BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION REGULATION 2017
ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING AND ASSESSMENT AMENDMENT
(BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION) REGULATION 2017
BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION (SAVINGS AND TRANSITIONAL) REGULATION 2017
The PRESIDENT: Pursuant to standing orders the question is: That the motions of Dr Mehreen Faruqi
proceed as business of the House.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Dr MEHREEN FARUQI: I move:
That the matters proceed forthwith.
Motion agreed to.
Dr MEHREEN FARUQI: I seek leave to move motions Nos 1, 2 and 3 in globo.
Dr MEHREEN FARUQI (15:09): I move:
(1) That, under section 41 of the Interpretation Act 1987, this House disallows the Biodiversity Conservation Regulation
2017, published on the NSW Legislation website on 25 August 2017.
(2) That, under section 41 of the Interpretation Act 1987, this House disallows the Environmental Planning and Assessment
Amendment (Biodiversity Conservation) Regulation 2017, published on the NSW Legislation website on 25 August
(3) That, under section 41 of the Interpretation Act 1987, this House disallows the Biodiversity Conservation (Savings and
Transitional) Regulation 2017, published on the NSW Legislation website on 25 August 2017.
I move these disallowance motions because the regulations essentially establish the Biodiversity Offsets Scheme.
To be really straightforward and to say it like it is: Biodiversity offsetting is nothing short of a scam. The new
biodiversity laws and regulations that have been enacted take the already very low standards of biobanking
through the floor. Climate change, land clearing and habitat fragmentation and degradation are driving an ever
increasing number of plants and animals onto the threatened species list—a list which now tops more than
1,000 species in New South Wales. What is the Government’s response? It is to make it easier to clear land and to
water down the already very weak rules of offsetting to a point where offsets do not even have to exist. We are
really through the looking glass with this one! In a trade of cash for trees the consent authority can reduce the
offset no matter the environmental impact and, if that is too difficult, it can allow you to not even worry about
offsets and to undertake so-called biodiversity actions that will not protect or save a single tree.
The Government is living in a parallel universe and aiming for a regime that Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen
would have been proud of. The biodiversity offsetting scheme should be restricted to only the most necessary
cases and, even then, only in ways that expand biodiversity, not the very basic “no net loss” standard that we have
been left with. We can start that process by disallowing these regulations today and sending them back to the
drawing board. We need an end to the get-out-of-jail-free cards for big miners and big developers. We must not
lay out the red carpet for them to irreversibly destroy our environment. I said earlier that biodiversity offsets are
a scam because they presuppose that we can continue with business as usual, clearing whatever we want, whenever
we want when nature becomes inconvenient and then attempting to trick people into thinking we are protecting
the natural environment somewhere else as compensation. Biodiversity offsets allow for the destruction of
biodiversity in one area in exchange for promises to protect biodiversity values in another, even if that area was
never under threat.
We will now have the loss of threatened species habitat and endangered ecological communities—all
with a big tick of approval from this Government. It is farcical to assume that one can offset the destruction of
mature habitats. Offset sites are rarely the same in ecological value and it is not possible to assure that biodiversity
in two locations is the same or equivalent in quality. Biodiversity offsets are often not even properly established
before the environment is ruined. Far from being a win for the environment, the end result is a net loss of
endangered species and the destruction of critical habitat. And who monitors effectiveness when an offset
inevitably fails or fails to meet the outcomes prescribed? No-one is held accountable and no-one is made
responsible for it. I have asked the environment Minister repeatedly what the science is behind offsets and how
effectiveness is measured, and never once have I been given an answer.
The Leard State Forest on the Liverpool Plains is home to more than 400 native species, including
critically endangered ecological communities. The Boggabri and Maules Creek coalmines have been approved to
clear 4,000 hectares, or around half the forest, including species such as white box gum. The species at risk include
koalas, the masked owl and the south-eastern long-eared bat. The offsets for those two projects are completely
inadequate and a large number are outside the bioregion that they are meant to offset. Mining companies are
getting a free ride courtesy of the New South Wales Government. The New South Wales Government’s offset
policy abandons the principles of ecologically sustainable development while increasing flexibility for developers
and mining companies. The policy treats genetic diversity as a commodity to be traded, rather than ensuring
ecosystem protection as an overarching principle.
