Showing posts with label environment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label environment. Show all posts

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Clarence Valley Council 2010 Biodiversity Strategy - more honoured in the breach than the observance?



TheDaily Examiner, 22 June 2020:

Since last September, Clarence Valley Council has been reviewing its 2010 Biodiversity Strategy, and recently placed it on public exhibition for comment.

As someone who participated in the development of that original strategy, I undertook a critical review of that document to see if the aims and objectives, particularly relating to native vegetation, had been achieved before making comments on the review.

Those objectives were to: • Protect areas of native vegetation; • Reduce the loss of native vegetation to facilitate a net gain; • Revegetate riparian zones; • Encourage the protection and management of regrowth in identified corridors, and; • Educate the community on the benefits of biodiversity, and enforce legislation aimed at protecting native flora and fauna values.

Sadly, I concluded they had not been met, particularly the enforcing of legislation.

There are some relatively uncontrollable external factors that have undoubtedly led to a net loss of vegetation, such as the massive destruction caused by the Pacific Highway relocation.

However, council did nothing to convince the Roads and Maritime Authority to change the route to either of two other less-damaging options.

My cynicism is based on reality, as evidenced by the following example. The 2010 strategy acknowledged that “land clearing and fragmentation was the most important contributor, to the loss of habitat and decline of native species”, and recommended that “any removal of native vegetation, as part of a development application where clearing cannot be avoided, shall be offset to ensure a net gain in vegetation”.

With that strong statement in place, one has to ask why the largest single housing development to be approved, Iluka’s Hickey St project, went through with no offsets required whatsoever, resulting in the net loss of 14 hectares of forest.Regrettably, it’s not the strategy that has failed to halt biodiversity decline, it is the failure of Clarence Valley Council itself, from planners through to elected councillors, very few of whom, it would appear, have ever read the document, and have little or no understanding of the critical need to protect biodiversity in order for humanity to survive.

CREDIT: John Edwards Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition

Australian National Audit Office found the federal environment department has been ineffective in managing risks to the environment, that its management of assessments and approvals is not effective, and that it is not managing conflicts of interest in the work it undertakes


The Guardian, June 2020:

The government has failed in its duty to protect the environment in its delivery of Australia’s national conservation laws, a scathing review by the national auditor general has found.

The Australian National Audit Office found the federal environment department has been ineffective in managing risks to the environment, that its management of assessments and approvals is not effective, and that it is not managing conflicts of interest in the work it undertakes.

The report also finds a correlation between funding and staffing cuts to the department and a blow-out in the time it is taking to make decisions, as highlighted by Guardian Australia.

The review, which comes in advance of the interim report on Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, has prompted renewed calls for the establishment of an independent national environmental regulator.

It is the sixth audit of the department’s administration of the EPBC Act.

The report examined how effective the department had been in administering referrals, assessments and approvals under the Act, which is the main decision-making work for developments likely to have a significant impact on nationally significant species and ecosystems.

Despite being subject to multiple reviews, audits and parliamentary inquiries since the commencement of the Act, the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment’s administration of referrals, assessments and approvals of controlled actions under the EPBC Act is not effective,” the report concludes.

Among its findings, the auditor found the department could not demonstrate that the environmental conditions it set for developments were enough to prevent unacceptable risk to Australia’s natural environment.

Of the approvals examined, 79% contained conditions that were noncompliant with procedures or contained clerical or administrative errors, reducing the department’s ability to monitor the condition or achieve the intended environmental outcome.

The report also found that a document the department is required to produce to show how the proposed environmental conditions would produce the desired environmental protections was in most cases not being written.

From a random sample of 29 approvals from 2015 to 2018, the auditor found this document had not been produced in 26 cases.

