Biodiversity, Conservation and Land Management Bills 2016

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I will contribute to the debate on the Biodiversity Conservation Bill 2016 and the Local Land Services Amendment Bill 2016.

This legislation is biodiversity conservation in name only. I acknowledge the input and contributions to this debate at the public exhibition stage from peak environmental groups including:

  • the Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales;
  • the New South Wales Wilderness Society;
  • the Environmental Defender's Office;
  • the Total Environment Centre;
  • the Blue Mountains Conservation Society;
  • the Colong Foundation;
  • the Blue Mountains Bushcare Network;
  • the Blue Mountains Bird Observers; and
  • the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists.

Labor's shadow Environment Minister in the other place, the Hon. Penny Sharpe, has worked with these environment groups and other stakeholders to prepare Labor's response to these bills and to advance the case for sustainable environmental legislation in New South Wales.

I acknowledge my colleague the Hon. Mick Veitch, shadow Minister for Primary Industries in the other place, for his efforts on behalf of Local Land Services. I am not an expert, but as the member for Blue Mountains I have an obligation to speak on behalf of my community, one which takes a particular interest in these policies and bills because of the unique environment that we love and call home.

I note that dozens of my constituents made submissions to the public consultation process that was run by the Office of Environment and Heritage.

Labor has a very strong record of protecting the environment and delivering significant, long-lasting reform of environment legislation and policy in New South Wales. It was the Carr Labor Government that first prioritised nature conservation in New South Wales. In 1995 the Carr Government prevented logging in parts of south‑eastern New South Wales.

Between Batemans Bay and the Victorian border, Bob Carr established the South East Forests National Park to stop vast tracts of land being cleared. He went on to gazette 120,000 hectares of old‑growth forest and wilderness areas in new national parks between 1996 and 2005. I am aware that this point has been made many times in this place today. It is important that I make it again.

In 1999 alone, more than 100 new national parks were declared between Nowra and the Bega Valley. On coming to office in 1995, Labor enacted an immediate ban on the removal of old‑growth vegetation on farmland. It introduced pricing for rural water and an environmental allocation for the State's river systems.

As the Leader of the Opposition said so eloquently and passionately earlier today, in 2003 Labor introduced the Native Vegetation Act. This curbed the removal and clearing of significant amounts of vegetation and was a deliberate legislative effort to mitigate the impacts of anthropogenic climate change.

Labor also launched the first emissions trading scheme that year, the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Scheme, which set a limit on the carbon emissions of electricity retailers. It was the world's first carbon trading scheme.

It is impossible to note these Labor achievements without paying tribute to the considerable record of achievement of one of my predecessors, former member for Blue Mountains Bob Debus. He was Minister for the Environment and was the Minister of almost every portfolio in this place at some point. Bob was the longest serving environment Minister in any Australian jurisdiction.

During his tenure, the national parks estate in New South Wales grew by more than one‑third. He was instrumental in the restoration of inland rivers and the establishment of the unbroken chain of protected areas and conservation lands that stretches 2,800 kilometres along the Great Dividing Range of eastern Australia.

The Labor Environment Action Network [LEAN] has reflected on environment policy in the context of Labor's core values. Bob was involved in the establishment of LEAN.

The organisation said:

No other party has consistently acted to protect our natural assets. Now it has started on the path to addressing the catastrophic challenge of climate change …

Environmental decisions are rooted in social justice as it is inevitably the poor who pay most for environmental degradation. They impact economically as smart economies gear up to capitalise on the clean energy future. They have a patriotic face as the beauty of Australia's natural assets remain at the heart of our conception of ourselves and our pride in this place. And increasingly they are central to our survival.

LEAN went on to say:

Human induced climate change threatens our future. Environmental systems collapse of many forms—including extinctions, water degradation, increasing toxicity—threatens life. The environmental imperative reaches beyond class, ethnicity and gender …

Delivering protection for the environment is core Labor business because it is the right thing to do.

They are the values Labor brings to this debate.

I pay tribute to LEAN activists, in particular Felicity Wade, Declan Clausen as well as Susan Elfert in my electorate.

