15th November 2016
Second read speech.
Biodiversity Conservation Bill 2016 and Local Land Services Amendment Bill 2016.
The Hon. MARK PEARSON (18:12): The Animal Justice Party obviously will oppose the Biodiversity Conservation Bill 2016 and the Local Land Services Amendment Bill 2016. Today we are faced with a bill that makes a mockery of concerns about maintaining biodiversity. This bill makes no attempt at balancing the needs of animals and humans and our shared environment. The Baird Government has instead kept its election promise to landholder vandals with an eye to immediate profit and not to the long-term wellbeing of the animals that share our environment. Harm will be caused to threatened species—harm that it should be promised never affects other beings or animals on the land that is controlled by and under the care of a person.
The proposed legislation will eviscerate our environmental protections and allow unfettered destruction of what remains of habitat on marginal farmlands. Our current biodiversity protections urgently need strengthening, not weakening. Just as the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act provides a legal framework for engaging in animal cruelty, our existing environmental laws regulate the methods for harming flora and fauna. Despite our current protections being less than optimal, the Native Vegetation Act has slowed down the rate of agriculture clearing since its introduction in 2004. There has been an estimated reduction of wild animal deaths of more than 100,000 per annum. Thousands still die every year from land clearing. The needless death of even one animal is a cause for concern.
It is the one animal that is important to the Animal Justice Party, just as it is to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. It is not just about protecting a particular number of animal species; we need to be turning our minds to protecting an animal from distress, pain and suffering, and harm. This is what landholders must take into consideration when looking at their land—that on that land animals are passing through, nesting, breeding and then moving on. The responsibility to those animals that did not give their consent to be invaded by these processes is much greater.
Only last week it was reported that the world is heading towards a mass extinction of animal life not seen since the disappearance of the dinosaurs millions of years ago. By 2020 the populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and other vertebrate species are on course to have fallen by more than two-thirds over a period of just 50 years, according to the Living Planet Report. In New South Wales there are 989 species of plants and animals and 107 ecological communities threatened with extinction. Why on earth would we do anything to risk adding to that dreadful toll? We owe it to future generations to ensure that we do not cause the extinction of any more species on our watch. It beggars belief that the Baird Government would even contemplate introducing legislation that will make it easier to wipe out the habitat that our rare, vulnerable and endangered animals rely upon for food and shelter.
The Government states that this bill and its administration is and will be based on science, yet, as was referred to earlier, it is clear the science community does not agree. In fact, I received a letter and a public statement signed by 73 New South Wales based scientists condemning the bill and its associated methodology. This statement goes on to confirm that land clearing is the primary threat to our biodiversity and is also a major contributor to climate change as well as the deterioration of soils and water quality. These scientists called on the Government to sincerely apply the principles of ecologically sustainable development under section 6 (2) of its own Protection of the Environment Administration Act 1991.
Over the past 200 years we have lost 75 per cent of our rainforests, almost 50 per cent of all forests and 99 per cent of south-eastern Australia’s temperate grasslands. It is time to reverse the damage caused by land clearing, not to encourage greater destruction—rather, to give something back, not keep tearing away. With the looming impacts of climate change we need to repair and return agricultural land to native bush and grasslands for carbon sequestration in trees and soils. I find it completely astounding that this bill does not address the significant challenges we face because of climate change. There are only two brief mentions in a 200-page document. The climate change deniers have won out in drafting this bill and capturing this Government.
Like all members here today, I have been inundated with emails, letters, submissions and requests for meetings to discuss the dangers of this bill. Many farmers and landholders have written to me stating that they do not want or need these proposed laws. I note landholders and farmers have written and come to see me. It has been heartening to meet with farmers who recognise that, as true guardians of their lands, they want to enrich the diversity and complexity of animal and plant life on their landholdings. They know that attempting to farm on marginal lands is a zero-sum game for both humans and animals.
The health of any landscape is measured by its biodiversity, not by its yield and not by its economic profit. In a time when the divide between city and country is expanding, people are questioning the status quo of agriculture practices. This bill, not unlike the so-called Biosecurity Act 2015, further exacerbates this divide; it does not bring us together. Rather than be open and honest about how food is produced, how land is treated and how animals are treated, it seems the industry, again, has wielded its Thor-like hammer on a captured government. Let us hide the truth. Let us remove laws that are moderately effective in their outcomes. Let us make legal what is illegal.
One obvious example is the continued demonisation of the kangaroo. As more habitat is cleared, more kangaroos are forced from their grassland homes to graze on pasture, but up goes the cry that we have too many kangaroos. Overwhelmed, hunters take their deadly aim and millions of kangaroos are slaughtered. It is the world’s largest land-based slaughter of any mammal. This is what precedes. Then, as former grasslands turn to dust with the cloven hooves of conscripted sheep and cattle, the profit mongers demand more land to desecrate and desiccate. It is noted that the requirement for fauna assessment has been significantly reduced in this bill. There is now a heavy reliance on habitat as a surrogate for determining the presence of fauna. Our environment has become so degraded in some parts of the State that paddock trees have become crucial for the survival of many animals. Under this bill, paddock trees in category one land will be able to be cleared without assessment.
