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Nationals use bushfire response to further weaken land-clearing controls

The NSW Government has used its response to the Black Summer bushfires to sneak through new land-clearing laws that will destroy thousands of hectares of forest and woodland. 

The Bushfires Legislation Amendment Bill that passed the Legislative Council last night with the support of the ALP will allow landholders to clear 25m-wide strips of bush all around their property without independent environmental assessment or approval. 

“The 25m land-clearing rule won’t reduce bushfire risk in extreme conditions but it will trash thousands of hectares of prime wildlife habitat,”  Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.

“This is going to cause a completely unnecessary man-made disaster for wildlife and bushland — it’s about as useful as handing out free water pistols in the face of mega fires.

“If applied across the state, the 25m land-clearing rule could obliterate thousands of hectares of wildlife habitat and kill millions of native animals.

“This measure was not recommended by the Independent Bushfire Inquiry for a very good reason. 

“Experts say it won’t reduce bushfire risk in extreme conditions but it will cause unbelievable environmental harm.

“This is part of the National Party’s radical land-clearing agenda — it is not supported by science or expert opinion.”


Nationals try to hoodwink Liberals on koala peace plan

Liberal MPs are starting to see through the Nationals’ deception about the changes to koala protections in NSW.

At least one upper house Liberal has threatened to vote against the National’s Local Land Services Amendment Bill after realising it would prevent any more core koala habitat on private land being protected from logging and land clearing. [1]

Two-thirds of koala habitat is on private land, not in national parks, [2] and only 7 per cent of relevant council areas have koala plans of management in place. [3]

“The bill the Nationals are trying to sneak through the parliament would freeze koala protections on rural land at today’s disastrously low levels,” Nature Conservation Council Campaigns Director Brad Smith said.

“This bill is a death warrant for all koalas that don’t live in protected forests. It was quietly rushed through the lower house and is now being considered by the upper house. 

“If the bill passes, it will make the government’s stated aim of doubling koala numbers by 2050 impossible. [4]

“Even before the bushfires, koala’s were on track to become extinct in the wild by 2050 without urgent action. Then the fires wiped out about 30 per cent of the population in some areas. 

“The species needs our urgent help, and the government’s Koala SEPP represented a small but positive step in that direction.

“But the National Party bill will basically stop the Koala SEPP ever applying to rural land if it doesn’t already do so.

“The LLS Amendment Bill is a disaster for koalas — much worse than Liberal MPs have been led to believe by their Coalition partners — and should not become law.”

The Bill has already passed the lower house and is due to be debated in the upper house within days.

“We call on all Liberal MPs in the upper house to block this bill,” Dr Smith said. 

“The bill is a cheap trick that is not in keeping with the peace deal struck between the Coalition parties last month.”


[1] Channel 7 News, Tuesday, November 10, 2020 

[2] Koala populations and habitat in New South Wales, NSW Upper House Inquiry, 2020. Page 16.

[3] Koala Habitat Protection SEPP - NSW Government

[4]  Matt Kean aims to double koala population by 2050, SMH, 26-6-2020 


Thousands of hectares of wildlife habitat threatened by government’s 25m clearing proposal

The NSW Government is pushing through changes to the Rural Fires Act that will lead to a 50m strip of bushland destruction around thousands of properties across the state.

WWF-Australia has estimated the changes put thousands of hectares of wildlife habitat at risk, including 12,000 hectares of high-quality koala habitat in just four local government areas they examined. [1] 

“These changes are not necessary, they won’t reduce bushfire risk but they will trash thousands of hectares of prime wildlife habitat,” Nature Conservation Council Campaigns Director Brad Smith said.

“The government wants to let landholders clear 25m strips of bushland on their side of the fence without independent environmental assessment of the impacts. 

“That potentially amounts to a 50m strip of bushland destruction around thousands of properties across NSW and the loss of thousands of hectares of vital wildlife habitat, including koala forests.

“This measure is driven by ideology and it is not supported by science or expert opinion.

“These measures were not recommended by the Independent Bushfire Inquiry for a very good reason — they won’t reduce bushfire risk in extreme conditions but they will cause untold environmental damage.

“This is more about unfettered land clearing than bushfire risk management and should be removed from the bill.”

