The Local Land Services Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2020 purports to streamline the processes by which farmers and forestry managers conduct normal agricultural processes or allowable activities by decoupling the Local Land Services Act and the State Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. In effect, it will remove the application of the State Environmental Planning Policy (Koala Habitat Protection) 2019, which is known as the koala SEPP, from certain agricultural and forestry lands and allow for native vegetation clearing in some circumstances without the need for permission and other legislation. On the whole this legislation represents another concerning change in the policy of koala protections from the Liberal Government.
The difference between the policies of the Labor Opposition and the Government on land clearing and koala protection could not be more stark. Labor has long fought this Government on its appalling record and approach to land clearing and to biodiversity protection. Labor understands the value of protecting our unique and iconic native species but, unlike the Government, we also understand what it takes to do so: stopping habitat destruction, reversing the tragic loss of our native forest and facing head-on the many threats caused by climate change. In just 30 years koalas will be extinct in the wild in New South Wales. Unless we act, our kids and grandkids will never know the delight of chancing upon a koala in the wild. Their encounters will be limited to zoo enclosures or, worse still, to the pages of history books. Without doubt they will look back at the history of the koala and see this political era in New South Wales as a turning point and they will ask us: When the Government had the chance to say enough is enough, did it act to ensure the strongest protections possible, or did it continue to deal away the future of our native species for the political benefits of the National Party or to line the pockets of property developers?
In June this year the parliamentary inquiry into koala populations and habitat clearly outlined the risks to our koalas across New South Wales. The inquiry found that current estimates of a mere 36,000 koalas living in New South Wales could be outdated and unreliable and, for comparison, some studies put the total koala populations across Australia at the time of European arrival at 10 million koalas. Up to 5,000 koalas perished in New South Wales alone during the bushfires with many more facing long roads to recovery from dehydration, burns, and other injuries and infections. The area of koala habitat on public land lost in the summer bushfires ranges anywhere from between 24 per cent to 81 per cent and a more recent report has shown that almost three‑quarters of the key habitat earmarked for koala protection by the Berejiklian Government burnt. Importantly, the inquiry also found that the fragmentation of koala habitat poses the most serious threat to koala populations, that the approvals of koala plans of management by local councils have been too slow, and that they need to be approved quickly and transparently.
The report makes for bleak reading and builds on what we already know about the extinction crisis we face across our country. We are seeing signs of ecosystem collapse in our oceans and our skies, and on our land. We have the highest rate of mammal extinction in the world, with the United Nations listing the biggest causes of that as feral animals, climate change, pollution, and changes in our land and sea use. In 200 years we have already lost 60 plant species and 50 animal species and reports suggest that over 1,800 more plant and animal species are at risk of extinction across our continent if we do not act urgently. New South Wales koalas should not be one of them. The Labor Opposition has a long and proud record about biodiversity protection. When last in government here in New South Wales Labor implemented the Native Vegetation Act and the Threatened Species Act. Those Acts contributed to reducing broadscale land clearing by 88 per cent from 80,000 hectares to 1,000 hectares per year. Those laws resulted in an estimated 53,000 fewer animal deaths each year and aided Australia to meet its international carbon emission reductions.
Labor added over three million hectares to our conservation network, bringing the national parks and reserves estate to 6.8 million hectares—an area that is larger than Tasmania. In 2016 Labor opposed Premier Mike Baird's reckless decision to axe Labor's legislation and to relax land clearing laws. We proudly joined hundreds of New South Wales residents across the Parliament and across this State to fight against those laws and we did that with good cause. A 2018 report showed that 60,800 hectares of vegetation was cleared in 2018, which was an increase from 58,000 the year before and almost double the average of 38,800 between 2009 and 2017. In the same year Australia was declared one of the top 10 nations for deforestation in the world and was the only developed nation on the list. Estimates suggest three million hectares of untouched forest will be bulldozed in eastern Australia in the next 10 years alone. Land clearing devastates our ecology, and impacts the health of our rivers and riparian zones, contributing to erosion and exacerbating climate change and weather events such as extreme droughts that we are now experiencing. Of course land clearing directly impacts plant life, our animals and koalas. The report of the National Parks Association of New South Wales states:
Most of the remaining high quality koala habitat lies in state forests and on private land where ongoing clearing of native vegetation and intense, industrialised logging is leading to the removal of vital food and habitat trees. If nothing is done to protect and reconnect koala habitat, population declines will continue unabated and extinction seems inevitable.