In further findings, the audit concluded:
  • environmental assessments were not being undertaken in full compliance with procedures and decisions were being overturned in court;
  • the department is failing to keep key documents related to its decisions;
  • the department has been failing to meet statutory timeframes for decisions. This has been markedly the case since 2014-15 when the number of decisions made within legal timeframes dropped from 60% to 5% in 2018-19. This correlated with cuts to staff in the department who could assess development proposals
  • the department is not properly monitoring if developers are meeting their environmental conditions;
  • briefing packages written by the department when assessing environmental management plans for developments did not contain any consideration of other statutory documents under the Act that are supposed to protect threatened species, including recovery plans;
  • the department has not established any guidance or quality control measures for assessing the effectiveness of environmental offsets. It also has not mapped where all of its approved environmental offsets are, meaning they cannot be properly tracked;
  • agricultural clearing is rarely being referred to the department for assessment under national law;
  • potential conflicts of interest are not being managed, despite the existence of sound oversight structures;
  • the average overrun of statutory timeframes for approval decisions in 2018-19 was 116 days.
This report is a scathing indictment of the federal government’s administration of our national environment law and highlights why we need a stronger law and a new independent regulator,” said James Trezise, a policy analyst at the Australian Conservation Foundation....

In advance of the interim report, due next week, the government has expressed a desire to streamline approvals and cut so-called “green tape”.

But environment groups said the audit confirmed Australia’s laws were “fundamentally broken”.

The Wilderness Society’s Suzanne Milthorpe said the findings showed a “catastrophic failure” to administer the law and protect the environment.

This report shows that the natural and cultural heritage that is core to Australia’s identity is being put at severe risk by the government’s unwillingness to fix problems they’ve been warned about for years,” she said.

It shows that even when the department is aware of high risks of environmental wrongdoing, like with deforestation from agricultural expansion, they are unwilling to act.

The Morrison government announced last week that they want to load this failed system up even further by slashing approval times in the name of slashing ‘green tape’. But this audit shows that the current system is not capable of making good decisions, let alone quick ones.”....

Note

Referrals, Assessments and Approvals of Controlled Actions under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 [the ANAO audit] can be found at 
https://www.anao.gov.au/work/performance-audit/referrals-assessments-and-approvals-controlled-actions-under-the-epbc-act.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Just a reminder that although the Australian Parliament is not regularly sitting during the COVID-19 pandemic, the drive to dismantle environmental protections continues apace


The Morrison Coalition Government, aided and abetted by the NSW Coalition Government and industry is pressing ahead with dismantling New South Wales environmental protections by omission & commission.

Here are just five examples.....

The Oops, my bad! Defence

The Age, 10 May 2020:

One of NSW's major thermal coal miners has admitted it submitted inaccurate figures on the carbon emissions impact of its fuel in an environmental declaration to the state government.

Centennial Coal stated in its submission for an extension of its Angus Place coal mine near Lithgow that burning its coal would produce 80 kilograms of carbon dioxide per tonne. Similar mines – including two of its own – actually cause 30 times more emissions, or 2.4 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of coal.

"Absolutely, we stuffed up," Katie Brassil, the company's spokeswoman said. "Our consultants got it wrong and so we got it wrong."

The assessment of emissions resulting from burning fossil fuels has become a sensitive one in NSW after approvals for two projects were rejected because of the impact of so-called Scope 3 or downstream emissions resulting from burning the product……

Don’t Look Here, Look Over There!

Channel 9 News, 9 May 2020:

A controversial plan for a US company to mine coal beneath a Sydney drinking water dam has been approved by the New South Wales state government while focus was on COVID-19.

Woronora reservoir, an hour's drive south of the CBD, is part of a system which supplies water to more than 3.4 million people in Greater Sydney.

The approval will allow Peabody Energy to send long wall mining machines 450 metres below the earth's surface to crawl along coal seams directly below the dam.

Dr Kerryn Phelps says the fact the decision was made "under the cover of coronavirus" is "unfathomable".

NSW has spent 12 of the last 20 years in drought, with record low rainfall plunging much of the state into severe water shortage last year.

"We know about the potential for catastrophe," Dr Phelps told 9News.com.au.

"We just cannot let this [decision] go unchallenged."…..