Dr Smith said the Nature Conservation Council supports all the recommendations of the bushfire inquiry and applauds the government for committing to implementing them, but the 25m clearing change was not one of them.

The changes to the Rural Fires Act are included in Bushfires Legislation Amendment Bill 2020 introduced to parliament by Emergency Services Minister David Elliott this week. 


[1] Bush and koalas found to be threatened by 'gratuitous' NSW land-clearing plan, The Guardian, 26 October 2020. 


Massive expansion of national parks estate pledged at NCC conference

Environment Minister Matt Kean has pledged to add 400,000 hectares of wildlife habitat to national parks by 2022, doubling the area he promised to protect last August.

Mr Kean announced the new target during his keynote address at the Nature Conservation Council’s annual conference today.

“We heartily welcome Mr Kean’s vision, which is more ambitious than anything we have seen in NSW for a decade,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.

“The Liberal Party has a proud tradition of adding to the state’s conservation reserves, a tradition the party appeared to have forgotten in recent years.

“Liberal premiers added almost a million hectares to the national parks estate in the 1960s and ‘70s and almost 400,000 hectares in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but has added comparatively little in recent years.

“If Mr Kean can deliver on today’s pledge, it will rank among the most significant contributions to the conservation reserve system by a Coalition government.”

Mr Gambian said there were still millions of hectares of wildlife habitat in NSW that urgently required protection in the national parks system, including koala forests along the east coast and woodlands west of the range.

“Thousands of hectares of forests are endangered right now by mining, logging and land clearing,” Mr Gambian said.

“The Pilliga forest in the state’s northwest and the Gardens of Stone near Lithgow are areas of outstanding conservation value threatened by gas and coal projects.

“These areas should be out of bounds, especially for fossil fuel projects that are feeding climate change and threatening our livelihoods and lifestyles.

“While national parks are essential for the conservation of our unique plants and animals, we cannot guarantee their survival if private landholders do not play their part. 

“That’s why protections such as the new koala SEPP must apply wherever quality koala habitat occurs - whether it is on public and private land - if we are to prevent the species’ extinction.”

NSW Lower House moves koalas a step closer to extinction

The Coalition government’s Local Land Services Amendment Bill endangers koalas and scuppers any hope the government will achieve its goal of doubling koala populations by 2050.

The bill passed the NSW lower house yesterday and is scheduled to be debated in the Legislative Council in November. 

“If this bill passes, developers and big agribusiness will be free to destroy koala habitat in nine out of 10 council areas across NSW where koalas are likely to occur,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.

“The bill not only limits koala protection laws to a tiny portion of the state, it rules out ever extending those protections into new areas where they are desperately needed.

“If passed by members of the upper house, this law will allow property developers to bulldoze koala trees and subdivide some of the best koala forests left in NSW to create hobby farms and suburbs.

“Just weeks ago Liberal MPs and the Premier stared down Deputy Premier Barilaro over koala protections. 

“To now vote for a massive weakening of the laws is a disappointing back down.

“Currently, the koala SEPP only applies in six of the 88 council areas where koalas are likely to occur.

“The changes mean genuine efforts to protect koalas on private land will be limited to those areas.

“The government needs to urgently tell the people of NSW how it will ensure koala feed trees and habitat will not be lost because of a careless lack of regulation of land clearing.

“We call on members of the Legislative Council reject this bill so our koalas have a fighting chance of living beyond 2050.”


Barilaro tantrum rewarded: Koalas lose out to property developers

The Nature Conservation Council calls on all state MPs to vote down a bill before the NSW Parliament that would exempt big agribusiness and property developers from koala protection laws in many circumstances.

The government’s Local Land Services Amendment Bill, which will be voted on this week, would prevent any further expansion of koala habitat protections into private farmland.

The bill is part of a deal between the Liberal and National parties to end an internal quarrel over koala protections that threatened the survival of the Coalition and the stability of the Berejiklian government.

“Nothing in this Bill helps ensure koalas survive beyond 2050.  But it does mean property developers could bulldoze koala trees without needing an approval to do so,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.

“Basically the Nationals gave the Liberals a choice between saving the Coalition or saving the koala and they chose themselves. 