It seems that some members of the Government agree. The Minister for Planning and Public Spaces recently said:
The fact is you can't save the koala and remove koala habitat at the same time.
Yet allowing for the removal of koala habitat is exactly what this legislation will do. The Environmental Defenders Office [EDO] also has raised significant concerns that the proposed "allowable activity land" will undermine E zones and means, in effect, that clearing can go ahead on land deemed to be environmentally sensitive. Under current legislation clearing on those lands can go ahead: It just requires proper authorisation. The EDO explains that the bill "freezes in time" the identification of koala habitat in those local government areas that are not already designated category 2 regulated land. Koala habitat also will be prevented from being designated category 2 sensitive regulated land. In effect, the EDO fears that this is just further deregulation of land clearing in koala habitat.
The EDO also is concerned that the bill limits the planning instruments requiring consent for land clearing, broadens the defences as to why landowners might clear land in regulated rural areas and pre-empts the three‑year review of the land management framework and the review of the private native forests framework. The EDO notes that the policy settings underpinning the bill are inconsistent with the original recommendations of the Independent Biodiversity legislation Review Panel which argued that the laws must:
1.Level the playing field for agricultural development and land management activities by …
(d)treating all forms of development in a consistent and fair way, by integrating the assessment and approval of all forms of agricultural development that involve clearing of native vegetation intothe Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979
The last thing that this Government seems to have on its mind is consistent assessment of all forms of development.
As I said, the last thing this Government has on its mind is the fair and consistent assessment of all forms of development because this bill is just another ploy to help its developer mates. What we need to do is remember what really happened here.
About a month ago the Deputy Premier and the National Party started a war with the Premier and the Liberals about koalas. It escalated pretty quickly indeed and before we knew it the Deputy Premier was having a pretty big temper tantrum underneath the tree of truth out the back. For so many in the community, for so many people watching, that chest beating was pretty extreme, even for the National Party, but despite all of the Deputy Premier's bluster about how many farmers had contacted him about the koala SEPP, it was of course discovered that the only complaint that the Deputy Premier raised with the planning Minister was from property developer Jeff McCloy. Then it was revealed that the member for Myall Lakes had also made representations on behalf of a property developer and a Coalition donor.
To her credit, the Premier responded very strongly. She was rightly applauded for standing up to the bullies in the National Party. Both the Premier and the planning Minister, Rob Stokes, threatened to go it alone, govern without The Nationals—apparently the scones were already being baked at Government House. This was a serious thing. Despite all her bravado, once again the Premier, her planning Minister and the environment Minister have caved, not just to the threats and temper tantrums of the National Party but also to the interests of their developer mates, because what have we learned in the last week? We have learned that it is not just the National Party that jumps when developers call. We have learned about the improper influence that developers have had, and may still have, on members of the Liberal Party in this Parliament.
The Liberals should be ashamed of supporting this bill today because it is nothing but a pathetic compromise to patch back together their coalition. It shows that their rhetoric about saving koalas means absolutely nothing. They do not act in the public interest and they do not act in the interests of the environment of our great State or in the interests of saving our great flora and fauna; they act in political self-interest. They act in the interest of their property developer mates. The environment Minister has said a lot about koalas. He said a lot about not only saving them but also increasing their populations. This bill will not do that. This bill will kill more koalas. As the planning Minister said, you cannot save koalas if you are bulldozing their habitat. The people of New South Wales will see through this; they will not stand to lose more koalas because the Liberals and The Nationals are looking after their property developer mates.
I have been contacted by many, many residents over the past month and they have a very simple message. They want to see koalas protected. That means an end to this Government's obsession with land clearing, it means an end to the open door policy it has with developers and it means an end to the ridiculous pandering of the National Party when it comes to our natural environment and to the iconic species that live within it. Enough is enough. People will see through this pathetic compromise and this bill that only panders to the interests of property developers, not protecting our natural environment and the koalas in New South Wales. This bill must be rejected.