Courage is needed in rural and urban communities across NSW to stand up and oppose the strident calls to repeal the Native Vegetation Act 2003 — one of NSW’s most important nature protection laws.
On the eve of the last state election, Premier Mike Baird confirmed he would throw out this important environmental law. He also announced that he would remove the land-clearing requirement that requires improvement or maintenance of environmental outcomes, increase support for the government’s flawed biodiversity offsets and shift the approval for vegetation-clearing onto the planning system. There are concerns about the future of other environmental safeguards including the Threatened Species Conservation Act and parts of the National Parks and Wildlife Act.
The Native Vegetation Act has been critical in saving habitat for many endangered native animals such as the koala, wombat and echidna. It has also ensured that the land is not degraded to a point where agriculture becomes unviable due to salinity, soil erosion and catchment damage. Native vegetation provides important shelter and shade for stock; habitat for birds and pest-controlling and pollinating insects.
Despite koala numbers halving in the last 20 years alone, the Baird Government seems determined to intensify the extinction crisis rather than ensure the protection of native species.
On the one hand, the government is establishing a $100 million survival fund to stop a “race to extinction”, yet at the same time it is prepared to allow the single biggest threat to native species — the broad scale clearing of native vegetation.
In Queensland, where native vegetation clearing rules were significantly weakened last year, 275,000 hectares were cleared in the last financial year, a tripling of land clearing rates since 2010.
“This should send alarm bells ringing to what we can expect in NSW with the Native Vegetation Act repealed,” NSW National Parks Association CEO Kevin Evans says.
Seventy-five per cent of the State’s land resources and extracted water are already used by agriculture whilst land protected for nature represents less than 9 per cent. Nature needs half, not less than 10 per cent. There are 970 plants and animals listed as threatened with extinction in NSW. Loss of habitat is one of the primary threats implicated in this appalling record.
Janine Kitson is a casual teacher.