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Full frontal assault: Baird government proposes open season on native vegetation and animals

Time to stand and be counted

Bulletin comment by Maria Taylor

The Bulletin has reported in previous months that a new development assault on Australia’s flora and fauna is as critical an environmental issue as the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef.

In NSW, a government legislative proposal is coming up this month that guts the Native Vegetation Act of 2003 that has stopped broad scale land clearing for the past 15 years. It also proposes to unravel the minimal existing safeguards for native animals under a new so-called Conservation and Biodiversity Act, while scrapping the Threatened Species Conservation Act of 1995. They call it doing away with “red tape” and with the need to protect “abundant” species.

What? Can the same government that took a stance on the greyhound industry on compassionate grounds care less about the fate of koalas or kookaburras, wombats and kangaroos, parrots and lizards and others that are called “abundant”? The Australian wildlife the world loves, that has survived historical bounties and killing campaigns, could in 2016 face a heightened assault with guns and poison?

What it looks like is a return to the colonial mentality of self-styled clearing, habitat destruction and animal destruction. A boost for the old culture of blame against the native residents. Add to that a 2016 context – destruction of greenhouse gas-soaking mature trees and regrowth.

Look at Queensland since 2014 to see where that has led. Hundreds of thousands of hectares have been cleared in just three years, as many native animals have lost their habitat or otherwise been killed. National greenhouse gas abatement from the federal Direct Action taxpayer-funded campaign (paying farmers not to destroy trees) has been wiped out.  And, given Queensland Labor’s recent failed attempt, it’s hard to rescind this legislation.

In NSW the government claims it’s all OK, good people will be planting more trees, and wildlife habitat will be “offset” somewhere away from the farmer/developers’ path, while the killing will only target “abundant” wildlife.  If you believe these solutions, we have a bridge to sell you.

In fact, according to Josh Gilbert, former chair of NSW Young Farmers, it’s all about politics. Who knew?  At the last state election the NSW Farmers association (a more traditional and small minority of the state’s 40,000 farmers) and the National Party signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Liberals. In return for election support, the Coalition would take these backward steps on land management. So here we are.

Gilbert, from a cattle-farming family, resigned his post earlier this year in protest about the proposed clearing laws and NSW Farmers’ role therein. He said at the time: “Australia has become number three for the worst land clearing rates amongst developed nations. And still, some industries continue to lobby for self-regulation in order to have the opportunity to destroy our native landscapes.”

He now belongs to a coalition of farmers and scientists, conservation groups and others who oppose the changes, saying existing legislation works adequately to satisfy the majority of farmers.

Killing data

Even under existing legislation, the statistics on wildlife killed in the state are horrifying. Now they propose to ease landholders’ reporting burdens by removing even the minimal requirements to explain why and how many you want to kill to obtain a license from the National Parks and Wildlife Service/ Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH).

The service issued permits to kill 145,550 mammals and birds in 2015-2016 using a ‘s121’ non-commercial license. That included permits for 100,000 eastern grey kangaroos ( in addition to the large commercial killing), near 9000 corellas, 6500 sulphur-crested cockatoos, 550 galahs, 655 emus, 175 swamp wallabies 113 wombats and 83 magpies, according to OEH data obtained by Fairfax media.  Those licenses and related data collection would stop with the new legislation.

Instead there would be a so-called “risk-assessment” scale with common species losing all protection.  Cut-to-the-bone National Parks staff won’t need to safeguard common wildlife anymore.

Every wildlife rescue organisation can tell horror stories of mis-shot or arrow-shot animals due to private landholders, as happened in Palerang recently.  And that is under a regulated system. Imagine then open season.

The NSW Opposition told the media that wombats, kangaroos, emus, possums, wallabies, kookaburras and parrots such as sulphur-crested cockatoos and galahs, magpies, ravens and crows, (among others) would be fair game under the new proposals.

Labor environment spokeswoman Penny Sharpe is clear: “Those who seek to kill native wildlife will be able to do so with no oversight and little consequences.”

Animals sliding into endangered status such as koalas or large gliders, owls, will suffer equally if their habitat is cleared, as has happened in Queensland with koalas.

Commercial killing of kangaroos, now in south-eastern NSW, will face some kind of self-assessed code of conduct. Not too different from the present unmonitored and cruel reality.

Genius too, backers of this legislation would be able to claim ignorance as a defence if they harm animals during land clearing. Imagine if people who don’t wear seat belts or people who hit others while texting and driving had the same option.

Gilbert told the Bulletin that the main industry voices urging these changes are some grains, canola and cotton farmers wanting to clear more land without restraint. (Anyone who has recently seen the laser-levelled, treeless kilometres of the inland agricultural north, and the weed infestation currently, would be asking, how much more can the landscape bear?)

The government has received 7000 submissions of which almost all are reportedly against this legislation.

Submission are closed, but it’s not too late to be counted. Let your state representative, the premier, or your favourite parliamentarian know what you, as a voter, think about this proposed assault on our natural heritage. Ask them to stop.

Related articles Why I quit over native veg laws: outgoing chair of NSW Young Farmers speaks out, February 2016

The District Bulletin: Koalas on the brink, June 2016, p2 (also in June online archive issue)

The Queensland tree clearing blamed for dramatic rise in wildlife needing rescue, 6 April 2016

ONLINE links to this story

As well as the Bulletin reference (above)

The Guardian: Queensland tree clearing blamed for dramatic rise in wildlife needing rescue

The Sydney Morning Herald: Baird government ‘declares open season’ on native animals

The Vocal: Baird’s Proposed Nature Laws Spell Disaster For Native Animals

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