“Let’s be clear. The bill before NSW parliament has nothing to do with legitimate farming issues or private forestry issues. There has been a Koala SEPP in place for years.

“We accept that we need to support farmers who have the care of important bush. For example, Councils should be funded to develop high quality Koala Plans of Management, and small family farms should have the cost of surveys covered by the State.

“The answer is not trashing the Koala regulations. 

“The National Party signed off on the SEPP last year.  No one raised an eyebrow. All NSW MPs should distance themselves from this nonsense. 

“The people of NSW want to see a shared plan for how we live in balance with nature - protecting species and natural heritage whilst carefully using the natural resources nature has provided us with.

“This is a time for leadership, not political expediency.”

Gas-giant Santos gets green light to desecrate the Pilliga forest

The Nature Conservation Council of NSW (NCC) says that the Independent Planning Commission’s (IPC) approval of Santos’ Narrabri gas project is a blow to nature in the state.

“Santos now has the green light to desecrate the Pilliga forest – turning it into an industrial gas field that will damage groundwater, carve up the forest and endanger koalas and other threatened species” said NCC Campaigns Director Dr Brad Smith.

“Never has a project in NSW seen such enormous public opposition at all levels – from the Gomeroi Traditional Custodians who fought to protect the enormous traditional significance of the Pilliga to the 404 people who appeared at a record 7 days of public hearings”

“The NSW Government has turned its back on traditional owners, farmers and local communities in North West NSW who are fighting to protect their water, land and livelihoods and stop this project wreaking havoc on our climate.

“Government and planning authorities must stop supporting gas projects that release millions of tonnes of potent climate pollution.”

“Existing coal and gas fields will push the world past globally agreed temperature goals. There is no room, or need, for more.”

“If the government wants to do something about gas, it should focus on electrification of Australian businesses and households with heat pumps for hot water, reverse-cycle air conditioning for space heating and induction cooktops.”

“Our economy can’t use dirty fuels any longer. Jobs and industries are already built on clean energy technology and NSW is getting left behind.” 

“We call on the government to commit to ensuring the IPC’s conditions aren’t swept under the rug, and Santos actually comes up with a salt management plan and a compliant groundwater model before construction commences.


Reckless Forestry Corporation Needs Review

NSW Nature Conservation Council is calling for an immediate review of NSW Forestry Corporation, following a reckless plan to resume “business as usual” logging across the state.

“Just seven months after Black Summer, NSW Forestry Corporation wants to pretend the fires never happened,” said Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian.

“Forestry Corporation helped write these rules: their premature attempt to revoke them reveals their contempt for bushfire recovery.”

Forestry Corporation wrote to the EPA stating that it intends to resume business-as-usual activities this month.[1] The EPA describes that course of action as “not tenable at this time”.[2]

Since fires devastated NSW’s forests, Forestry Corporation has repeatedly been investigated and been issued stop-work orders issued for serious alleged breaches of its own rules:

  • Felling protected giant trees in Wild Cattle Creek SF (ABC, EPA release)
  • Damaging four giant 'hollow-bearing trees' and six marked small tallowwood Koala Feed Trees in Wild Cattle Creek SF (North East Forest Alliance Audit)
  • Felling dozens of protected hollow-bearing trees in South Brooman SF (Beagle Weekly, EPA release)
  • Felling protected hollow-bearing trees in Mogo SF (Beagle Weekly)
  • Choosing the most heavily burnt forests to meet retention requirements of Wildlife Habitat Clumps in Myrtle SF (against the protocol which states that priority must be to establish wildlife habitat clumps in unburned areas, North East Forests Alliance Audit)

“The NSW Forestry Corporation’s attacks against post-fire logging conditions show that the state-owned corporation has lost balance and is in urgent need of an independent review.”

“We call on the Treasurer and Finance Minister, as the shareholder ministers, to initiate an immediate review of Forestry Corporation’s management and governance. The review needs to specifically determine whether Forestry Corporation is complying with its obligations under the Forestry Act 2012 which requires ecologically sustainable forestry operations, as well as EPA requirements.”

“Our worst fears for wildlife have been confirmed, with surveys revealing that almost three-quarters of koalas in surveyed areas perished last summer.[3]

“Forest Corporation has enormous trust placed in its hands as managers of NSW State Forests. The public has a right to know if that trust is being violated.”