Washing Their Hands Of The Problems They Caused


Experts warn the Morrison government is not using its legal powers to protect wildlife from devastating bushfires, which killed billions of animals in the summer.

Under international law the Commonwealth is responsible for maintaining the biodiversity of World Heritage Areas. Under federal law, it’s also responsible for protecting threatened species listed under the Environment Protection Biodiversity Act. But experts say the Commonwealth is yet to fulfil its responsibilities.


A wombat in the charred remains of a Kangaroo Valley bushfire.CREDIT:WOLTER PEETERS

Environment minister Sussan Ley has argued states and territories have "primary" responsibility for wildlife. But environmental law expert, University of Tasmania professor Jan McDonald, said the environment minister is legally obliged to work with states to prevent bushfire damage to threatened species and World Heritage Areas.
A spokesman for Ms Ley said "other than Commonwealth-managed National Parks [such as Kakadu and Uluru-Kata Tjuta], natural disaster preparedness and response planning is led by states and territories as part of their role as the primary regulators of Australia’s plants and animals."….

Rigging The Books

The Guardian, 8 May 2020:

The federal government has stopped listing major threats to species under national environment laws, and plans to address listed threats are often years out of date or have not been done at all.

Environment department documents released under freedom of information laws show the government has stopped assessing what are known as “key threatening processes”, which are major threats to the survival of native wildlife.

Conservationists say it highlights the dysfunctional nature of Australia’s environmental framework, which makes aspects of wildlife protection optional for government.

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act is being reviewed, a once-a-decade requirement under the legislation, and there are calls for greater accountability rules to be built into Australia’s environmental laws.

It follows longstanding criticism that the act is failing to curb extinction.

An unacceptable excuse’

In a series of reports since 2018, Guardian Australia has uncovered multiple failures including delays in listing threatened species and habitats, threatened species funding being used for projects that do not benefit species, critical habitat not being protected, and recovery actions for species not being adopted or implemented.

The act lists threats such as feral cats, land clearing and climate change as key threatening processes that push native plants and animals towards extinction.

Once a threat is listed, the environment minister decides whether a plan – known as a threat abatement plan – should be adopted to try to reduce the impact of the threat on native species.

But a 2019 briefing document shows the department has stopped recommending the government’s threatened species scientific committee assess new key threatening processes for potential listing.

Addressing threats to nature ... should not be treated as a luxury
Evan Quartermain”

Among its reasons given is that the department has limited resources to support the work.

The document says key threatening processes have “limited regulatory influence” – that they have little effect – and the department has limited capacity to support assessments of them. Because of this, the department did not recommend any of the key threatening processes put forward “as priorities for assessment”….

Quick, Before They Notice!

The Guardian, 23 April 2020:

The environment minister, Sussan Ley, has flagged the government may change Australia’s national environment laws before a review is finished later this year.

Ley said she would introduce “early pieces of legislation” to parliament if she could to “really get moving with reforming and revitalising one of our signature pieces of environmental legislation”.

It follows business groups and the government emphasising the need to cut red tape as part of the economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis, and comes as the businessman Graeme Samuel chairs an independent statutory review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. An interim report is due in June, followed by a final report in October.

When the review was announced, the government said it would be used to “tackle green tape” and speed up project approvals.

Environmental organisations have stressed the need for tougher environmental protections to stem Australia’s high rate of extinction. Australia has lost more than 50 animal and 60 plant species in the past 200 years and recorded the highest rate of mammalian extinction in the world over that period.

Ley said, with the interim report due by the middle of the year, she expected Samuel would “in the course of the review, identify a range of measures that we can take to prevent unnecessary delays and improve environmental standards”.

Where there are opportunities to make sensible changes ahead of the final EPBC review report, I will be prepared to do so,” she said.

On Thursday, Ley and the prime minister, Scott Morrison, said work was already under way to speed up environmental assessments of projects and that the number of on time “key decisions” in the EPBC process had improved from 19% in the December quarter to 87% in the March quarter…..

