The NSW Biodiversity Bill has been released for public submission. The public submissions are now closed but I encourage you to continue resisting these degrading changes to legislative protection of our unique flora and fauna.
PROPOSED CHANGES TO ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT IN NSW – BIODIVERSITY BILL 2016
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the proposed changes as documented in the Bill, supporting documents and background material.
On first reading it is clear that the proposed bill perpetuates two flawed approaches to management of biodiversity and ecology in New South Wales.
A PAUCITY OF INFORMATION
The approach used to formulate the proposed Bill is demonstrably absent in the use of proof and evidence that the current system is failing.
The Final Report of the Independent Biodiversity Legislation Review Panel (a review of biodiversity legislation in NSW, 2014) provides the rationale for progressing with legislative reforms. The panel’s position on the case for change is clear. The case for change is based on a political rather than evidential basis to modify land management in NSW.
In that report, the panel found their review of existing legislation was constrained,
“the data, information and knowledge needed to evaluate the effectiveness of the legislative framework and supporting mechanisms is poor”
A significant component of the report did recommended substantial change to monitoring and reporting. These reporting recommendations are to be encouraged and will help inform the community. While some elements of reporting are adopted in the proposed Bill, the rationale for other changes is simply flawed in the absence of real information.
The report goes on to explain the narrow terms of reference, aimed at supporting development while improving conservation of biodiversity. Unfortunately these are more akin to competing objectives, as increased development is normally linked to wider land use, rather than improved land use already allocated for urban and commercial use.
Equity is also called for in the reforms. This equity is more to the lower common denominator between land clearing use for mining and agriculture, rather than focusing on the unique and specialised needs of habitats through NSW. This state based rationale trades one area of biological significance for another. Biodiversity security should continue to focus on unique local habitats and their interconnectedness.
FAILURE OF OFFSETS AS A SUSTAINABLE RESPONSE
The use of offsets is further expanded under the Bill.
Offsets are an economic response and have no demonstrable link to environmental sustainability for local habitats, ecologies or the biodiversity in the areas where land clearing occurs.
The logic of planting a tree in one part of the state to ‘offset’ the loss of a tree in another only operates at one level. This is the replacement of the oxygen enrichment and carbon dioxide reduction a growing tree provides. At this simple level, biodiversity offsets [a lesser solution to carbon offsets] provides a level of equity in environmental impact. Beyond this simple concept, the use of biodiversity offsets fails as a protection of the unique needs of plants and animals in their local habitat.
Allen Strom, one of our leading environmentalist educators of the mid 1960’s and the first NSW Guardian of Fauna, simply said, “that if you want to protect Australian animals, you must protect their habitat”. This Bill does little to protect habitats of the increasing number of NSW threatened species.
The federal government lists our iconic Koalas as vulnerable and “in some regions face increasing threats from urban expansion, disease, habitat loss”. This Bill does not help protect these animals. David G Stead noted the threatening political attitude in the 1920’s would result in the extinction of Koalas and ensured their protection. We need government to be more forward thinking, than allowing the modern alternative to commercial use of land that continues to threaten this and many more species.
The recent shooting of an environment officer in Moree, concerned with reports of illegal land clearing, highlights the issue in its most dramatic way. Economic convenience cannot be the way to manage precious land in New South Wales and these changes need to be rethought.
Reform of biodiversity and related legislation, if required, should focus on the changing nature of environmental threats. These new threats have no clear or direct link to human intervention on the land. Wide spread land clearing of the 1940’s and threats to heritage wilderness in the 1960’s were sufficient to spur some forward thinkers into action. This action reversed the decline and provided inter-generational environmental benefits through establishment of national parks, environmental studies and an improved awareness of human interaction with the land.
Changes should be evidence based through a rigorous and open reporting regime. Providing open data on land clearing, biodiversity status and hotspots, threatened and at risk species should inform a growing understanding of the complex relationship between plants species, habitat and the animals they support.
Our growing knowledge helps us understand how little we know.
Once gone, it can never return.
David G Stead
President, David G. Stead Memorial Wild Life Research Foundation of Australia