4 November, 2016

Baird must scrap draft land-clearing laws after key advisor resigns

The Nature Conservation Council is calling on Premier Baird to withdraw his proposed biodiversity and land-clearing laws after a senior advisor resigned saying the package was bad for biodiversity.

Professor Hugh Possingham was one of four authors of the 2014 report titled A review of biodiversity legislation in NSW, whose recommendations the government claims it is implementing, and was advising the government during the design of the new system until his resignation. 

Prof. Possingham wrote to Premier Baird this week saying:

A few weeks ago, it became clear to me that my advice was being ignored, and as a consequence I resigned my position on the panel and as an advisor. More importantly, the principles of the original panel report that your government endorsed, were not being followed.

He warned that codes that had been included in the package would “enable broad-scale clearing of 100s of hectares of native vegetation on individual farms without offsetting”.

“These codes are not consistent with biodiversity offsetting.  Codes in native vegetation legislation are normally intended to facilitate minor clearing to make farming profitable – for example clearing for fences and buildings.  These should amount to the odd hectare here and there, not hundreds of hectares of clearing which leads to the degradation of soil, water and biodiversity. 

Prof. Possingham is a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists who earlier this year wrote to NSW MPs warning the package would “increase the rate of species extinctions” and result in “more degraded land, more damage to river systems, increased carbon emissions, and the loss of habitat critical to the survival of threatened species”.  (See letter attached.)

NCC CEO Kate Smolski said: “Premier Baird has tried to give his package of harmful laws some legitimacy by claiming he is implementing the Biodiversity Legislation Review Panel’s recommendations. It is now clear he is doing no such thing.

“These laws have little to do with biodiversity conservation and everything to do with fast-tracking land clearing and property development.

"They will further the short-term interests of property developers and big agribusiness, not the communities and wildlife that depend on healthy soils, waterways and bushland for their long-term survival.

“We are already losing thousands of hectares of bushland every year to land clearing under the existing laws. Loosening controls further would be catastrophic. For the sake of rural communities and our native wildlife, these proposals must not become law.

"Mr Baird should scrap this flawed package and either fund Local Land Services to make the Native Vegetation Act work as intended, or go back to the drawing board and come up with another way to provide workable, strong protections for nature in NSW.”

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