Bushfires and Animal Habitat Motion

(Motions, 30 July 2020, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

I strongly support the motion and commend the member for Balmain for bringing it before the House. Protecting biodiversity is fundamental to our future. The bushfires had a devastating impact on the State's natural environment. Over five million hectares of land burned, including two million hectares, or 41 per cent, of the national park estate and 875,000 hectares, or 40 per cent, of State forests. Recently the estimate of animals killed has increased to nearly three billion. That includes at least 5,000 koalas. Hundreds of billions of insects also perished. It is likely that critically endangered species have become extinct and other species added to the endangered list.

The Legislative Council Portfolio Committee No. 7 - Planning and Environment conducted an inquiry into koala populations and habitat in New South Wales. The committee found that koalas could become extinct in New South Wales before 2050. That gives us very little time to intervene and save them. Our now reduced and fragmented landscape is making wildlife recovery difficult. The only hope is to protect remaining habitat so that koalas and other animals displaced by the fires have access to natural refuges. Critical to that is the network of State forests that escaped the bushfire carnage. State forests can provide natural habitat to enable wildlife populations to regenerate. But alarmingly the State has embarked on a business‑as‑usual approach to deforestation, with logging operations commenced or planned in rare, unburnt native State forests that provide habitat for threatened species impacted by the fires.

Logging has commenced in State forests that provide habitat to the vast majority of the 113 species identified by the Federal Government as needing urgent action following the bushfires. Those logging operations are based on ecological assessments conducted before the recent bushfire season, without any consideration of the dramatic landscape changes or species losses that occurred last summer. That is a travesty. All pre‑fire risk assessments are now irrelevant. It is grossly negligent to log native forests based on such outdated evidence. My Independent colleague the member for Lake Macquarie and I have joined with environment groups in calling for a moratorium on native forest logging while an independent, comprehensive scientific assessment across the entire network of native forests, threatened species and ecological communities is conducted.

During that process forestry workers could transition into bushfire‑recovery and fire‑mitigation roles that would provide ongoing and skilled employment while protecting regional communities from future fires. Experts continue to stress that the only way to save the koala from extinction in New South Wales is to protect the areas where they live. The Great Koala National Park proposal includes core koala hubs that provide the best opportunity to ensure the future of the koala. If we do not protect native forest refuges to ensure the recovery of the natural environment, we will lose our biodiversity forever. I commend the motion to the House.