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Polling shows record support for stronger nature protection laws

MEDIA RELEASE
May 9, 2024 

The Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales (NCC), the state’s leading environmental advocacy organisation, has today released polling that shows overwhelming support for stronger nature protection laws in NSW.  

The results of this representative sample of over 1000 NSW voters show that habitat clearing and climate change are people’s top concerns, and that 83% of voters want stronger nature protection laws. 

This comes on the back of the NSW Government’s Biodiversity Outlook Report, released on Wednesday, which found that across nearly every indicator, NSW’s biodiversity is in decline. Shockingly, the report predicted that without drastic action half of NSW’s threatened species will be lost.  

“This polling proves that the overwhelming majority of people in NSW want more action taken to protect the places we love,” said Clancy Barnard, spokesperson for Nature Conservation Council NSW, today.  

“This government came to power promising to ‘stop runaway land clearing’ and ‘fix the biodiversity offset scheme’.  

“So far, they have failed to even close the Barilaro-era self-assessment loopholes everyone agrees are a key driver of habitat loss, let alone develop stronger protections that reflect the scale of the extinction and climate crises.   

Statements attributable to NCC Spokesperson Clancy Barnard 

“Changing these nonsense laws, that allow virtually unfettered habitat clearing on freehold land, should be a no-brainer for the government – the laws are currently unfit for purpose, and changing them has broad support. 

“Our existing laws are failing to protect nature or support landholders wishing to protect the important habitat on their property.  

“It also places an unreasonable expectation on landholders - to undertake complex ecological assessments that take trained ecologists days, even with the use of sophisticated technologies.  

“We are calling on Ministers Sharpe and Moriarty, along with Premier Chris Minns, to change these laws and provide support and resources for Local Land Services and the Environment Department to work with landholders to help identify and protect areas ecological significance.  

“Environment minister Penny Sharpe is saying the Minns government has ‘boosted environmental protections to their strongest level yet’. This may be true in relation to the Environmental Protection Authority's expanded powers – but it is certainly not the case for native vegetation legislation. They were strongest under the former Carr government – a NSW Labor legacy that Minns should be embracing.  

“The laws are demonstrably broken, and the voters want change: the stage is now set for Premier Minns to show the community if he is serious about saving Koalas and threatened species. Will he rise to the occasion?” 

“We are urging the NSW government to heed the advice of the experts saying these laws need fixing and steer us out of this biodiversity crisis.” 

Media note: Our polling of a representative sample of NSW residents found: 

  •  73% of people say yes to this question: Would you support the NSW Labor Government re-introducing protections against habitat clearing that were scrapped by the previous Government? 
  • Only 29% of people answered yes to the question: 'Do you think landholders can and should be trusted to self-assess the ecological value of their land, before clearing it?' 
  • Climate change and habitat clearing are the issues of highest concern for NSW residents  
  • 80% of those polled were concerned about habitat clearing, including 52% who are extremely or very concerned.  
  • More than nine in ten NSW residents want to see the state government doing more to protect and restore nature.  
  • Three-quarters of NSW residents feel that government – both state and federal – aren’t doing enough to address environmental issues, and most want to see greater protections for important habitats and ecosystems.  

The vast majority want better laws to protect nature:   

  • 83% want stronger laws to protect nature  
  • 87% are in favour of meeting 30x30 nature positive targets 
  • 52% oppose biodiversity offsets 
  • Eight in ten would support banning all development in ecologically important areas. 

Statement ends 

Media contact: Anna Greer 
E: [email protected] M: 0493 733 529 PH: (02) 7208 9482  

Note: NCC Spokesperson Clancy Barnard is available for comment on request 


Joint statement of the Alliance for Nature on NSW habitat clearing laws

1 May 2024 

The Alliance for Nature NSW is a coalition of leading environmental organisations working together to achieve the best possible outcomes for habitats and wildlife. Together, we represent 220 member groups or branches and around 250,000 supporters and landholders across the state. Our members and supporters consider improved controls on habitat destruction a high priority and are mobilised toward that goal.  

The Minns Labor Government came to power promising to “stop runaway land clearing” and “fix the biodiversity offset scheme”. The government also committed to doubling koala populations in this state. These critical reforms have been delayed and ignored, with concerning indications that some members of the Minns Cabinet are seeking to water down or simply not enact these election commitments.  