An environment department spokesman said key decisions covered three items in the assessment process: the decision on whether a project requires assessment under the act, the decision on what assessment method will be used, and the final decision on whether or not to approve the project.....

Friday, 10 April 2020

Pasture dieback confirmed on NSW North Coast


According to the NSW Department of Primary Industries:

Pasture dieback is a condition killing large areas of sown and native summer growing pasture in Queensland. The size of areas affected varies. It starts as small patches and can spread to affect large areas. In some cases whole farms have been affected. It is not limited by landscape or soil type. Livestock avoid grazing these areas making them unproductive. 

Pasture dieback was first identified in Central Queensland and has now spread from Far North Queensland to the NSW border. Suspected pasture dieback was reported on a property in northern NSW in autumn 2019.

Figure 1: Small patch of dieback affected pasture. Photo: S J Baker

Sown species known to be affected include:
  • Buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris)
  • Digit grass (Digitaria eriantha)
  • Rhodes grass (Chloris gayana)
  • Green and Gatton panic (Megathyrsus maximus)
  • Bambatsi panic (Panicum coloratum)
  • Kikuyu (Pennisetum clandestinum)
  • Paspalum (Paspalum dilatatum and P. plicatulum)
  • Creeping bluegrass (Bothriochloa insculpta)
  • Sabi grass (Urochloa mosambicensis)
  • Signal grass (Brachiaria decumbens syn. Urochloa decumbens)
  • Para grass (Brachiaria mutica syn. Urochloa mutica)
  • Setaria (Setaria sphacelata)
  • Purple pigeon grass (Setaria incrassata)
  • Forest bluegrass (Bothriochloa bladhii ssp. glabra)
  • Indian couch (Bothriochloa pertusa)
Other species known to be affected include:
  • Black spear-grass (Heteropogon contortus)
  • Forest bluegrass (Bothriochloa bladhii)
  • Golden beard grass (Chrysopogon fallax)
  • Giant rat’s tail grass (Sporobolus pyramidalis)
There are potentially more grass species that could be affected.

On 9 April 2010 The Daily Examiner and The Northern Star reported:

The first NSW case of pasture dieback, which kills sown and native summer growing grasses, has been identified on the state’s North Coast.
Producers should contact NSW Department of Primary Industries or the Exotic Plant Pest hotline, 1800 084 881 if they suspect their pasture has the condition.
NSW DPI Pasture Systems development officer, Sarah Baker, said it’s important to identify where pasture dieback is occurring to determine its spread and impact.......
“Pasture dieback causes summer growing grasses to turn yellow and red, become unthrifty and eventually die.
“Cases of suspected pasture dieback were reported during the 2018-19 summer, but with drought masking the condition, confirmation was impossible at the time.
“Recent rainfall has assisted us in identifying dieback, which previously had been found only in Queensland.” It has been estimated the affected area in Queensland is at least 200,000 hectares and could cover up to 4.4 million hectares, with the cause still to be confirmed.
The size of areas affected varies. It starts as small patches and can spread to affect large areas.
In some cases whole farms have been affected.
While control options remain dependant on identification of the cause, producers can continue to maintain production with broadleaf species, including legumes and brassicas, which are not affected by dieback. Re-sowing perennial grasses into dieback affected areas is not recommended. However, annual winter growing forages, including oats and dual-purpose cereals can help fill winter feed requirements.
NSW DPI is working with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology and industry, through Meat & Livestock Australia, to explore the cause of the condition.
As researchers work to better understand pasture dieback, including investigations of insect involvement, NSW DPI is developing options for future management. More information is available from the NSW DPI website www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/pastures-and-rangelands/establishment-mgmt/pests-and-diseases/pasture-dieback.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Quarry Solutions fined $15,000 for operating without an environment protection licence at Woodburn

Woodburn quarry site
https://seegroup.com.au/woodburn-quarry/

NSW EPA, media release, 20 Marxh 2020: 

Quarry Solutions fined for operating without environment protection licence

The Environment Protection Authority has fined North Coast company Quarry Solutions Pty Ltd $15,000 for allegedly operating without an environment protection licence. 

