in the evolution of many delicate ecological relationships that are sensitive to foreign invaders and in many instances provided no natural predators for many of the species subsequently introduced. Introduced plants that have caused widespread problems are lantana and the prickly pear bush. The introduction and spread of animals such as the cane toad or rabbit can disrupt the existing balances between populations and develop into environmental problems. The introduction of cattle into Australia and to a lesser extent the dingo, are other examples of species that have changed the landscape. In some cases the introduction of new species can lead to plagues and the extinction of endemic species.

The introduced species red fox has single-handedly caused the extinction of several species. Tasmania takes the threat of red fox introduction so seriously that it has a government sponsored taskforce to prevent fox populations from taking hold on the island.

Land clearing

In the prehistory of Australia the indigenous Australians used fire-stick farming which was an early form of land clearing which caused long term changes to the ecology. With European colonisation land clearing continued on a larger scale for agriculture - particularly for cattle, cotton and wheat production. Since European settlement a total of 13% of native vegetation cover has been lost. The extinction of 20 different mammal, 9 bird and 97 plant species have been partially attributed to land clearing. Land clearing is a major source of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, and contributed to approximately 12 percent of Australia’s total emissions in 1998.

The consequences of land clearing is dryland salinity and soil erosion are a major concern to the landcare movement in Australia.


The urban sprawl of Melbourne.

Australia is one of the most urbanized countries in the world. Many Australian cities have large urban footprints and are characterised by an unsustainable low density urban sprawl. This places demand on infrastructure and services which contributes to the problems of land clearing, pollution, transport related emissions, energy consumption, invasive species, automobile dependency and urban heat islands.

The urban sprawl continues to increase at a rapid rate in most Australian cities, particularly the state capital cities, all of which (with the exception of Hobart) are metropoleis. In some centres, such as Sydney and Greater Western Sydney[9], Greater Melbourne[10] and South East Queensland[11] large metropolitan conurbations threaten to extend for hundreds of kilometres and based on current population growth rates are expected to become megacities in the 21st century. Most Australian cities population growth is a result of migration in contrast to the Birth rate and fertility rate in Australia, which is contributing to the ongoing trend of urbanisation.

In recent years, some cities have implemented transit-oriented development strategies to curb the urban sprawl. Notable examples include Melbourne 2030[12], South East Queensland Regional Plan and the Sydney Metropolitan Strategy.

There are also population decentralisation programs at state and federal levels aimed at shifting populations out of the major centres and stemming the drivers to rapid urbanisation. Albury-Wodonga was part of the federal government's program of decentralisation begun in the 1970s, which has at times had relocation policies for immigration. The Victorian government has run a decentralisation program since the 1960s, having had a ministerial position appointed and ongoing promotional and investment programs for stimulating growth in Regional Victoria. However policy has swung over the decades, primarily due to local development priorities and agendas and a lack of federal co-ordination to the problem.

Waterway health

A Parks Victoria litter trap on the river catches floating rubbish on the Yarra at Birrarung Marr

The protection of waterways in Australia is a major concern for various reasons including habitat and biodiversity, but also due to use of the waterways by humans.

The Murray-Darling Basin is under threat due to irrigation in Australia, causing high levels of salinity which effect agriculture and biodiversity in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. These rivers are also affected by pesticide run-off and drought.

Australian waterways affected by environmental pollution

Rivers and creeks in urban areas also face environmental issues, particularly pollution.


New South Wales

Remediation of soil and sediment from Homebush Bay by desorbtion and incineration
  1. dioxins from the operations of Union Carbide in Homebush Bay which required health based fishing bans in much of Sydney Harbour and health advisories. They are under partial remediation (2009)
  2. diffuse source pollution in the heads of bays, particularly the southern central embayments, according to Gavin Birch of Sydney University [16] [17]
  3. arsenic and coal tars near the former Australian Gas Light co site at Mortlake/Breakfast Point
  4. chromium seeping from a contaminated site at Camellia, New South Wales
  5. lead in Homebush Bay from the operations of the former Berger Paints (largely remediated circa 2002)
  6. phthalates in Homebush Bay from the operations of the former CSR/Orica chemicals


South Australia

Water use

Water use is a major sustainability issue in Australia. During times of drought Water restrictions in Australia apply to conserve water. Climate change may intensify drought in Australia putting pressure on water resources and leading to alternative water sources including construction of Water tanks, dams, Water transportation and desalination plants many of which affect water catchments and put increasing pressure on the environment.

