Speech on biodiversity and land clearing reforms

In Parliament | 11.08.16

A dreadful line has been crossed: there are now more than 1,000 types of plants and animals facing extinction in New South Wales.

The most important action that can be taken to stop this wave of extinctions is to protect the bush from being cleared.

If the bush is cleared, animals and plants will die. Some species will be lost forever.

If the bush is protected, we give them a fighting chance.

But the Baird Government is currently pushing to abolish the laws that protect our plants and animals. The extent and intensity of opposition to what the Government is proposing is unprecedented.

The esteemed Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists has voiced its concern, saying:

These retrograde changes risk returning NSW to an era of unsustainable environmental damage by reinstating broad scale land clearing, resulting in more degraded land, more damage to river systems, increased carbon emissions and the loss of habitat critical to the survival of threatened species.

After two years, an expert panel and more than 5,000 submissions the Government's plans have been rejected by leading scientists and have split the farming community. Environmental groups have walked away from the process, describing the reforms as a disaster for our State's land, water, wildlife and trees.

A group of farmers are running a campaign against the changes because they understand the damage that will be wrought. They have said:

As farmers, land managers and food suppliers, we are alarmed at the Baird Government's proposed changes to land management laws. The changes will lead to wide scale land clearing and land management practices that have no place in modern farming.

Like so many of the challenges facing New South Wales, what is missing is a big picture view and a commitment to the long-term public interest ahead of short-term quick fixes.

Premier Baird has so far refused to listen. He and his Ministers refuse to acknowledge the gains made under the current native vegetation laws. In fact, some of his Ministers regularly subject us to lectures about what a failure they have been.

We need to understand how successful they have been.

In the year 2000, Australia was guilty of being the fifth greatest land clearer in the world, and the worst offender of any developed nation. Land clearing was causing soil erosion, ruining rivers, driving up carbon emissions and was the prime contributor to biodiversity loss.

The Carr Labor Government responded by engaging in an extensive two-year process with farmers, scientists and environmental groups that lead to the Native Vegetation Act. When introduced it was endorsed by all of those groups.

Prior to the Native Vegetation Act 2003 more than 100,000 hectares of land—the equivalent of half of Sydney's urban area—was being cleared every year. Since then that has dropped to less than 12,000 hectares per year.

By anyone's estimation that is a huge success.

The laws have delivered a 20 per cent reduction in clearing of remnant bushland, saved 53,000 native mammals from death each year and saved approximately 300 koalas from a human caused death.

The halt to broad-scale land clearing in New South Wales and Queensland is the only reason that Australia has been able to meet its commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol.

Premier Baird's plan to dismantle the laws will take us back to the bad old days of widespread clearing. With the bush gone and their homes destroyed, our native mammals, birds, reptiles and insects will die.

What is being proposed will further damage our soil, land and water. The changes fail to adequately support and compensate farmers and other landholders who restore degraded land and conserve precious native vegetation for the future.

After two centuries of policies that have supported land clearing less than 10 per cent of our State's landscape is in its natural condition.

We can and must do better. What is left should be protected, not destroyed.