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Conservation group exposes clearing threat to koala/wildlife habitat

koala habitat loss, credit Briano WWF Australia

NSW ministers knew this.

By Nature Conservation Council.

THE NSW NATURE Conservation Council has released freedom of information documents showing the Berejiklian government knew its new land clearing laws would cause extensive harm to wildlife habitat but pressed ahead with the changes anyway.

“This is damning evidence that the Environment Minister approved these new laws knowing they would expose 99% of identified koala habitat on private land to clearing,” NCC CEO Kate Smolski said.

“The document also shows the Minister was warned the laws could cause a 45% spike in land clearing and that they would mostly benefit very large agribusinesses that could clear land on a massive scale, not smaller enterprises and farming communities across the state.

environment policy dictated by National Party and powerful agribusiness interests the party represents

“It shows what we have suspected all along – environment policy in NSW is being dictated by the National Party and the powerful agribusiness interests the party represents.

“[Environment Minister Gabrielle] Upton knew these laws were very bad for threatened species and bushland, yet she approved them anyway. This is a disgrace.”

The document, obtained by EDO NSW for the Nature Conservation Council, was prepared by the Office of Environment and Heritage for the Environment Minister and outlined the consequences of Ms Upton agreeing to land-clearing codes proposed by Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair [National Party].

Key warnings in the document include:

  • “The regulatory changes will further increase agricultural clearing by between 8% and 45% annually.” (Page 3)
  • Clearing under the code risks: “Removing key habitat for threatened species, including koala habitat (less than 1% of identified koala habitat in NSW is protected from clearing under the Code)” and “Increasing vulnerability of threatened ecological communities”. (Page 6)
  • If unchecked “such clearing could destroy habitats, cause soil and water quality impacts”. (Page 5)
  • “The main benefits are likely to be private benefits for large farming operations which broadscale clear under the Code.” (Page 6)

“These are terrible laws that put our wildlife at risk,” Ms Smolski said. “Premier Berejiklian should act immediately to protect the thousands of hectares of koala habitat at risk by exempting sensitive areas from code-based clearing. “In the longer term, she should go back to the drawing board and draft new laws that protect our precious wildlife and bushland.”

Download the document.

Clearing laws struck down, swiftly re-instated

On 9 March the NSW Environmental Defenders Office, representing the Nature Conservation Council, achieved a successful ruling in the NSW Land and Environment Court invalidating the new land clearing laws on procedural grounds.

NCC argued through its barristers Jeremy Kirk SC and David Hume the codes were invalid because the Primary Industries Minister failed to obtain concurrence of the Environment Minister before making the codes, as is required by law. The government conceded this was the case.

However the Berejiklian government lost no time re-instating the same laws, known as the Land Management (Native Vegetation) Code a day later.

“This is not simply a matter of incorrect paperwork,” David Morris, the chief executive of the environmental defenders office NSW told The Guardian. “Ecologically sustainable development is not just another box to tick. The environment minister has a legal responsibility to protect biodiversity in this state.”

Labor Opposition: they won’t say how much land being cleared, few prosecutions

Meanwhile, information released to the Labor Opposition in February showed that since the controversial new land clearing laws got underway in August 2017, not one land holder has been held to account for illegal land clearing.

The documents also show that prosecutions in the last three years against illegal clearing have plummeted with 10 prosecutions in 2014–15 falling to just two prosecutions in 2015–16, and two more in 2016–17.

Shadow Minister for the Environment, Penny Sharpe said:  “Like water theft, the NSW Government is failing our environment, choosing to back the thieves and illegal clearers over farmers and other land holders doing the right thing.

“Farmers on the ground are telling me about illegal clearing, calls to government departments that go unanswered and a failure to act when reported.

“Every warning about the impact of these land clearing laws is coming to pass right under the noses of a government which is willfully allowing this environmental vandalism to continue.”

NSW Labor asked for figures on the amount of land that is being cleared under the new land clearing laws only to be told by the Office of Environment and Heritage that the “information not held.

When asked about clearing in earlier years, the request was refused except for three-year-old data from 2013–14.

The new land clearing laws contained in the Biodiversity Conservation Act were introduced against a backdrop of protest from scientists, environmentalists, farmers and Labor who all said that the laws would have a horrific impact on native animals and plants, including threatened species like the koala.

These groups also warned of a detrimental impact on water, soil and greenhouse gas emissions.

 [Information provided by Penny Sharpe’s office]

IMAGE: Koala mother and joey seeking refuge on a bulldozed logpile. Briano, WWF-Australia

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