There are large amounts of published scientific information that support the crucial importance of paddock trees as habitat for fauna and as avenues to allow movement of fauna across vast partially cleared landscapes. It is on this basis that they have been protected in the past. Under the proposed Local Land Services Act, the impacts of the removal of paddock trees can be self-assessed by a landholder under a self-assessable code. Some threatened species that use paddock trees have cryptic behaviour. For example, hollow dependent microbats are not likely to be detected by a landholder who does not have expertise in fauna surveys. The presence of those lone trees with hollows, leaves, blossoms and seed could mean life or death for animals seeking rest, refuge and sustenance as they make their way to safer and more abundant habitat. With migratory birds experiencing massive habitat loss around the globe, those resting trees may be the only thing between survival and extinction.
On my recent trip to Menindee and Broken Hill with my dear friend Uncle Max, elder of the Yuin people, we stood by a century-old seemingly dead tree. Uncle Max stated that those trees are as alive now as they were when they had leaves. Birds and small mammals make nests and homes in the hollows and birds take the fallen branches of those trees to far places to build nests. Those trees do not die. With the stake so high, why would we rely on the obvious conflict of interest regarding self-assessment to protect migratory birds and travelling wildlife? Another important teaching of Uncle Max is the importance of the totem animals as well as the songlines of the land. Those songlines and totem animals, which will be dramatically affected by the repercussions of this bill, are the lines and centres of energy around which Aboriginal culture and all humanity is dependent for sustaining its balance and centredness.
Kangaroos have already been failed by the Scientific Committee, which will continue to determine the listing for protection. The Scientific Committee has failed previously to identify that certain kangaroo populations are threatened or vulnerable as a result of commercial and non-commercial killing. With the proposal for greater streamlining of the committee’s processes, kangaroos are even less likely to be afforded protection. The bill waters down the protection of individual animals as well as groups and numbers of animals with a risk‑based approach to regulating wildlife. Under the current legislation, this approach differentiates between low‑ and high‑risk activities. The existing legislation prohibits certain wildlife activities without first obtaining a licence. For example, it is currently an offence to harm a protected animal such as a kangaroo unless a licence is obtained.
Under the proposed tiered approach, people can carry out certain low-risk activities that harm wildlife without obtaining a licence. Harming wildlife as part of these activities would not be an offence should the bill be passed into law. Exactly what activities would be allowed is yet to be seen given that, as usual, the devil will be in the detail of the regulations and industry codes of practice. We know that the risk relates to populations of animals, not individual animals. The Animal Justice Party believes that protections should be accorded to individual animals as well as populations. All animals are sentient and have the capacity to experience harm and pleasure. The question must be asked: Without the protection of a licence, will people who cause harm to individual animals under the tiered approach be committing an offence under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act?
The failure to include the “improve or maintain environmental outcomes” protection from the existing legislation means that there is no mechanism to ensure that there will be no net loss of vegetation at the local level. The bill relies heavily on self-assessment, which renders animals vulnerable to those with a vested interest in not seeing koalas in trees. The biodiversity offset scheme is a bait-and-switch scam of the worst order. There is no requirement to meet the like-for-like criteria. The offsets do not even have to be in the same area, only within New South Wales, and 200-year-old trees with nesting hollows are not replaceable by 200 seedlings. It does not make any sense to approve the draining of a wetland by paying credits into an offset scheme. Money for rehabilitating one part of New South Wales will not bring back dead ecosystems approved for destruction in another part of the State.
Of great concern to me are the amendments to the Local Land Services Act 2013 to align with the provisions of the proposed Biodiversity Conservation Bill that gives powers to authorised persons under the Act. The proposed changes seem to corrode and undermine the importance of environmental protections by focusing on the use of the land for human exploitation. Any such protective measures in the Biodiversity Conservation Bill are then further diluted as they are overridden by allowable activities under the proposed amendments to the Local Land Services Act 2013. The Local Land Services Act is essentially concerned with agricultural production, biosecurity and pest management. There is scant reference to environmental values and land, and land is seen more in respect of resource management rather than its importance being recognised as habitat for numerous animals.
It is inappropriate for Local Land Services to play any role in regulating the management of native vegetation. It does not have the expertise nor is its focus on habitat protection. Its power to allow clearing that is considered to have a lesser impact on biodiversity through a framework of allowable activities and codes of practice is a recipe for disaster. As any animal protection advocate will say, codes of practice have a habit of regulating industry practices rather than seeking best practices and outcomes for animals.
I am also deeply concerned by the panel’s recommendation to streamline the regulation of human and wildlife interactions, which has been included in the bill. Under the bill, interactions with wildlife will be assessed according to the risk to human safety, populations in the wild and animal welfare. This allows low-risk activity to occur without licencing. In effect, it opens the door to the private keeping of native animals. Any move from licencing towards codes of practice makes for less protection for animals. The Government’s own explanatory fact sheet on the bill flags the possibility of wildlife management codes of practice to allow the keeping of certain reptiles as pets.
We have enough problems with puppy farms without a pet trade in native species. The Government states that licensing will be retained for situations where there is a risk that a code-based regulatory approach may cause any animal species to move toward extinction. How will this be monitored and assessed? I am deeply disappointed and concerned about the direction of these reforms. I am not convinced that they are necessary or desirable, or indeed that they will have the desired effect of improving biodiversity. This bill is a colossal failure for animals and the environment. I cannot support the passage of this bill.