Last year the Nature Conservation Council released a report entitled, “Paradise Lost: The weakening and
widening of NSW biodiversity offsetting schemes, 2005-2016”. It makes for very sorry reading and is a litany of
the failures of biobanking and offsets under governments of both stripes. It concludes that biodiversity offsetting
schemes in New South Wales have failed to deliver the promised outcomes and none of the case studies were
found to have delivered good outcomes. Of course, all these projects predate the current proposal. But if the
Liberal-Nationals are looking for good news, they will be disappointed with the report because one of its findings
is that the draft biodiversity assessment methodology contains fewer best-practice principles and standards than
any previous scheme and will likely deliver worse environmental outcomes.
For the first time proponents such as big developers, mining companies and landowners can satisfy
offsetting obligations in their consent conditions by paying into a new Biodiversity Conservation Fund. This
places the onus of locating equivalent offsets on the proposed Biodiversity Conservation Trust, a public
organisation, and even if the trust is unable to locate an equivalent offset then clearing can take place regardless,
again resulting in biodiversity loss. In short, it is a case of, “No offset, no worries, mate—just sign the cheque.”
In an era of climate change this is dangerous, reckless and, worst of all, wilful. Climate change has already affected
biodiversity and will continue to do so as threats increase in the future. The impacts will be complex and numerous,
as species and ecosystems respond to rising temperatures, changes to rainfall and seasonality and to extreme
Habitat loss and fragmentaiton will make it even harder for native animals and plants to migrate and survive. We urgently need to permanently protect endangered communities and threatened species. Recently we have seen the future of what awaits New South Wales under this land management package. Loose land clearing regulations in Queensland have seen the destruction of 10 square kilometres of trees every day, or around 395,000 hectares of land, in just 2015-16. This rate is up by a third on the previous year. Almost half the area cleared was in river catchments near the Great Barrier Reef. The evidence from Queensland shows that weakening land clearing laws unleashes an epidemic of land clearing and greenhouse gases, with the green light to open slather clearing that these regulations allow.
Premier Berejiklian is sitting on a ticking climate time bomb. Time is running out. We cannot afford to
keep losing koalas, potoroos, wombats, threatened species and native vegetation, simply to suit the convenience
of big money, greed and making a quick buck. I will also discuss biodiversity actions. These actions were
established by legislation and are completely removed from even the concept of biodiversity offsets. Under these
actions nothing is offset at all. The ancillary rules published in clause 6.5 of the Biodiversity Conservation
Regulation 2017 discuss prescribed actions. They include a targeted survey and research to understand critical
threats requiring management or to determine the distribution of the species. I am sure that these are only the tip of the iceberg. How utterly offensive that a developer mining company can say, “I want to destroy a threatened
species’ habitat” and then do a survey to determine how many species are left. I already know what the answer to
that will be: a bloody load less than if you had not cleared the habitat in the first place. It makes no sense at all.
The submission’s report to the regulations makes interesting reading as well. This is the report made
public on 30 August this year—five days after the regulations were enacted. That is what a classic tick-box
consultation exercise looks like. But do not worry, the website assures us that the report does not provide the New
South Wales Government’s response to the issues raised in submissions. That is because the New South Wales
Government will never respond to the hundreds of problems identified in their regulations and raised in the
submissions. Why? It is because it cannot. The Government knows what these bad laws will do and what a
devastating impact they will have. It knows that its position is completely indefensible so it will just ignore the
voice of science, of evidence and of morality and listen to the voices that fulfil its agenda.
The Government is not listening to Yass council, which said that the new offset system design leaves
each local government area with the potential to have biodiversity values significantly reduced through the
cumulative effects of offset purchases outside the LGA for clearing activities within its boundaries.
