13th November 2018
Questions without notice.
The Hon. MARK PEARSON (16:47): My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industries. As Minister responsible for animal welfare, what is his response to the Sydney Morning Herald article of 7 November, which estimates that in 2017, under his watch, 10 million native animals died directly as a result of habitat destruction due to land clearing allowed under the Government’s changes to the native vegetation protection laws? In particular, how does the Minister manage the conflict of interest between his department’s support for land clearing for agriculture and his responsibilities under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act to prevent animal suffering?
The Hon. NIALL BLAIR (Minister for Primary Industries, Minister for Regional Water, and Minister for Trade and Industry) (16:47): The Government would like to see some more information and evidence to justify that claim of those numbers of species. In these couple of reports, they have come up with their own methodology about a square area size and then applied that to come out with this incredible number of animals that they claim have lost their lives as a result of the removal of native vegetation. First, I would like to see more information to justify that claim. Secondly, the Hon. Mark Pearson refers to the conflict of interest that we have in relation to land clearing. The thing that a lot of people on that side of the Chamber—the crossbench and the Opposition—fail to recognise is the habitat that is enhanced or restored under our new biodiversity changes that we put through in this State, not acknowledging at all the fact that in a lot of cases the largest numbers of approvals that we are seeing relate to invasive native species.
Has the member ever stood in a monoculture forest of an invasive native species and not heard a bird or seen a single piece of groundcover? There is no biodiversity in those areas. These constitute a large number of the approvals that have been given under the Government’s changes. But there has been not one acknowledgement of the trees that have been planted or the sensitive areas that have been set aside. More importantly, those areas have been set aside and managed, not locked up and allowed to fester with feral animals and noxious weeds, which are among the largest threats to native animals in this State.
So I will not acknowledge the premise of the question—that there is a conflict of interest. In large part, the habitat that has been restored, the set-asides that are being managed, the invasive native species that are being managed and controlled, and a lot of the feral weeds and animals that are being managed, are doing more for the biodiversity of this State than has occurred under previous ways of managing land in this State. I dismiss, firstly, the numbers in relation to the loss of native species. Secondly, I dismiss the claim that the legislation that this Government put through was just about land clearing. It is a matter of cherry-picking one part of the policy and not acknowledging the other parts—especially the hundreds of millions of dollars that the Government has set aside for saving our species, which also went through under the changes to legislation.
I am not going to accept that there is a conflict, and I am not going to accept the premise of the question. I would like those opposite and on the crossbench to start acknowledging some of the other aspects of this change in the way that we manage biodiversity in this State. We know that the previous way was not working. When those opposite start citing the numbers of species that have gone onto the threatened list, they should acknowledge that that happened under the legislation and the changes that the former Government put through.
The native vegetation laws in this State were not working, particularly for our native species. To continue to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result is the definition of insanity. That is why we brought a balanced change into this area, and that is why we will see an increase in biodiversity in this State as a result of those changes.