Speech in Parliament on land clearing

1.35pm | February 23, 2016

For the past few months, environmental groups have joined the farmers’ lobby and other stakeholders in negotiating the shape of NSW’s conservation laws with the state government. At the end of last week, the environmental groups walked. They called out the Baird government’s review as a process whose outcomes were predetermined by a radical, rural minority.

In many ways the Baird Government’s approach is unsurprising, in the same way it was unsurprising when the Neumann Government sought to wind back Labor’s land clearing legislation in Queensland. It is part of the unsettling trend of conservative governments undoing Labor reforms in order to satisfy sectional interests who don’t speak for most Australians.

That the Baird government’s gutting of environmental legislation is unsurprising doesn’t make it any less disturbing. The network of biodiversity and conservation protections that were legislated by Labor state governments provide crucial safeguards for Australia’s natural environments, but they also provide crucial safeguards for Australia’s people.

In 2000 Australia was the 5th greatest land clearer in the world, and NSW was second to QLD. NSW Environment Minister, Bob Debus, called it “one of the greatest environmental challenges.” Labor state governments took action. In my state of NSW, for instance, we enacted a suite of legislation in the early 2000s that stopped broad scale land clearing. Since the implementation of the Native Vegetation Act in 2005, NSW has seen: an 88-fold reduction in areas approved for clearing from 80,000 hectares per year (from 1998 - 2008) to 911 hectares per year (2005 – 2013).

Similar legislation was enacted in Queensland under the Beattie and Bligh governments. It was rolled back when the Liberal National Party came to power, however, and what happened in Queensland is a startling portent for what may happen in NSW under the Baird Government. 

  • 296,000 hectares of bushland was cleared in 2013-14 – three times as much as in 2008-09
  • clearing in catchments that drain onto the Great Barrier Reef increased dramatically, and constituted 35% of total clearing across Queensland in 2013-14.

 

Land clearing like this claims the lives of hundreds of thousands of native mammals. It destroys forests and woodlands that provide many economic benefits such as shelter for stock and crops, and pollination.

It also makes no sense, and produces perverse outcomes.

  • The Federal Government is undertaking a program to replant 20 million trees by 2020. The aim? To remedy some of the damage done by past land clearing. The cost? $50 million. Yet in 2013, more trees have been cleared in Queensland in just one year than will be replanted during the entire program.
  • The Federal Government’s Emissions Reduction Fund is paying billings of dollars to reduce carbon emissions. However, the carbon released from Queensland’s land clearing in 2012-14 is estimated at 63 million tonnes. This is more than was purchased during the first round of the Emissions reduction Fund (at a cost of more than $660 million)

 

And this, right there, is the kicker; and why this is an issue of national significance.  One of the main reasons Australia is able to meet its modest emission reduction targets is because of the carbon savings achieved by halting broad scale land clearing. This will be under threat if the Baird government takes NSW back to the rates of land clearing we saw in Queensland under the Newman government.

The land clearing laws in NSW and Queensland were the end result of tireless campaigns by environmentalists, willing to work in partnership with committed Labor state governments.

Labor has always prioritised acting on your beliefs, not just congratulating yourself for having them.

If you want to make a difference, you have to be a party of government – that is why the most important conservation reforms of the last fifty years have the word ‘Labor’ next to them:

  • protecting the Great Barrier Reef,
  • protecting the Franklin, Kakadu, the Daintree and Antarctica,
  • ending 30 years of conflict over Tasmania's forests and 120 years of disagreement over the Murray Darling Basin.

 

Policies like these make me proud to be Labor. Policies like NSW’s land clearing laws. I stand with my NSW colleagues in opposing the Baird Government’s ambitions to unwind them.