The environmental reputation of the government will be seriously harmed if urgent and effective action is not taken. NSW is in the midst of an extinction crisis which will continue to worsen unless the root cause – the widespread and unregulated destruction of our habitat encouraged by the former government – is addressed.  

Across the state, vegetation has degraded to the point where it can only support 30% of the biodiversity it could before British colonisation. More than half (29 million ha) of all native forest and woodland vegetation in NSW has been lost. 

Habitat clearing is, alongside climate change, the most significant threat to species in NSW, the worst ranked state in the country for protecting and restoring trees.  

Since coming to Government in 2023, around 95 000 ha of land and 100 million trees will have been lost, stripping wildlife of their homes and releasing over 7 million tonnes of carbon each year - more than every household in Sydney. Clearing of native vegetation is fundamentally in conflict with action to achieve a safer climate than the current trajectory predicts.  

Right now, those who stand to profit most have been 'self-assessing' the ecological value of land and then approving its destruction. There are no other scenarios in which a business owner or manager can simply give themselves regulatory approval for land use change and development. This preposterous exemption for landholders must be removed. 

The government has the opportunity to continue NSW Labor’s legacy of delivering environmental reforms. We can re-establish NSW as a leader in conservation and land management and make the most of the new technologies and knowledge that are increasingly recognising the critical role biodiversity plays in the long-term viability of our agricultural system.  

To do this, we urge the Minns government to look past the outdated narrative pushed by now irrelevant members of the Nationals party, and to a future for regional NSW where healthy ecosystems form the basis of flourishing regional economies.  

We are at the precipice of a new way of caring for Country. There is a better way to work with the land and look after people and Country together in NSW – one that values ecological diversity, supports landholders with restoration projects, holds bad actors to account, and empowers communities to protect the places they love. As a matter of urgency, we must reform the regulatory system that is rewarding destructive behavior and disadvantaging the many land stewards wishing to deliver for nature. 

We call for strong regulatory reform with support for landholders to work together across tenures and communities to restore habitats, corridors and landscapes and take advantage of the burgeoning world of biodiversity stewardship models.  

The NSW Government should immediately and publicly commit to measures which actively stem biodiversity loss and put the state on a path to being nature positive, including: 

  1. Re-affirming commitments to stop run away land clearing, remove the self-assessment clearing loopholes, make native vegetation management maps statutory and ensure NSW is on a path to have halted and reversed deforestation by 2030. 
  2. Immediately stopping Code-based clearing in all areas of vulnerable and endangered ecological communities, as well as critically endangered ecological communities, by expanding Category 2 - sensitive regulated land to include a broader range of sensitive and high conservation value areas. 
  3. Committing to giving environmental considerations primacy in decision making under all processes and at all scales – whether it is in relation to ending runaway land clearing across the state or to impacts on wildlife because of individual developments. 
  4. Preventing species going extinct, including regional extinctions, supported by a veto on developments that would worsen the state of a species and ecological community. 
  5. Embedding enforceable targets that protect, connect, restore and improve biodiversity, informed by comprehensive and accessible data. 
  6. Banning cash-for-habitat removal practices and other offset approaches that lead to a net loss of remnant habitat. 
  7. Working with conservation groups, First Nations community-controlled organisations, and farming communities to co-design the ways that NSW can ensure ventures into natural capital economies support communities and deliver for nature. 

Statement ends 

Further media statements available upon request.

Media contact: Anna Greer 
E: [email protected] M: 0493 733 529 PH: (02) 7208 9482  


Koalas dying as NSW Labor stalling on habitat clearing loopholes

MEDIA RELEASE
April 23rd 2024 

The Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales (NCC), the state’s leading environmental advocacy organisation, has today criticised the NSW Government for dragging its feet over inadequate regulations that allow unregulated habitat clearing on freehold land. 

A 2020 Parliamentary Inquiry found that habitat clearing laws in NSW would drive koalas to extinction by 2050. Yet since NSW Labor was elected, nothing has changed.   

Not long after the NSW Government took office Ken Henry released his review of the Biodiversity Conservation Act clearly finding it is not protecting biodiversity. We need to hear the government’s response with a commitment to addressing biodiversity loss.  