Director Regulatory Operations, Regional North Karen Marler said that records obtained by the NSW EPA indicate that Quarry Solutions allegedly extracted more material than is permitted without a licence at the Doonbah Quarry near Woodburn and Evans Head in 2018. 

“Quarry Solutions hold eight extractive activity licences with the EPA for works at other quarries and are therefore aware of licensing requirements. Furthermore, they were issued two Official Cautions in 2016 for the same offence. 

“While no environmental harm was caused by the company’s actions, it is important to obtain a licence to ensure environmental safeguards can be maintained and to ensure there is a level playing field for quarry operators,” Mrs Marler said. 

Quarry Solutions now has an environment protection licence in place for works at the Doonbah Quarry. 

In considering its regulatory approach the EPA took into account factors including that Quarry Solutions cooperated with the EPA and that no environmental harm occurred and also that the company had received two Official Cautions for the same offence. 

Quarries can extract smaller amounts up to 30,000 tonnes that produce lower potential environmental impacts without needing a licence. 

For more information about the EPA’s regulatory tools, see the EPA Compliance Policy at www.epa.nsw.gov.au/legislation/prosguid.htm

NOTE:

Quarry Solutions, part of the family-owned SEE Group, is a specialised quarrying and construction materials production company. Since 2008 it has owned and operated quarries under various arrangements in northern New South Wales and south east Queensland.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Topsoil loss during 2020 flooding in the Clarence Valley


The Daily Examiner, 9 March 2020:

Anyone travelling around the recent flood-affected areas of the Valley, including along the Clarence River itself, couldn’t fail to notice the chocolate brown colour of those floodwaters.

The Orara River was particularly bad, and after the floodwaters had receded, council needed to use a front end loader to scrape thick layers of deposited mud off some roadways and bridges. The paddocks alongside creeks were likewise buried beneath a thick layer of mud.

This was always to be expected if torrential rain occurred soon after the bushfires, especially with ash washing off the bare ground into waterways.

But these floods brought more than ash. This was topsoil, something that is in short supply across much of the Australian continent. We are told that globally, some 24 billion tonnes of topsoil are lost annually through erosion, and Australia’s contribution is shameful, given we are a supposedly developed country with sufficient resources to protect this precious commodity.

Wind and water are the two main forms of erosion.

Both can be significantly mitigated simply by maintaining a good vegetation ground cover. Without that cover there is nothing to hold the soil, and this past season has highlighted that fact.

Firstly there was drought, and overgrazing to the point where only bare soil remained, resulting in one huge dust storm after another for months on end.

Then the bushfires destroyed what vegetation the livestock had left. Then came the floods, ripping apart fragile unprotected stream banks, and washing them downstream to the ocean.

Even without bushfires we lose far too much soil to erosion, and again, poor livestock management is largely to blame.

Many Australian rivers and creeks have no adequate vegetation to buffer against erosion and fewer still are fenced to exclude cattle.

As a result, these animals congregate along waterways, trampling banks, and browsing any available vegetation, so their impact is even greater than fire.

Landowners have a responsibility to manage erosion on their properties and to consider what they are leaving for future generations. If we are to solve the erosion problem, livestock management must be a focus point.

JOHN EDWARDS, Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition

Friday, 6 March 2020

Environmental Defenders Office analysis of the new planning policy for koalas in NSW finds legal safeguards flawed


Koalas are found in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales and are particularly vulnerable following the devastating 2019-20 bushfire season.

Environmental Defenders Office (EDO), 20 February 2020:


NSW planning policy for koalas falls short of the legal safeguards needed to protect the iconic animals and their habitats. 

