9 November, 2016 

New land-clearing laws threaten nature and farming in NSW

The conservation and land-clearing laws the Baird government introduced into parliament today will significantly weaken wildlife, soil and water protections in NSW and should not become law, a broad coalition of conservation groups has warned.

The groups are calling on Premier Mike Baird to scrap the package and either fund Local Land Services to make the existing 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 and agricultural sustainability in NSW.

The government plans to repeal the Native Vegetation Act and the Threatened Species Conservation Act and replace those laws with a new Biodiversity Conservation Act and Local Land Services Amendment Act. The groups reject Premier Baird’s proposed laws because they will:

  • increase extinction pressures on the state's 1000 threatened species by accelerating destruction of bushland vital for koalas and other species;
  • threaten clean, reliable water supplies and degrade fertile farmlands by accelerating erosion and salinity via the removal of native vegetation;
  • put landmark trees and bushland in towns and suburbs at greater risk by loosening environmental protections and widening the use of dodgy biodiversity offsetting;
  • accelerate regional and national climate change by clearing native vegetation and undermine Australia's efforts to meet international commitments;
  • allow a return to broad-scale land clearing putting eight million hectares of bushland at risk, including 2.2 million hectares of koala habitat;
  • expand the use of a deeply flawed biodiversity offsets scheme.

Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski said: “These laws will take conservation in NSW backwards 20 years by reducing vital environmental protections and accelerating broad-scale land clearing.

“They will put our water, soils and climate at greater risk, and push koalas and other native animals towards extinction by fast-tracking the destruction of bushland.

“Mr Baird has caved in to the demands of the National Party and an influential lobby of big agribusiness owners who stand to make millions by turning wildlife habitat into cropping land.

“Nothing in the Baird government’s spin will change the fact that these laws have nothing to do with biodiversity conservation and everything to do with land clearing and property development.”

National Parks Association CEO Kevin Evans said: “These laws show the Baird government either doesn’t understand the crisis facing our wildlife and ecosystems or it simply doesn’t care.

“After just 200 years of European settlement, NSW has lost almost half of its bushland through land clearing.

“Only 9% of the bushland we have left is in good condition – the rest has been degraded by overgrazing, feral animals, weeds, and soil erosion.

“Yet the Baird government is going to allow 8 million hectares of bushland to be potentially cleared through these new laws. That’s more than the entire national park system currently.

“What hope for Koalas and the other 1000 threatened species if we are destroying so much of their habitat?

“We desperately need stronger environmental laws but the bills Mr Baird unveiled today dramatically weakened protections.”

Total Environment Centre Director Jeff Angel said: “Before the election, Premier Baird promised to enhance the state’s biodiversity for future generations. These bills do the opposite by removing protections and fast-tracking land clearing and rampant development.

“Since the election the voices to protect wildlife, soils and water have become stronger and the case to remove our current land clearing laws has fractured both at the farming and the government’s Biodiversity Panel levels.

“Mr Baird says he wants to listen to the people, but in this case he only listens to a radical group of extreme land clearers in the National Party.

“The people made their views on these laws clear during the public consultation when more than 75% rejected the package because of the harm it would do.

“Why isn’t Mr Baird listening to the concerns of present and future generations?”

The Wilderness Society National Director Lyndon Schneiders said: “Land clearing is not just the biggest threat to our wildlife, it’s a huge source of carbon emissions. As world leaders sign the Paris Agreement, Baird’s laws will ensure that Australia’s land emissions spiral out of control.

“These laws also threaten to bring back all the old problems of salinity, erosion and biodiversity declines we saw in the 1990s. Clearing laws were brought in to protect the long-term productivity of our agricultural land, and the NSW Government is throwing that out to play silly short-term politics.

“Communities across the state will hold this government to account for the destruction they’re about to unleash on NSW.”

Paul Toni, Conservation Director - Sustainable Futures, of WWF-Australia said: "There are major concerns about koalas, with fears they are rapidly disappearing in NSW, and land clearing is the major threat.

“The new laws could see a return to broad-scale clearing in NSW.  The government’s changes are reckless and will put our wildlife on a fast track to extinction. 

“We urge the government in the strongest possible terms to listen to the community, withdraw the package and go back to the drawing board.”

“Our analysis of the package found that if it includes the Equity Code, as is proposed, more than 2.2 million hectares of koala known or likely koala habitat could be at risk of being cleared, about 10% of the known or likely koala habitat left in the whole of the state.”

Humane Society International’s Australian Director Michael Kennedy said: “There is undeniable irony in proposed ‘biodiversity’ reforms that are set to result in weakened protections for threatened wildlife and their habitats across NSW.

“The expert consensus on these bills is that they will cause significantly increased destruction of vital ecosystems, yet the government appears hell-bent on getting them through parliament.

“Mike Baird needs to walk away from this regressive plan – the risk to our environment is simply too severe.”

WIRES NSW CEO Leanne Taylor said: “These proposed laws will significantly increase suffering of animals killed, injured and displaced by land clearing. Land clearing already kills more than 200,000 mammals each year in NSW.

“Possums, koalas and other marsupials are crushed when trees are torn down, hit by cars when fleeing the destruction, or starved to death because food supplies have been destroyed.

“If Premier Baird is truly opposed to animal cruelty, as he has often stated, he should scrap these laws.”

[1] WWF (2015), Native wildlife at risk if NSW Native Vegetation Act is repealed, WWF 2015. http://www.wwf.org.au/news_resources/resource_library/?12820/Native-wildlife-at-risk-if-NSW-Native-Vegetation-Act-is-repealed

 

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