Biodiversity is not just Labor business; it is of striking significance to the Blue Mountains community. Ten per cent of all threatened species in New South Wales can be found in my electorate. The Blue Mountains is home to more than 65 threatened animal species and 30 threatened plants, including a number of plant and animal species that are not found anywhere else in the world. The high level of biodiversity in the Blue Mountains is due to significant amounts of high-quality bushland, both within the Blue Mountains National Park and, importantly, on private land.

In the drafting of these bills, the Baird Government implies that the existing legislation is somehow deficient, that it lacks clarity, that it is too restrictive and that it places unjust burdens on landowners. While there is no such thing as perfect legislation, it cannot be disputed that the laws that Labor enacted—the laws that the Baird Government seeks to replace today—have produced very successful environmental outcomes for the State of New South Wales. Those laws work very well. The biggest issue facing landowners is the funding cuts to the department that have created delays in processing approvals for acceptable levels of land clearing. This means not that the current laws are ineffective but that the system has not been resourced adequately.

This was a system that was designed by the Carr Labor Government after exhaustive consultation with farmers, scientists and environmentalists. The outcomes of Labor's legislation were considerable and they were positive. Approved clearing fell from 80,000 hectares per annum to 811 hectares: an 88‑fold reduction in approved clearing.

The mortality of native animals has fallen dramatically. It is estimated that 53,000 fewer mammals are killed each year—a 14 per cent reduction—including 300 fewer koalas killed by logging. These laws also allowed Australia to meet its Kyoto Protocol commitments by slashing the carbon pollution associated with high rates of clearing.

I do not accept that these laws are in need of reform. The laws that Labor enacted are very good. They should be strengthened and expanded upon, not undermined, as is the ambition of the Baird Government today.

According to the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, there are three major flaws in the proposed legislation. First, instead of facilitating small-scale farm management actions, the proposed codes allow broadscale land clearing. Second, high conservation value land parcels are not protected. Third, the $240 million attached to the proposal for new private land conservation, instead of funding private landholders to restore lands, will provide a taxpayer subsidy to compensate for the additional land clearing resulting from weakened clearing controls.

The scientists said:

These retrograde changes risk returning NSW to an era of unsustainable environmental damage by reinstating broadscale 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.

In the words of Dr Brian Marshall from the Blue Mountains Conservation Society:

Our Federal and NSW Governments are rushing headlong towards environmental oblivion through expedient, stubborn and even dictatorial obsessions. Our only hope is to lessen their capacity before it's too late.

Professor Hugh Possingham, the Government's own expert panellist on the legislation review committee, found that position problematic. He resigned his post in disgust at the direction this Government is taking with its deliberate pursuit of legislation that will allow for broadscale land clearing. That is an alarming indictment of the Government. It is evidence that the Government has allowed right-wing political ideology to take precedence over expert advice and scientific expertise.

It is not just environmentalists and conservationists who are saying these things. The failed Deputy Premier came in here earlier to deliver a spray against Labor for attacking farmers and those who make their living on the land. We are not attacking farmers. I come from farming stock. I grew up in the dry paddocks and shearing sheds of the Riverina. Labor stands with the many hundreds of farmers who have banded together to campaign against this Government's laws.

Those New South Wales farmers 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.

It seems that not only was the member for Dubbo a very poor Deputy Premier but people living and working in the bush also reckon he would be a pretty lousy farmer too. We will not be lectured to by boofheads like the member for Dubbo. We will not take on board his contribution because he has demonstrated through his words, actions and poor record that he does not know the first thing about good legislation or good government. These bills represent a seriously backwards step for environmental law and policy in New South Wales.

Rather than repealing current legislation and opening the door to near unchecked land clearing, I urge the Government to adopt a more balanced approach by strengthening existing legislation and improving upon it.

I once again refer to the Hon. Bob Debus, the best environment Minister this State has ever had. “We are in a time of great crisis”, he recently said. “We are witnessing an assault on conservation legislation. Habitat loss is causing more damage than climate change and we must protect our landscape. This has never been more urgent and we have not had a government such as this lot which could care less.”

Labor opposes these bills. It opposes legislation in this place that is driven by right-wing ideology and the craven deference to big business interests that drives much of the Baird Government's legislative agenda.

Labor is the only party with a record of tangible achievement in protecting the environment and combating climate change, and we will not stand by and allow this Government to trash that legacy without opposition.

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