Labor demands no sign off of Regional Forest Agreements unless a proper assessment is done
In Parliament | 21.03.18
The NSW Labor Opposition today demanded a full scientific assessment of the state’s Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs) after revelations that the NSW Government knows the science underpinning the RFAs is out of date and incomplete.
Ministerial briefing notes released via GIPA to The Guardian detail the Government’s awareness of ‘concerns regarding the assessments that underpin the current RFAs and the validity of this science’.
The briefings describe ‘legal uncertainty’ as to whether the original environmental impact studies that underpin the existing RFAs remain valid – and worst of all, that ‘it is in both parties’ interests’ to avoid any new assessments that might require significant alteration of the RFAs, because it might be ‘costly’.
The Opposition has criticised the Berejiklian Government’s consultation on the long-overdue reviews of the RFAs and called for a proper assessment without a predetermined outcome.
Concerns about the consultation have also been raised by scientists and environment groups who have withdrawn from the consultations because the Government announced that it is was committed to renewing the RFAs regardless of the consultation.
Labor has been unequivocal: Labor will not sign off on a rollover of the RFAs until there is a proper independent scientific assessment of their outcomes, and the assumptions of the original RFAs are revisited.
Importantly, the RFA assessment must include climate change as a consideration. Given the key role of forests for carbon storage, no RFA should be renewed without investigating their impact on climate change.
Also of great concern is the outright disinterest of NSW Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton, with the briefings showing that she failed to attend a high level ministerial meeting to discuss the RFAs last year – instead she is pictured on Twitter campaigning for factional colleague James Griffin at the Manly by-election.
RFAs are 20-year agreements between the NSW and Australian Governments to provide a framework for the conservation and sustainable management of native forests. In NSW there are three RFAs: Eden (expiring on 26 August 2019); North East (expiring on 31 March 2020); and Southern (expiring on 24 April 2021).
Performance reviews are required every 5 years to assess progress on ecologically sustainable forest management – however, the Government failed to undertake the second and third five-yearly reviews. A belated review report covering both periods was recently put to public consultation.
Quotes attributable to Shadow Environment Minister Penny Sharpe MLC
“These revelations show that the Berejiklian Government is willing to put at risk precious habitat for native wildlife, soil and water quality, and risk our ability to adequately address climate change, all because they think a proper, responsible scientific assessment might be ‘costly’.
“No one has been fooled by this all-in-one review and sham consultation exercise being undertaken in NSW – a review for which the outcome has already been decided is not really a review, so it is no wonder that numerous key stakeholders abandoned the consultation process.
“The unnecessary rush to push ahead with early renewal of these agreements lays bare the Government’s intentions: a quick and dirty escape from a complex policy issue before the 2019 State Election.”