By Cerin Loane, Senior Policy and Law Reform Solicitor, and Rachel Walmsley, Policy and Law Reform Director, Sydney 

A new NSW SEPP – State Environmental Planning Policy (Koala Habitat Protection) 2019 – is due to commence on 1 March 2020. With koala numbers having been in decline in NSW over the past two decades, a revised Koala SEPP had been highly anticipated as an opportunity to bolster legal protections for koalas. Frustratingly, the finalised Koala SEPP does little more than tinker around the edges. The fact remains that NSW laws fall far short of providing tangible protection for koalas. And with koala populations and their habitats significantly impacted by the summer’s devastating bushfires, it’s going to take more than just a few revisions to provide our koalas and their habitats the real legal protection they need.

The status of koalas in NSW 

Koalas are currently listed as a vulnerable threatened species in NSW, meaning there is a high risk of extinction in the medium-term.[1] Additionally, individual populations at Hawks Nest and Tea Gardens on the lower north coast, between the Tweed and Brunswick Rivers east of the Pacific Highway in the Northern Rivers area and within the Pittwater Local Government Area in northern Sydney are listed as endangered populations.[2

Accurately estimating koala numbers is difficult. Despite regulations, policies and community initiatives, overall koala numbers in NSW are in decline. In 2016, the NSW Chief Scientist relied on the figures of Adams-Hoskings et.al. in estimating approximately 36,000 koalas in NSW, representing a 26% decline over the past three koala generations (15-21 years).[3] We note however that other reports suggest koala numbers are even lower than this.[4

These estimates were made before the catastrophic bushfire events of this summer, which have been devastating for koalas, with estimates showing that more than 24% of all koala habitats in eastern NSW are within fire-affected areas.[5] Many people are asking how our environmental laws can help conserve and restore vulnerable wildlife at this time – this is something that EDO continues to look at as we start to move forward from the events of this summer (see our response to Australia’s climate emergency). 

A new state environmental planning policy is one legal tool intended to help koalas, but on our analysis the SEPP will remain largely ineffective in addressing the exacerbated threats currently facing them. It took just weeks for almost a quarter of koala habitat in NSW to be burnt in the bushfires, while it has taken the NSW Government 10 years to simply update the list of relevant koala habitat trees in the SEPP. The need for enforceable and effective laws is now more urgent than ever. 

Key changes to the NSW Koala SEPP[6

On 1 March 2020, NSW State Environmental Planning Policy No 44 – Koala Habitat Protection (SEPP 44)[7], which has been in place since 1995, will be repealed and replaced by a new State Environmental Planning Policy (Koala Habitat Protection) 2019 (new Koala SEPP).[8] SEPP 44 will continue to apply to development applications made, but not finally determined, before 1 March 2020.[9

SEPP 44 aims to protect koalas and their habitat, but its settings are weak and not targeted at the type or scale of projects with highest impact. Additionally, the problematic definitions of core koala habitat and potential koala habitat are adopted by other legislation (including the Local Land Services Act 2013 (LLS Act) and the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 (BC Act)), where they are used as a benchmark for triggering processes and regulation relating to land clearing and development assessment.[10

EDO has been calling for changes to SEPP 44 for the best part of a decade. In December 2010, EDO wrote to the Government on behalf of Friends of the Koala noting that SEPP 44 ‘is in urgent need of reform’.[11] In 2016, the Government announced a review of SEPP 44.[12] EDO made a submission on the Review of the Koala SEPP outlining our key concerns with its operation and making recommendations for improvement.[13] It wasn’t until fires began burning across the state late last year that the Government announced the release of the new Koala SEPP, just days before Christmas.

Despite recommendations that the Government consult on the text of a draft SEPP and any relevant guidelines or supporting material following its 2016 review, the final SEPP was made without any additional consultation; but it does address a number of stakeholder concerns. Most significantly, it updates the definition of ‘core koala habitat’ and removes the problematic concept of ‘potential koala habitat’, instead relying on mapping (a new Koala Development Application Map and new Site Investigation areas for Koala Plans of Management Map) to initially identify koala habitat. However, certain legal mechanisms still apply only to core koala habitat.[14

