Speech on the Forestry Legislation Amendment Bill 2108

In Parliament | 20.06.18

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE (23:22): I make only a brief contribution on the Forest Legislation Amendment Bill 2108 because I acknowledge the excellent work on this legislation by my colleague the Hon. Mick Veitch, who made a comprehensive contribution to the debate. However, I wish to raise a few points with an environmental focus, obviously. The objects of this bill are:

(a)to amend the Local Land Services Act 2013 and other Acts to transfer responsibility for the regulation of private native forestry to Local Land Services, with the Environment Protection Authority maintaining its enforcement role,

(b)to amend the Forestry Act 2012, the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and other Acts to update the regulatory framework for public native forestry and the enforcement role of the Environment Protection Authority,

(c)to make minor, related and consequential amendments to the Local Land Services Act 2013, the Forestry Act 2012 and other Acts and instruments.

First, I again acknowledge the role of the new process for referring bills to committees, which I believe to be very important, and the vital role of committee members who scrutinise legislation. The Government has nothing to fear from this process—in fact, the process has helped the Government to secure the passage of legislation. While Labor has significant concerns about this bill, it is important that it endured underwent the scrutiny of the committee. It is also important that various stakeholders, including those involved in the forest wars for decades, were forced to appear before the committee and talk through their issues, rather than taking pot shots at each other through the media. They were required to answer committee members' questions under oath, which is a good thing.

I will now reflect on some of the matters raised in the standing committee's report. In particular, I refer to point 1.16 on page 3 of that report, which talks about the schedule that formalises the transfer of responsibility for private native forestry advice and approvals from the EPA to Local Land Services. It includes the provisions to authorise the Minister for Lands and Forestry, with the concurrence of the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Primary Industries, to make the codes of practice to regulate the operations. I place on record that I have no faith that the current Minister for the Environment would be able to live up to the requirements of concurrence. That Minister has clear form in concurrence—one only has to look at the debacle that was the Biodiversity Conservation Act. Her failure to even sign that paperwork on time led the other Minister into a world of pain. More importantly, I have seen what she signed off on and I still fail to understand how a Minister for the Environment was able to sign off on the Biodiversity Conservation Act. But that is not what this is about.

Concurrence is a very important mechanism to give some confidence to the community about the various issues within government, whereby the various competing stakeholders are able to get around the table and the Ministers at the pointy end of that are able to come up with some agreement. It should not be a process that allows one set of Ministers to run over another Minister or that allows some interests to prevail over others. I place on record my concern about this provision. I do not think it gets the balance right. I would have been very comfortable with the role that other environment Ministers, from all sides of politics, have played; I do not have the same confidence about the current environment Minister. Chapter two of the standing committee's report deals with key issues around environmental impact. The committee received numerous submissions that raised the following concerns:

. the increased opportunity for deforestation and a corresponding decrease in environmental protection

.the loss of native habitat and wildlife and extinction of threatened species

.the work of volunteers in trying to protect and increase natural habitat through planting trees and rehabilitating orphaned wildlife being undermined.

In this job I spend a lot of time walking through forests with a range of different stakeholders to look at a variety of issues being faced in this State. I have seen what I consider to be very poor logging practices, which I do not believe are sustainable. Those practices are fundamentally harming not only wildlife but also water quality. They are also destroying the carbon sinks within those forests. We cannot ignore these issues or wave a magic wand and say everything is being done sustainably because they say so. That is not the case. I have also learnt from walking through forests with a range of different stakeholders that on many occasions the EPA has absolutely failed in its duty to regulate and monitor what is going on in those forests.

I have seen threatened species that have been taken down and there was no consequence. I have seen the logging of old hollow trees, which are home to a range of threatened species such as greater gliders, powerful owls and koalas—not that koalas live in hollows. I have seen the loss of significant trees that I had been led to understand would be protected under the logging arrangements, but they have not been. I have seen the poor practice that if one does not look for koala scats then one will not find any and therefore one is not required to look after the koala habitat that is there. I have been with the volunteers who go out every weekend and they have found significant evidence of koala activity in places where Forestry has said there simply are not any koalas. We should all be concerned about that.