“A landholder can just tick a box saying there is no threatened species habitat on their land and then start clearing without any oversight,” said Nature Conservation Council NSW CEO Jacqui Mumford. 

“If you speak to any ecologist, they will tell you that without specialist training and knowledge it’s extremely unlikely people will accurately assess an area’s ecological value or be able to identify if endangered species like koalas are present on their land.  

“That means that every day reform is delayed, more koala habitat is destroyed, and these iconic species go further down the path of extinction.”  

Statements attributable to NCC Chief Executive Officer Jacqui Mumford  

“The Henry Review is perfectly clear that the Biodiversity Conservation Act doesn’t do what it set out to do – it doesn’t conserve biodiversity. We need to hear how the government intends to change that. 

“Time and again I’ve voiced the same obvious message – stop the destruction of koala habitat, because koalas need trees. 

“Meanwhile, koala habitat across NSW continues to be destroyed. 

“There is no requirement for an independent ecological assessment by a qualified ecologist on freehold land, before destroying habitat for endangered species such as koalas.  

“Landowners can simply determine that an area is not important for koalas and then bulldoze the lot.  

“This John Barilaro-legacy habitat clearing free-for-all should have been low-hanging fruit for the incoming Labor Government, but Agriculture Minister Tara Moriarty is stonewalling attempts to fix it. 

“It’s also extremely concerning how little we know about koala habitat being cleared on freehold land – there is no accurate data due to the ‘self-assessment loophole’ introduced by the former government. 

“One thing we do know is that this regulatory blind spot should have been one of the first things on Labor’s agenda when they took office. 

“Since the rollback of regulations in 2016 habitat clearing rates in NSW tripled. NSW are leaders in deforestation and it’s time we turned that around.”  

Statement ends 

Media contact: Anna Greer 
E: [email protected] M: 0493 733 529 PH: (02) 7208 9482  

Note: NCC CEO Jacqui Mumford is available for comment on request 


Doublespeak with a devastating impact – proposal to destroy and burn forest bad for nature and the climate

MEDIA RELEASE
18
th March 2024  

The proposal to burn native forests to produce electricity has again reared its ugly head, this time seeking to capitalise on NSW’s 'do what you want’ approach to habitat clearing.  

Verdant Earth is seeking to secure 850,000 tonnes of wood per year from forests and bush in the Hunter region, in order to restart Redbank Power Station as a biomass generator (the burning of wood and other organic matter for fuel).  

The company has been making misleading claims to the media about the proposal, which if approved will lead to large scale habitat loss across the Hunter region.  

The Environmental Impact Statement for the project, currently available for public exhibition, also contains a range of deceptive and misleading claims, in particular that the proposal would “help decarbonise the electricity system” and “be ecologically sustainable”. 

The Nature Conversation Council of NSW, the state’s leading environmental advocacy organisation, vehemently refutes both claims, and is calling on the NSW Labor Government to deliver on their election commitment and disallow the burning of native vegetation for electricity.   

"It's extremely concerning that this polluting project is again rearing its head, and has progressed to the public exhibition stage” NCC CEO Jacqui Mumford said today.  

"It took a dedicated community campaign to stop them trying to use native forest timber, despite the clear health, environmental and climate impacts. Now they're back with a new plan to burn native forest by taking advantage of widely criticised land clearing rules. 

“They seem to have decided that calling the wood “invasive native species” makes it more appealing to the public. As always with this company, what they are saying simply doesn’t stack up.  

“There are barely any “invasive native species" in the greater Sydney, Hunter & Coastal regions, certainty not enough to run a power plant.  

“Instead, the substance of this proposal is to burn native forests, bush, grasses and regenerated paddocks that landholders wish to clear and have deemed “invasive” without oversight.  

"NSW Labor has had a longstanding commitment to close the National Party’s loophole that allows burning of native vegetation for electricity. So far, they have not acted upon this commitment.  

“We urge the government to close this loophole, deliver on their commitment and provide certainty for industry and our forests”. 

Statements attributable to Jacqui Mumford, NCC CEO. 

On Carbon Emissions.  

 Verdant incorrectly claims that because trees sequester carbon when they grow, burning them is ‘net zero’, however: 

  • Burning green wood chips emits 50% more CO2 per megawatt hour of energy produced than burning coal. See further research here 

  • The proposal is to use biomass from land that has been cleared, not in forests that are going to regrow.  