[1]  FCNSW’s letter to the EPA, 7 September 2020

[2] EPA Update on forestry operations and regulatory activities, accessed 23 September 2020

[3] Survey finds 71 per cent of koala populations died in some NSW fires, SMH, September 5, 2020


Government should pay for koala surveys and plans of management

The Nature Conservation Council calls on the NSW Government to reimburse small landholders the cost of pre-development koala surveys and to fund local councils to formulate koala plans of management.

“We all want to save koalas from extinction so it makes sense for the government to support all practical measures that will protect them,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.

“The conservation movement stands ready to sit down with farmers in good faith and work through any issues they have with the provisions of the Koala Habitat Protection State Environment Planning Policy. [1]

“We know the overwhelming majority of farmers care deeply about the land, bushland and wildlife in their care.

“Reimbursing the costs of pre-development koala surveys for small landholders is a very practical way the government can help landholders play their part in conserving koalas for future generations.

“We have said from the start that the Koala Habitat Protection State Environmental Planning Policy falls short of what’s required, but it is an improvement and should be retained.” [2]

Mr Gambian said another practical measure the government should take is to give local councils the resources they need to complete koala plans of management.

“One of the failings of the current system is that only six of the almost 90 councils with koalas have completed koala plans of management,” he said.

“Part of the problem is that some councils are hostile to koala conservation. Others simply lack the resources to create the plan.

“If the NSW Government is serious about koala conservation, it should make the development of koala plans of management mandatory for all identified regions and ensure all councils have the resources they need to implement them.

“The cost of KPOMs varies but are in the order of $150,000. The government could facilitate the development of KPOMs for the whole state for a little more than $12 million.”

[1] State Environmental Planning Policy (Koala Habitat Protection) 2019

[2] Tinkering with the koala SEPP will not save the species, Nature Conservation Council, December 2019 


Forestry Corporation on illegal logging rampage

Numerous serious breaches of environmental law by the Forestry Corporation uncovered by the Environmental Protection Authority underscores the need for an immediate moratorium on native forest logging.

The EPA has ordered the Forestry Corporation to stop logging in two forests in the past week —  South Brooman State Forest near Batemans Bay and Wild Cattle Creek State Forest near Coffs Harbour — after it found the corporation had destroyed old-growth and habitat trees.

“Forestry Corporation is a government enterprise but it operates like a cowboy outfit with little regard for the law,” NCC Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.

“The corporation has been breaking environmental laws for years but has only rarely been brought to account, so it is good to see the EPA cracking down.   

“But a 40-day stop work order won't bring back the hollow-bearing trees the Forest Corp destroyed in South Brooman forest.

“After the fires, this senseless destruction just loads the dice in favour of extinctions.

“The Forestry Corporation has demonstrated time and again that it cannot be trusted to obey the law. 

“The government should go further to protect our forests by declaring a moratorium on native forest logging so wildlife has time to recover after the devastating bushfires.

“It’s a simple requirement in the aftermath of the bushfire that hollow-bearing trees are protected and must not be cut down, but Forestry Corporation has failed repeatedly to obey that very simple requirement. It has demonstrated repeatedly that it cannot be trusted with our precious forests.

“If we want koalas and other threatened species to survive into the future we have to stop cutting down their forests. It is that simple. 

“The Brooman forests stop-work order was a result of the vigilance of the Brooman State Forest Conservation Group, the Coastwatchers Association and Friends of the Forest (Mogo) who documented and reported these breaches.

“These hollow-bearing trees, and the giant trees illegally felled in Wild Cattle Creek State Forest, are critical habitat for wildlife struggling to bounce back after the devastating bushfires.

“These trees were critical habitat for vulnerable masked owls, glossy-black cockatoos and yellow-bellied gliders.

“The EPA is doing important work to identify these breaches and crack down on Forestry Corporations culture of law breaking. 

“These are serious matters that can lead $5 million fines. Forestry Corporation should pay for these crimes.”

The Nature Conservation Council supports a government assistance package for the forest industry and its employees during this very difficult time. Any such assistance package must require a commitment to the transition from native forests to sustainably managed plantations and a just structural adjustment package for contractors, mill owners and employees.