Logging and woodchipping

Clearcutting of old growth forests is continuing in parts of Australia. This often involves the destruction of natural ecosystems and the replacement with monoculture plantations.

Soil salinity

Soil salinity affects 50,000 km² of Australia and is predominantly due to land clearance.

Waste management

Sustainable waste management is significant problem in Australia, and serious issues include large quantities of e-waste and toxic waste going into landfill. Australia does not have restrictions on the dumping of toxic materials that are common in other countries, such as dumping Cathode Ray Tubes which leech heavy metals into water catchments. Due to the lack of sufficient sites for toxic waste disposal large quantities of toxic waste are trucked between states to remote dumping grounds or exported overseas in ships.[18]


Litter in Australia is prevalent in many areas and a significant environmental problem, particularly in the big cities of Sydney and Melbourne.

Mining issues

Australia has the largest reserves of uranium in the world and there has been a number of enquiries on uranium mining. The anti-nuclear movement in Australia is actively opposing mining as well as preventing the construction of nuclear power plants.

At least 150 leaks, spills and licence breaches at the Ranger uranium mine between 1981 and 2009.[19]

Controversial land use projects

The following is a list of controversial development projects due to concerns of environmental effects. This list includes projects required to submit an Environmental Effects Statement.

Project/Area affected Activity State Began Notes
British nuclear tests at Maralinga Nuclear testing South Australia 1955-1963 Massive radioactive contamination. Continual cleanup operations. Long-term health effects on the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land and former personnel.
Uranium mining in Australia Uranium mining 1980- Possible contamination of land with radioactive mine tailings. Ranger mine contained within Kakadu National Park.
Franklin Dam Damming Tasmania 1983 Damming of forested area, watercourse damage, reduced water flow. Catalyst for the foundation of the Australian Greens.
Yarra Valley Logging Victoria 1993- Deforestation. Threatening of a major water catchment. Threatening the endangered Leadbeater's Possum.
Tiwi Islands Deforestation and woodchipping Northern Territory 2001 Deforestation approved by the Howard government. Operators significantly breached environmental laws resulting in excessive irreparable land clearing.[20]
Nowingi toxic waste proposal Toxic waste Victoria 2004 Toxic waste disposal plant. Threat to surrounding settlements, Murray River and environment for hundreds of thousands of years.[21]
Bell Bay Pulp Mill Logging Tasmania (proposed) 2006 Deforestation. Threatening of old growth forests in the Tamar Valley. Claims effluent could harm of Bass Strait marine life.
Styx Valley Logging and woodchipping Tasmania 2006 Deforestation. Destruction of old growth forests.
Wonthaggi desalination plant Desalination Victoria 2007 (under construction) Uneconomic. Pollution of the Bass Coast. Accusations of government/private entity corruption. Lack of consultation with community. No justification for perceived requirement. Insufficient initial assessment. Insufficient EES.
Port Phillip Channel Deepening Project Dredging Victoria 2008- Dredging in heavy metal-laiden shipping ports posed contamination concerns. Destruction of marine environments. Catalyst for the foundation of the Blue Wedges community group.

See also


  1. ^ "Garnaut Climate Change Review Interim Report to the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments of Australia" (PDF). Garnaut Climate Change Review. February 2007. pp. 63pp.$File/Garnaut%20Climate%20Change%20Review%20Interim%20Report%20-%20Feb%2008.pdf. Retrieved 2008-04-27. "These glimpses suggest that it is in Australia’s interest to seek the strongest feasible global mitigation outcomes – 450 ppm as currently recommended by the science advisers to the UNFCCC and accepted by the European Union." 
  2. ^ List of countries by greenhouse gas emissions per capita
  3. ^,21985,25521345-662,00.html
  4. ^ Suter, Keith D. (October 1982). "Australia's new whaling policy : Formulation and implementation". Marine Policy 6 (4): 287–302. doi:10.1016/0308-597X(82)90004-5. 
  5. ^,23739,25179213-952,00.html
  6. ^ A history of sea dumping off Australia and its territories
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Urban sprawl is killing us, but there's another way from The Age
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ EPA Victoria
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^

External links


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