  • Even if the forests did regrow, logged forests store far less carbon than old growth forests, and they can take hundreds of years to sequester the carbon the logged trees stored. 

"Verdant Earth been trying claim that woodfire power is "green” or "net zero” since they purchased the mothballed Redbank coalfired power station.     

"How many times are we going to have to show that Biomass (the burning of wood for fuel) is not a net zero energy source.  

“It generates more emissions per megawatt hour of energy than coal, dives habitat clearing and deforestation, and undermines investment in genuinely clear energy technology.  

"If Verdant energy really wants to provide clean energy they should invest in proven technologies like wind and solar, rather than trying to burn wood and claim it's carbon negative."  

On the ecological impact.  

Verdant energy is seeking to exploit a loophole introduced by the former government that allows landholders to self-assess the ecological value of a piece of land, and then clear it with little to no oversight (see below). The NSW government is currently reviewing these laws. 

“Since these changes were introduced in 2016, habitat clearing rates on freehold land have tripled, with an area 4x the size of Newcastle lost each year.  

“Habitat clearing on freehold land is now the biggest cause of environmental loss in NSW, with 50 million trees and almost 100,000 hectares lost each year.   

It has labelled “the main threats to the survival of species" in the most recent NSW State of the Environment Report  

“This proposal will incentivise the clearing of even more habitat in the hunter region, further devastating fragmented and at-risk forest ecosystems”.  

The amount of biomass needed to power a power plant is massive – 850 000 tonnes is more woodchips that the entire native forest logging industry produced in NSW.  

The negative impacts on nature will be massive, with thousands of hectares of native forests and bush being cleared. The proposal acknowledges that logging and chipping will occur across a 300 km radius of the facility.   

Statement ends 

Media notes and background:  

Exemptions under the Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Regulation 2021 

*** Clauses in the Protection of the Environment Operations (General) Regulation 2021 prohibit the use of native forest biomaterials in electricity generation, but exempt certain types of native vegetation or woody waste from the definition of native forest biomaterials. 

 This enables exempt materials to be burned for the purpose of electricity generation. These exempt materials include 

  • materials from various types of plantation forests 

  • sawdust or other sawmill waste 

  • waste arising from certain wood processing or manufacturing activities 

  • trees cleared in accordance with a land management (native vegetation) code under Division 5 of Part 5A of the Local Land Services Act 2013 and all relevant Codes and Regulations (see Local Land Services). 

Part 5A of the Local Land Services Act 2013 contains the self-assessment loopholes that has led habitat clearing triple since 2016.  

A 2019 review by the Audit Office of NSW concluded that the new laws may not be responding adequately to environmental risks whilst permitting landholders to improve agricultural activities and identified significant delays in compliance and enforcement activity to address unlawful clearing. 

Also in 2019, a review of the Framework by the Natural Resources Commission, but not publicly released until late March 2020, found that: 

  • Clearing rates have increased almost 13-fold from an annual average rate of 2,703ha a year under the old laws to 37,745ha under the new laws 

  • Biodiversity in 9 out of 11 regions is now at risk 

  • Unexplained clearing has increased, with the NRC concluding “compliance frameworks are inadequate and high rates of clearing pose a major risk” 

In August 2020, Environmental Defenders Office released its report Restoring the Balance in NSW native vegetation law - Solutions for healthy, resilient and productive landscapes. The report identifies 10 areas of regulatory failure and sets out a law reform pathway with 27 recommendations for reform.  

Finally, in 2023 Ken Henry pointed to a lack of regulatory oversight in agricultural land clearing and inconsistent biodiversity outcomes in the statutory review of the Biodiversity Conservation Act (2016), in which he found that NSW nature laws are failing. 

The NSW Labor Platform states: 

Labor recognises that burning timber and cleared vegetation for electricity is not carbon neutral and is neither clean or renewable energy, and therefore forms no part of a credible strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Labor will introduce legislation prohibiting the burning of any forests and cleared vegetation for electricity. 

Data from the Drax power station in the UK shows that biomass burning has increased particulate pollution by 400 percent since switching four of six boilers from coal to forest derived biomass, while power output has remained constant.  

Further research on biomass as being bad for community health here

Previous NCC submissions