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Biodiversity offsetting should only be used as a last resort and adhere to international best practice

The conservation movement welcomes the inquiry into the NSW biodiversity offsetting scheme announced by the Legislative Council’s Environment and Planning Committee. 

“There have been serious concerns about the government’s new biodiversity offsets scheme since it was introduced as part of its suit of weakened land-clearing and nature laws in 2017,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said. 

“Biodiversity offsets underpin the whole system of new nature laws the Coalition said had found the sweet spot enabling development and the protection and enhancement of wildlife habitat. 

“But the evidence suggests otherwise. More than 1,020 plants and animals are now threatened with extinction in NSW, about 20 more than when the scheme was introduced. 

“Clearly, something is not working and the public has a right to know what’s gone wrong. 

“Essentially, the scheme treats nature like a Magic Pudding that developers can keep eating forever if they throw enough cash into a tin. 

“The offsets system has been designed so the government never has to say no to developers.  

“It reduces nature to a bunch of financial formulas that can never capture the true value of our unique and rapidly disappearing wildlife and bushland.” 

In addition to concerns about declining biodiversity, recent reports by The Guardian Australia of massive windfall profits by companies playing the offsets market have raised many questions about the probity of the system. [1] 

The Nature Conservation Council in April wrote to ICAC asking it to look into the sale of biodiversity offset credits in relation to major roadworks in Western Sydney detailed in the Guardian articles.  

ICAC, in accordance with its normal operating procedures, has not indicated whether it has initiated an investigation.   

“The problem with commodifying natural assets like water and biodiversity is they inevitably become prey to speculative investors rather than being managed and protected in the public interest,” Mr Gambian said.  

“We believe the whole system of offsetting must be urgently reviewed to ensure it does what it says on the tin -- protects threatened wildlife and bushland in a rigorous and transparent way.”  

TERMS OF REFERENCE  

Motion passed by the Legislative Council Portfolio Committee No. 7 Environment and Planning on June 24, 2021:   

  1. That Portfolio Committee No. 7 Environment and Planning inquiry into and report on the integrity of the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Scheme, and in particular: 
    1. The effectiveness of the scheme to halt or reverse the loss of biodiversity values, including threatened species and threatened habitat in NSW, the role of the Biodiversity Conservation Trust in administering the scheme and whether the Trust is subject to adequate transparency and oversight; 
    2. The adequacy of the use of offsets by the NSW Government for major projects and strategic approvals; 
    3. The impact of non-additional offsetting practices on biodiversity outcomes, offset prices and the opportunity for private landholders to engage in the scheme; and  
    4. Any other related matters. 
    5. That the committee report by March 1, 2021. 

REFERENCES 

[1] It's an ecological wasteland': offsets for Sydney toll road were promised but never delivered, Lisa Cox, Guardian Australia, 17-2-21 

'Development should stop': serious flaws in offsets plan for new western Sydney airport, Lisa Cox, Guardian Australia, 10-2-21 

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