The Government is not listening to the Maules Creek branch of the Country Women’s Association, which has
asked that the “cash for trees” scheme be halted. It is not listening to its own scientific committee, which states,”It is entirely unclear what mechanisms might be used to apply offsets to threatened ecological communities”. But
it is listening to big coal, it is listening to big mining, and it is listening to big property developers.
These reforms were modelled on the big giveaway to mining companies through the New South Wales
biodiversity offsets policy for major projects. That policy established the offensive provision that allows mining
companies to claim biodiversity credits for the next mine or extension merely by rehabilitating an existing mine
site—something that they are required to do anyway. What was the evidence of the Government’s own
environment experts? The Office of Environment and Heritage argued in a note, secured by the Nature
Conservation Council under freedom of information laws, that there is no certainty that functioning ecosystems
can be restored to their original value through rehabilitation after a mine has closed. It went further and stated that
the Office of Environment and Heritage questions whether restoration of biodiversity on a degraded site is even
possible. As is always the case in this State, big money trumps science and sense, and we all suffer.
Finally, not only is New South Wales lowering the bar for biodiversity and offsetting in this State, but
also it is initiating a chain reaction in the Federal sphere using mates in the Federal Government. Last month
Federal environment Minister Josh Frydenberg issued a notice of intention to develop a draft bilateral agreement
with New South Wales under section 45 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
The agreement concerns the impact of control actions. I am deeply concerned that the Federal Environment
Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act offset policy, which is stronger than the State Act, will be
side-stepped and undermined. I ask the Government to confirm and explain this bilateral agreement and how it
relates to biodiversity offsetting.
This year the budget for land acquisition for national parks, and thus permanent protection, stands at less
than $8 million. That is one-third of the funding allocated to Local Land Services to administer the so-called
“reform”. The Government does not care about the future, it does not care about the environment, it does not care
about koalas, native birds or marsupials, and it sure as hell does not care about the communities it is hanging out
to dry. How did we get to this point? How did we end up with this epic decline in environmental protections?
Why is the Government, with its mates in the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party and the Christian Democratic
Party, pushing through regulations and legislation that we know will lead to biodiversity destruction and
devastation? It is the same reason that anything happens in this State: to help out its mates. It is always the big
money and it is always the game of mates. For members who are not sure how the game of mates is played,
I recommend a book published recently by Cameron Murray and Paul Frijters entitled, Game of mates: How
favours bleed the nation. The book opens with the lines:
This is the story of how Australia became one of the most unequal societies in the Western world, while merely a generation ago it was one of the most equal. It is the story of how groups of “Mates” have come to dominate our corporate and political sectors, and managed to rob us, the Australian majority, of over half our wealth.
My dear friend and colleague the late Dr John Kaye often spoke of the New South Wales disease of politics. He
once said that decisions in this State are being made for the mates of politicians, not for the community and the
environment. It is a culture of influence peddling that has infected New South Wales politics and robbed it of
public confidence. This Government deserves to be chucked out and with it its anti-environment, sycophantic
mates—the Christian Democratic Party and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, who have enthusiastically
supported these destructive laws and regulations. I commend the disallowance motions to the House.
Dr MEHREEN FARUQI (17:57): In reply: I thank all the speakers who made contributions to this
debate: the Minister, the Hon. Penny Sharpe, the Hon. Rick Colless and of course, my Greens colleagues,
Mr David Shoebridge, Mr Justin Field, Ms Dawn Walker and Mr Jeremy Buckingham. I did not expect much
from the Government on these disallowance motions and again I have been proven right. The same old red
herrings, the same old empty, false promises and the same old nonsense, trying to convince us that laws that make
it easier to destroy the environment are somehow going to protect the environment. Well, no-one is convinced—
far from it.
The Minister said that The Greens are not happy. Damn right The Greens are not happy. And The Greens
are not happy because these laws and these regulations are good for no-one—not nature, not trees, not the climate,
not wildlife, not land, not water, not air and not farmers. The Government pretends that it is protecting farmers
and its policies are good for communities. The losses that will come about under these laws and regulations will be irreversible. The Greens are not going to go away and we will continue to raise this again and again until the
laws and the government are consigned to the history books. I commend the disallowance motions to the House.