Speech to the 2017 Annual General Meeting of the Nature Conservation Council

In Parliament | 29.10.17

Let me begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land we gather on today, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation.

I pay my respects to their elders past and present.

I also wish to acknowledge Chair Don White and CEO Kate Smolski and all the organisations represented here.

Thanks for again having me come and speak to you.

When do we acknowledge that NSW is at the point where the government of the day is absolutely unwilling and fundamentally unable to fix the environmental crisis that is facing this state?

I don’t who about you, or the organisations you represent gathered in this room today, but almost seven years into the current Liberal and National Coalition Government in NSW I am ready to call it.

And in doing so I understand that the acknowledgement of crisis demands a response from Labor as Labor seeks to form government in 2019.

At this point of the electoral cycle I stand before you today as Labor’s Shadow Minister for the Environment and Heritage to outline where I think the crisis for our environment lies - where I see the political challenges in the lead up to 2019 and why only a change of government will begin to repair the damage.

Environment policy and action should be a non political enterprise driven by good science, strong leadership and a belief that we have an intergenerational responsibility to leave the planet in better shape that we find it.

In 2017 this is not where NSW finds itself.

At a time when there are over 1,000 species declared as threatened, only 10% of native vegetation considered to be in pristine condition and communities across the state are running out of water we have a government that crows about the shredding of native vegetation laws.

The Government has pushed through new laws that have come into force without the maps and regulations that establish the rules for clearing. Laws delivering massive uncertainty, almost non-existent compliance activity and a chronically understaffed and unsupported public service struggling to cope.

At a time when koalas are on a dangerous trajectory to extinction the Liberal-National Government continues to build infrastructure with little or no consideration of the core habitat destruction – think Ballina, think Port Macquarie, think Campbelltown.

To add insult to injury the Government sells off critical habitat like that in the Mambo wetlands in Port Stephens to developers. At the same time it is actively supporting intensification of logging that will plunge koalas further into extinction.

This government also thinks putting a koala population of 270 in hessian sacks and moving it elsewhere for a mine on the Liverpool Plains is a reasonable idea.

We have a government that opposes the Great Koala National Park.

When it comes to forestry, the 20 year regional forest agreements are about to come due.

At a time when the role of forests is vital for carbon sequestration and water quality, this government seeks to work with their conservative federal colleagues to simply roll over these agreements, no matter the cost to the taxpayer or the environment.

In 2017 NSW should be celebrating the 50 year anniversary of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. One of our most precious public assets, instead we have a government that is contemplating de-listing some of our national parks and has slashed hundreds of millions of dollars out of the service.

When it comes to climate change and renewable energy the current government barely wants to mention these issues. Buried on a website somewhere there is an aspirational target for achieving net zero emissions by 2050. But absolutely no plan to achieve it.

In the meantime our cities get hotter, sea level rise continues, our fires become more frequent and more destructive and we clear more and more land.

NSW remains the laggard state when it comes to renewable energy.

In Sydney we are in the grip of a development spiral where the developers are holding all the cards and making all the profits as critical habitat is lost, our established tree canopy is diminished and the water catchment is endangered.

At a time when all the science is pointing to the urgent need to protect our marine environment and the evidence tells us that our oceans and beaches are providing the much needed economic drivers of tourism and jobs, the current government has walked away from sanctuary zones and will not establish a marine park for Sydney.

We have a government that is now the only jurisdiction in Australia to refuse to ban single use bags. One of the easiest actions any government could take reduce plastic pollution.

On the basis of these examples and many many more, I am happy to call it. This is a government that in unable to tackle the environmental crisis that is unfolding.

So what needs to change?

Not just a change the policies but given the wilful neglect and in some cases outright animosity to nature, NSW also needs a change in government.

Those of you who are gathered here today do not need to be convinced of the need to change environmental direction, but I understand that you do need to be convinced of Labor’s commitment to change the policies and to take the environmental crisis we are facing seriously.

Labor has already sketched out some of our key policies and approaches we will take if elected in 2019.