If we are serious about koalas—our iconic species which is threatened and on a path to extinction in New South Wales by 2055—we cannot let things go forward without serious consideration. We must not dismiss consideration of such things as just being part of the forest wars. Every single part of this bill has to be taken seriously.

I would like to talk about the work of the volunteers who are trying to protect and increase natural habitat through the planting of trees and rehabilitation. All of us know such volunteers. They do incredible work all over the State. But their actions will just amount to putting a bandaid on a huge, gaping wound if this Parliament fails to acknowledge that the only way to protect these animals in the long term is to make sure that they have habitats. I wanted to put those issues on the table and to acknowledge the work that is being done. Every decision that members make—this bill is just one of them—on matters such as our environment, jobs, communities, what the future will look like and threatened species, is really significant. The decisions that we are making now will have ramifications for decades to come.

On that basis I want to make three more points. The first is about the regional forest agreements. Some of us are old enough to remember the forest wars of 20 years ago. Some people I know very well were involved in the resolution of some of those difficulties. Twenty years on, those agreements are being considered again. There has been too much haste to roll the agreements over into the future. Much has changed and there has not been a proper assessment of regional forest agreements. It is a highly contentious space in relation to what has or has not happened. The world has changed in relation to emissions and what we are trying to do around climate change. Forests can play a role in protecting against climate change. Labor's position is that there should not be a perfunctory consultation nor a great haste to roll over the agreements. I fear that that is what is happening; it is not something that Labor supports.

The second thing I want to talk about is the integrated forestry operations approvals [IFOAs]. There is a lot of detail in these. I am not going to go into a lot of detail about this because it is not specifically what the bill in front of us tonight is about. We have to understand what is being proposed in the draft IFOAs. The Government is looking at logging areas that have not been logged before. They have not been logged before because they were recognised as being environmentally sensitive and environmentally important. There are real issues with wood supply and if we get this bill wrong it will expose taxpayers to millions of dollars of compensation. The answer is not simply to intensify logging and go into places that have previously been protected. Labor is very concerned about that.

I thought I was moving on to my final point but I have two more points. I have four points but I am not going to be long. I know it is 11.30 p.m. but I am entitled to speak on this matter as I am the shadow Minister for the Environment. That is my job. I generally do not speak for long in this Chamber.

The Hon. Robert Brown: I enjoy listening to you.

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE: That is very kind.

The Hon. Dr Peter Phelps: She has a preselection coming up.

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE: I have already won my preselection. I am right.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (The Hon. Shayne Mallard): Order! I ask the shadow Minister to return to the second reading debate and address the Chair.

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE: Yes. I will not respond to interjections. I will continue with the point I want to make. The 2016 Forestry Industry Roadmap for New South Wales made a commitment to maintain logging levels without eroding environmental protections. So let us look at what the New South Wales Natural Resources Commission has been tasked with and what it has said in relation to this. It said that "it is not possible to meet the government’s commitments around both environmental values and wood supply". I think it is important to put that on the record. One of the Government's own significant advisers is giving this Parliament good advice. We are not taking it seriously enough.

The final point that I want to make is about what is happening in funding for the environment. There have been too many cuts to funding for the environment. Just in the budget this week there was a $66 million cut to the Office of Environment and Heritage and a $165 million underspend of last year's budget. That is $231 million that is not being spent on dealing with the urgent environmental issues in this State. We may disagree on what some of those are but no-one can deny that there is a range of issues.

This Government needs to get serious about the environment; our concerns in this bill yet again reflect that they are not. Their actions relating to the funding of the environment and the lack of action around whole range of issues sets us up for a very bad future. We are neglecting our responsibility to the future generations if we do not get this right.

Legislative Council, 20 June 2018