The new SEPP also updates the list of feed tree species in Schedule 2, used to help identify koala habitat, from 10 species to 123 species, categorised into 9 distinct regions. Other key changes include: 
  • Removing the requirement for site specific plans of management (in instances where a comprehensive Koala Plan of Management is not in place), instead requiring decision-makers to take into account new standard requirements in a Koala Habitat Protection Guideline. Concerningly, the Guidelines have not yet been seen, there are no formal requirements for developing the Guidelines (e.g. no requirements for community consultation or peer review) and the standards within the Guidelines are not mandatory – the new Koala SEPP requires only that they be taken into account. 
  • Moving provisions relating to how local environment plans and other planning instruments should give effect to protection to koalas from the SEPP to a new Ministerial planning direction (which is yet to be made).
Ongoing concerns 

There are also a number of key concerns that have not been addressed by the new Koala SEPP. For example: 
  • No areas of koala habitat are off-limits to clearing or offsetting – NSW laws do not prohibit the clearing of koala habitat. Despite declining koala numbers and the devastation caused by this summer’s fires, NSW laws still allow koala habitat to be cleared with approval. The new Koala SEPP simply requires decision-makers to ensure development approvals are consistent with koala plans of management (PoMs) or, if a PoM is not in place, that the (yet-to be-made) Guidelines are taken into account. If our laws are to truly protect koalas and their habitats then the approval process must not allow important koala habitat to be offset or cleared in exchange for money, in the way that the NSW Biodiversity Assessment Method does. Rather, all development that has serious or irreversible impacts on koala habitat must be refused. 
  • The requirement for councils to prepare Comprehensive Koala PoMs remains voluntary – Due to the slow uptake by councils (only 5 comprehensive PoMs have been finalised since SEPP 44 commenced in 1995),[15] EDO has previously recommended that the preparation of comprehensive koala PoMs (CKPoMs) be mandatory (i.e. the SEPP require that draft CKPoMs be prepared and exhibited within a particular timeframe). 
  • The new Koala SEPP still only applies to limited types of development – As was the case with SEPP 44, the new Koala SEPP still only applies to council-approved development. This means that the new Koala SEPP does not apply to the wide range of development and activities that can impact on koala habitat, including complying development, major projects (State significant development and State significant infrastructure), Part 5 activities (e.g. activities undertaken by public authorities) and land clearing activities requiring approval under the LLS Act. 
  • The 1 hectare requirement has not been removed – The arbitrary threshold of 1ha for triggering SEPP 44 has been carried over to the new Koala SEPP. Excluding sites below 1ha from the Koala SEPP leaves small koala habitat areas, particularly koala habitat in urban areas, without adequate protection. The 1 hectare requirement also contributes to cumulative impacts and can reduce connectivity across the landscape by allowing small patches to be cleared. 
  • Climate change considerations have been overlooked – The review of SEPP 44 provided an opportunity to incorporate requirements to identify and protect habitat and corridors that will support koalas’ resilience to more extreme heat and natural disasters, even if there is no koala population in those areas now, however there is nothing in the new Koala SEPP that specifically addresses climate change. 
  • Monitoring and compliance requirements have not improved – There are no new requirements relating to monitoring, review, reporting and compliance in the new Koala SEPP. 
The future for NSW koalas 

The new Koala SEPP highlights the overarching deficiencies in NSW laws to provide genuine protections for wildlife and nature. The way our laws are designed, very little is off limits to development or activities such as urban development, mining, and agriculture. While environmental laws provide processes for assessing environmental impacts, at the end of the day weak offsetting laws and discretionary decision-making powers allow destructive activities to go ahead to the detriment of our wildlife and natural resources. Contradictory policy settings in NSW laws mean that laws aimed at conserving biodiversity and maintaining the diversity and quality of ecosystems (such as the BC Act) are undermined by other legislation that facilitates forestry, agricultural activities and developments (such as the LLS Act, Forestry Act 2012 (Forestry Act) and Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (EP&A Act)). 

