THREATENED HABITAT DESTRUCTION IMMINENT AS NSW LAND CLEARING LAWS COMMENCE
28th August 2017
Humane Society International is extremely concerned at the rushed commencement of NSW land clearing legislation. The Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and Local Land Services Amendment Act 2016 came into effect last Friday despite concerns from conservation organisations, the Federal Senate, and farmers and other landholders. As a member of the Stand Up For Nature alliance of environmental groups, Humane Society International has campaigned against these regressive reforms since the first details emerged in early 2015.
Among a multitude of contentious changes to land management in NSW is the opening up of Vulnerable and Endangered ecological communities (threatened habitats) to self-assessable codes where landholders are able to determine what clearing can be undertaken themselves.
“Separating out Vulnerable and Endangered ecological communities and having them subject to self-assessable clearing codes is not only incredibly risky but goes against the very purpose of them being listed in the first place – to arrest decline and facilitate recovery. Yet under the new laws only when habitats are on their last legs and reach the level of Critically Endangered is any meaningful consideration given,” said Humane Society International Senior Program Manager Evan Quartermain.
More than 100 ecological communities are listed as threatened under NSW law, with the status of many having been legally recognised for decades. It is highly likely that these earlier listings have been subject to further significant clearing, and Humane Society International wrote to the NSW Scientific Committee in November 2016 urging a review of the status of all Endangered ecological communities in the state to ensure their listing category properly reflected their status. The all too familiar response was that while three reassessments were underway, there were insufficient resources for the full job.
“The NSW Government simply doesn’t know if the vegetation they are opening up to clearing is Critically Endangered. Instead of funding the assessment to find out if things are worse, basically allowing themselves to be informed by the latest science, they have chosen to avoid dealing with it. Now the Government has absurdly restricted independent assessments to Critically Endangered matters, they must at the very least invest in a full review of state-listed ecological communities,” continued Mr Quartermain.
Of further concern to Humane Society International is the inevitable impact on Matters of National Environmental Significance (MNES) which occur across millions of hectares in NSW. There was a sharp increase in land clearing in Queensland after former Premier Campbell Newman relaxed vegetation protection by allowing more use of self-assessable codes in 2012-13. It was then argued that Federally protected matters were irrelevant to the state process as Commonwealth law continued to apply as usual, however this proved not to be the case, with a recent WWF Australia report1 detailing the loss of hundreds of thousands of hectares of MNES and a shocking absence of enforcement of the law from the Federal Government.
“Last week Humane Society International wrote to Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg imploring him to ensure the EPBC Act is properly complied with and enforced. It’s of course always vital, but the Queensland experience shows that this time of change presents a much higher risk. We simply can’t have the Commonwealth Government shying away from its responsibility to enforce the law while states weaken protections,” said Mr Quartermain.
Humane Society International is also of the view that the method for calculating biodiversity offsets under the new NSW legislative regime does not properly protect the environment or threatened ecosystems. While the Federal Government claims the NSW offset policy meets national standards of environmental protection, analysis by the Environmental Defenders Office NSW shows that the system provides weaker environmental protection than required under national environment policies2. Humane Society International is seeking further information in the courts.
Mr Quartermain concluded, “To make matters worse, the entire system is underpinned by a sub-standard offsetting program that will lead to a net loss of biodiversity, even in Critically Endangered ecosystems. While the NSW Government continues to crow about the new system in a shroud of rhetoric, Humane Society International urges the immediate repeal of the newly implemented laws.”
1WWF Australia (2017) Pervasive inaction on national conservation law. Available at: http://www.wwf.org.au/knowledge-centre/resource-library