Biodiversity Conservation Bill 2016

Dr HUGH McDERMOTT ( Prospect ) ( 17:31 ): I oppose the Biodiversity Conservation Bill 2016. The Baird Government, under pressure from the underperforming New South Wales Nationals, is seeking to repeal Labor's environmental legacy. For the entire time that the Labor Government, under the leadership of one of our State's greatest Premiers, Bob Carr, legislated to protect the natural environment of New South Wales—that is the national parks, the coastline, the areas that we cherish—The Nationals reserved their anger and disapproval for the day when they were finally in government. After decades of progressive and positive legislative reform by New South Wales Labor, dedicated to environmental protection, the Hon. Niall Blair, MLC, Minister for Primary Industries, a man who enlists the assistance of magical water diviners in policy development, has introduced the Biodiversity Conservation Bill to destroy environmental protections and threaten the wonderful natural and protected environments in our State.

The broad-sweeping Biodiversity Conservation Bill 2016 seeks to repeal three pieces of Carr era legislation, as well as one from the Askin years. On the chopping block are the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, the Nature Conservation Trust Act 2001, the Native Vegetation Act 2003, and provisions relating to animals and plants in the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974. Labor's reforms delivered significant achievements by stopping broadscale land clearing, protecting against salinity erosion and drought and having a significant impact on carbon emissions. The Baird Government's track record on the protection of the environment is disgraceful.

The Opposition continues to receive complaints from various individuals and groups justifiably outraged at the Baird Government's destructive environment policies. The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, the World Wildlife Fund, the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales and 650 farmers across the State have all publicly opposed this bill. I turn to submissions and comments of each of these groups. The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists opposes the bill because it risks the following:

… 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.

The Worldwide Wildlife Fund criticised the Baird Government for the proposed loosening of land clearing controls that could threaten a third of the State's woodlands. That includes prime koala habitat. This legislation ties in with the Government's flawed Crown land reforms that leave 42 per cent of New South Wales potentially up for sale. The Royal Zoological Society criticised the removal of the requirement for a licence to kill native animals. The society claims that the bill will lead to the neglect of three-quarters of protected fauna in New South Wales. This is a horrifying provision. The legislation is no longer about feral animal control; it is about killing anything that gets in the way, with disregard for the long-term environmental impact. The 650 farmers who made submissions to the Opposition argued that modern farming does not require the kind of land clearing and land management practices that this bill would legalise. That 650 farmers, experts in the industry, would say such a thing shows how backward The Nationals in New South Wales are.

Labor opposes this bill, with good reason. A number of factors need to be introduced into the legislation to make it reasonable. They include the reinstatement of "maintain or improve" tests, the inclusion of impact statements on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, a limitation on the discretion of the Minister and inclusion of no-go zones where offsetting cannot occur. Labor would improve the legislation by ensuring that offsetting follows the like-for-like principle, ensuring that the laws cannot commence until mapping is complete and codes are finalised. Labor would prohibit the use of mine rehabilitation sites as offsets, close loopholes that allow the reduction of offsets, ensure consistency between the Biodiversity Conservation Bill 2016 and the Local Land Services Bill 2016 and reinstate licences for landowners who propose to harm native wildlife.

Further provisions would include ensuring that double-dipping on offsets cannot occur and ensuring that voluntary stewardship agreements are recognised as much as offsets. Labor would reinsert the deleted provision of the Threatened Species Act that allows the listing of local populations. Labor would allow third-party appeals against land categorisation decisions. It would close the loopholes and the discretion that allows Ministers to dispense with the rules. It would increase to five the number of members on the native vegetation panel and change the operation of the panel. It would reinstate strict liability for failure to comply, including illegally clearing land or harming native wildlife. The Nationals in New South Wales do not agree with the Opposition. They would much rather see the environment destroyed to protect a handful of donors in rural New South Wales. In the process they will hold Mike Baird's coalition hostage until these potentially disastrous reforms are pushed through. This is a dirty little deal to protect the interests of The Nationals. As the Orange by-election has shown, it is The Nationals that are the threatened species facing extinction.

Mr Kevin Anderson: Point of order: My point of order is taken under Standing Order 73. The member is talking about the Orange by-election and dirty deals. I ask that he return to the leave of the bills.

TEMPORARY SPEAKER ( Mr Bruce Notley-Smith ): Order! I uphold the point of order. The member will return to the leave of the bills.

Dr HUGH McDERMOTT: It must be hard for Mike Baird, who cannot decide whether he is for or against protecting the environment. It must be tough for him, coming from Manly, having to fit into the small void between being a sensitive surfer and a cold-hearted neoliberal conservative. The reforms advocated by The Nationals are ridiculous. They want to dispose of the Native Vegetation Act without implementing clear environmental baselines, aims and targets. They want no ban on private broadscale land clearing. Nor do they want assessments on the salinity of soil and water. They want to make biodiversity offsets so flexible and indirect that someone could destroy any bushland they wanted to.

Offsets would no longer be on a like-for-like basis and would be paid instead in cash. It is almost like The Nationals in New South Wales believe the State Government's coffers are as good for the environment as actual bushland. Then this bill introduces the biodiversity assessment method that does not even need to be accepted by the Minister or consent authorities such as government departments. What is the point of having assessment methods when they do not have to be followed? Additionally, consultation processes will not be required, which appears to be a running theme of the Baird Government.

The government body responsible for overseeing land clearing, Local Land Services, is unlikely to be resourced properly. Furthermore, the legislation is contradictory. Provisions carried over from threatened species laws will contradict the Local Land Services Bill 2016. Ultimately, under this legislation land clearing wins and the environment loses. Also the proposed bio certificate scheme removes the requirement to maintain or improve environmental outcomes. This means that effectively environmental standards will be lowered. Additionally the bill delivers uncertain compliance, enforcement, monitoring and reporting standards. This shows the ineptitude of the Baird-Barilaro Government, to introduce a whole string of new regulations, offences and penalties, without mention of who will be in charge of actually monitoring and enforcing them. In introducing this legislation about land clearing, the Baird-Barilaro Government has no idea how much land will actually be cleared under the new self-assessable codes. [Extension of time]

Finally, the bill does not address or consider the cumulative impacts on climate change. The biggest projects with the biggest impact, categorised as State significant development, will receive exemptions and discretion. Vulnerable ecological communities are excluded from the definition of "threatened species" and mining gets a free pass in some circumstances. Given the enormous flaws in this legislation, it cannot be allowed to progress in its current form. The Baird Government, with all its continued arrogance, mismanagement, waste, ecological vandalism and, since the recent by-election, reduced life span, has shown its true colours in this awful legislation.

If the Baird Government had any respect for the environment it would have accepted New South Wales Labor's opposition to this bill and amended it in the upper House with all of the Opposition's recommendations. However, it did not. But it is this arrogant Baird Government that will listen only to itself because it wants life to be easy and not to have to govern like a government should, instead thinking that New South Wales should make land clearing great again. This bill is a disgrace and will lead to nothing short of environmental vandalism in New South Wales. I oppose the bills.

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