Labor will overturn the vandalism of the biodiversity conservation act and working with scientists, farmers and environmentalists to reintroduce laws based on science that put biodiversity conservation and improvement at the centre.

We will review the perverse outcomes occurring through biodiversity offsetting and put in place best practice offsetting that includes no go zones, like for like and improvement principles into the rules for this practice.

Labor will take on board the recent Hawkesbury shelf bioregion assessment to move towards the establishment of the Sydney Marine Park.

And we will ban single use plastic bags and look at further measures to reduce plastic pollution.

When it comes to the Regional Forest Agreements, Labor will not sign off on a roll over, without a full scientific assessment of the outcomes of the previous agreements with an additional focus on the role that forests play in carbon storage and water quality.

Labor supports a moratorium on Coal Seam Gas, including in the Pillaga.

Labor will have a climate change plan that charts a path of how NSW will work to meet the Paris climate agreement.

We will rapidly promote the installation and uptake of renewable energy.

When it comes to planning, we will put the environment back into the planning process, we will protect urban bushland and our tree canopy and we will abandon planning instruments such as priority precincts that are designed to circumvent environmental protections.

Labor will establish the Great Koala National Park and look for immediate expansion of protection for core koala habitat across the state. We will ensure that infrastructure projects take into account the needs of koala populations.

Labor will update the National Parks Establishment Plan and again put in place an agenda for the expansion of national parks as part of NSW’s commitment to biodiversity protection and restoration.

Labor will restore the recently weakened neutral or beneficial test for assessment and protection of Sydney’s water catchment as a result of new developments and proposed mine expansions.

These are just a few of the policies that Labor that make up our environmental policy.

There is not time to go into detail today but in the next 12 months, I invite you and your organisations to help Labor to fill in more of the details of the policies I have just outlined, as well as suggesting others.

A list of policies is fine, but ultimately irrelevant if Labor does not win the support of the community for them to help us form government in 2019 so we can implement them.

When it comes to the environment, the current political landscape in NSW is difficult to predict and challenging to work in. In the next 17 months that is not going to change.

Where there have always been members of the Liberal party who understand and care about the environment, in this current government – beyond the Member for Pittwater Rob Stokes – there are few voices for the environment that Labor can find or work with in the coalition.

Without a willingness to work together on some of these issues, the environmental damage will continue unabated.

The pressure on the Liberal National Governments is also coming from the political parties to the right of the coalition. These parties are moving into NSW. NSW already has the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives has registered in NSW and One Nation will do so in coming weeks.

These parties of the right are putting the National Party under pressure in rural and regional seats. Pushing the National party to further extremes. As just one example, the newly elected Member for Murray will be bringing to parliament a bill to delist the Murray Valley National Park and reopen the river red gum forests to commercial logging. The Liberal Environment Minister’s response – ‘we have no plans’ – to the continual undermining of the Murray Darling Plan is another.

It is highly probable that some of these parties could win additional seats in 2019.

Labor as the party seeking seeking to stop the environmental vandalism, seeking to be a government that will make NSW a leader in environmental protection and action on climate change and will need to win 14 seats to form government in our own right.

This is a huge challenge. Seven or eight of those seats are in Sydney and seven or eight of them are in regional NSW.

The good news here is that the fight to stand up for nature and take action on climate change has broad community support.

Old groups are being revitalised and new coalitions are forming as communities across NSW demand change.

Everywhere you look there are groups making the case for the environment, standing up against the corruption of laws designed to protect the environment and putting a stop to dangerous proposals.

In the next 17 months I commit to making the case every day for nature and for action on climate change. I will also be making the case every day for a change in government as the only way to reverse the decline in our state.

I will urge the voters of New South Wales to call time for the Berejiklian/Barilaro.

New South Wales can return to being an environmental leader if the community demands change and commits to working to change a government who will not change.

What I ask of the people in this room is a willingness to keep working with Labor as we finalise our policies.

Not just working with me but with my parliamentary colleagues and our candidates.

Keep up with the campaigns you are running to bring these issues to the front of the communities attention and ask them to take action to protect the environment.

Ask them to vote for change.

The health and well-being of New South Wales is depending on it.

Thank you.