09 November 2020
(Debate, 21 October 2020, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
The Local Land Services Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill comes at a time when our natural environment has become so fragile that biodiversity, climate, water, air, soil and food are all at risk. The koala's plight is central to this fragility, with its survival dependent on the conservation of the natural environment. Before the Black Summer bushfires, in New South Wales the koala was already listed as vulnerable and even then conservation groups believed its status should have been upgraded. The bushfires killed at least 5,000 koalas and destroyed and fragmented much of their habitat.
A recent parliamentary inquiry found that without serious intervention koalas in this State could become extinct as soon as 2050. Yet the clearing of koala habitat for development, agriculture, mining and forestry has continued at a rapid business-as-usual pace. This is putting not just the koala at risk of extinction but also at least a thousand other animal and plant species. Saving the koala from extinction and averting a looming environmental catastrophe should be front and centre of any land management reform but this bill instead weakens koala and native bush protections and gives priority to politics.
A clear objective of the bill is to facilitate excessive clearing of native vegetation without interference from koala conservation goals. Oversight for clearing privately-owned land will be scaled back in regions previously identified as needing protection. Clearing could already occur in these regions but it needed authorisation.
Any new koala habitat in rural areas identified under the new koala State environmental planning policy [SEPP] will not be mapped as category 2 regulated land and therefore not subject to any protections under the SEPP. Clearing native vegetation subject to a native forestry plan will no longer require council approval. These are significant changes that remove much-needed checks and balances in the management of rural land and koala habitat. Koala protection is not the area where this State should focus an agenda to cut red tape. The Bellingen Shire Council has been undertaking mapping of vital koala habitat in its region but this is yet to be approved by the planning department, meaning these areas will no longer come under the modest protections of the SEPP. I hope work can be done to change that. We urgently need to recognise the finding and implement the recommendations of the New South Wales Audit Office, the Natural Resources Commission and the upper House Planning and Environment Committee to save the koala.
There is strong consensus that the key to saving this much-loved species is to protect its habitat through increased native vegetation management, oversight and enforcement. The koala SEPP, which commenced in March, is neither groundbreaking nor adequate to save the koala. It merely updated how habitat is defined. It is disappointing to see this important matter used for pointscoring. Winding back protections to koala habitat at a time when their plight is in peril is shameful and will have serious ramifications for generations. I oppose the bill.