Many of the recent initiatives by the NSW Government to address koala conservation have focused mainly on funding and policy, without substantial legislative or regulatory reform to increase legal protections for koala populations and habitat. The new Koala SEPP is no exception. While some improvements have been made, particularly in relation to the definition of core koala habitat, overall many concerns remain and the Koala SEPP is unlikely to result in improved outcomes for koalas. 

Until our laws are strengthened to truly limit or prohibit the destruction of koala habitat, koala populations and their habitat will continue to be at risk and koala numbers will continue to decline in NSW, possibly to the point of local extinction. 

Footnotes 

[1] Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016, s 4.4(3) 

[2] See www.environment.nsw.gov.au/threatenedSpeciesApp/profile.aspx?id=20300; www.environment.nsw.gov.au/threatenedSpeciesApp/profile.aspx?id=10615 and www.environment.nsw.gov.au/threatenedSpeciesApp/profile.aspx?id=10614 

[3] NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer, Report of the Independent Review into the Decline of Koala Populations in Key Areas of NSW, December 2016 above no 6, citing Adams-Hosking, C, McBride, M.F, Baxter, G, Burgman, M, de Villiers, D, Kavanagh, R, Lawler, I, Lunney, D, Melzer, A, Menkhorst, P, Molsher, R, et al. (2016). Use of expert knowledge to elicit population trends for the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus). Diversity and Distributions, 22(3), 249-262. doi: 10.1111/ddi.12400 

[4] See, for example, Paull, D., Pugh, D., Sweeney, O., Taylor, M.,Woosnam, O. and Hawes, W. Koala habitat conservation plan. An action plan for legislative change and the identification of priority koala habitat necessary to protect and enhance koala habitat and populations in New South Wales and Queensland (2019), published by WWF-Australia, Sydney, which estimates koala numbers to be in the range of 15,000 to 25,000 animals. In 2018, the Australian Koala Foundations estimates koala numbers in NSW to be between 11,555 and 16,130 animals, see www.savethekoala.com/our-work/bobs-map-%E2%80%93-koala-populations-then-and-now 

[5] See Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, Understanding the impact of the 2019-20 fires, https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/topics/parks-reserves-and-protected-areas/fire/park-recovery-and-rehabilitation/recovering-from-2019-20-fires/understanding-the-impact-of-the-2019-20-fires 

[6] See https://www.planning.nsw.gov.au/Policy-and-Legislation/Environment-and-Heritage/Koala-Habitat-Protection-SEPP 

[7] See https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/#/view/EPI/1995/5 (Note – This link is unlikely to work after 1 March 2020, however the former SEPP will be able to be found on the NSW legislation website under repealed EPIs (environmental planning instruments)) 

[8] See https://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/#/view/EPI/2019/658 

[9] State Environmental Planning Policy (Koala Habitat Protection) 2019, section 15 

[10] As noted earlier in our submission, for example, for the purpose of the land management regime under Part 5A of the Local Land Services Act 2013, category 2-sensitive regulated land (on which clearing is more strictly regulated) is to include ‘core koala habitat’.

[11] EDO NSW Submission on State Environmental Planning Policy No 44 – Koala Habitat, December 2010, available at https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/edonsw/pages/3547/attachments/original/1485908888/Attachment_A_-_2010_EDONSW_SEPP_44_Submission_for_FOK.pdf?1485908888 

[12] See https://www.planning.nsw.gov.au/Policy-and-Legislation/State-Environmental-Planning-Policies-Review/Draft-koala-habitat-protection-SEPP 

[13] See https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/edonsw/pages/3547/attachments/original/1485908884/170131_Koala_SEPP_44_Review_Submission_-_FINAL_to_DPE.pdf?1485908884 

[14] For example, under clause 9 of State Environmental Planning Policy (Koala Habitat Protection) 2019, which applies to development on land for which no PoM is in place, the Guidelines will not apply if a suitably qualified and experienced person provides information that the land is not core koala habitat. 

[15] There are only approved plans for five council areas, and a further nine Councils who have drafted or undertaken koala habitat studies See https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/topics/animals-and-plants/native-animals/native-animal-facts/koala/koala-conservation

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