The Australian Senate has been conducting an inquiry into Australia’s fauna extinction crisis and examining the effectiveness of Commonwealth environmental laws in protecting endangered fauna. Habitat is a key factor for their survival and the impending redevelopment at Ivanhoe Estate, Macquarie Park, is a timely example of the ineffectiveness of the current Commonwealth laws. These laws and the New South Wales environmental legislation are failing to protect the critically endangered Sydney Turpentine and Ironbark Forest (STIF) and other native vegetation and wildlife habitat on the Estate and across NSW.
The Biodiversity Assessment Report (BAR) sets out the process that was undertaken to evaluate the natural heritage values of the STIF and all vegetation on the site. This process commenced with a description of the general characteristics of the site, such as geological form, and these characteristics provide the basis for the fauna and flora that would be predicted on such a site. A search was then conducted of the Atlas of NSW Wildlife (Bionet) and The Threatened Species Profile Data base to ascertain the existence on the site of such endangered species. None were identified via this search.
The next step is to identify any threatened species that may not be predicted on the site. The BioBanking Credit Calculator (BBCC) generates a list of candidate species. These are species which are known or expected to be in the geographical region of the site. The BAR selected three flora species for survey at the site based on the likelihood of their occurrence in the region. A total of four hours of surveying was conducted and none of these species were located. As such it was concluded that no further assessment was required as no threatened species were observed within the development site. Thus the outcome of the BAR is that the native vegetation, including the 800 trees and the ecologically endangered STIF community, will not be conserved and there are no legally binding plans to offset and compensate for this loss. So far a location for the offset site has not been identified.
This is another failure of legislation, including the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, to conserve diminishing remnant STIF and existing native vegetation on a given site, thereby providing essential habitat for vulnerable species and for those species not yet on the endangered list. It is critical that the EPBC Act is strengthened and made effective to reduce the extinction rates of our native flora and fauna. Peak environment groups have been urgently calling for more powerful national laws to safeguard native species and their habitat, backed up by independent bodies to enforce the laws, such as by means of a much-needed federal Environment Protection Authority.
Following the amendment to the National Parks and Wildlife Act in May that ignored the advice of its scientists and gave protection to feral horses in Kosciusko National Park via special heritage status, the NSW Government has now tabled legislation in Parliament which would over-ride the National Parks and Wildlife Act and again put native species and conservation values at risk. The government proposes to raise the Warragamba Dam wall by 14 metres. This would result in legalising the flooding of the Blue Mountains National Park. The Act currently prohibits flooding of national parks by dams. Up to 65 kilometres of wilderness streams and 4,700 hectares of World Heritage listed lands would be inundated, 48 threatened species drowned under muddy dam water and Aboriginal sites put at risk. The threatened Camden White Gum and critically endangered Regent Honeyeater are just two of the species that would be further threatened.
The NSW Government has justified this proposal in terms of protecting the additional 134,000 people to be housed within western Sydney floodplains in the next 30 years. This housing is projected for the current flood-prone land which will be needed to feed Sydney's growing population. This is also where the critically endangered Cumberland Plains Woodland requires protection for its inherent value as well as to help reduce the heat island effect from increasing climate change. Raising the dam wall is currently costed at around $1 billion. This is highly questionable in terms of securing water supply for Sydney. Far more was spent on a desalination plant that has sat idle since 2012 and which, combined with a re-instatement of the excellent demand management system that saved resources and made us all water- aware, will provide for the future without enlarging Warragamba dam. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that this is all about imposing yet more development across the already rapidly growing western Sydney community, now experiencing massive changes to their quality of life.
Conservation groups have condemned the NSW government’s sudden decision to strip environmental protections from its proposed Sydney Marine Park. This was done after intense pressure from recreational fishers, ten days before the public consultation period had even closed! This is despite polling from the Nature Conservation Council showing overwhelming support for the protective sanctuary zoning which is scientifically proven to allow marine life to flourish and fish populations and tourism to thrive.
With the marine park for the Sydney region fully established there will be seven multiple-use marine parks with agreed zoning arrangements, including Cape Byron, Solitary Islands, Port Stephens, Jervis Bay, Batemans and Lord Howe. The NCC will keep campaigning to persuade the government to restore the vital sanctuary zones to Sydney’s proposed marine park.
The Society has been working as part of this Coalition to promote the importance of Powerful Owls, at risk from expanding urban population and rapid development. They are listed as Vulnerable species in NSW and as our largest ‘flagship’ bird deserve greater protection, along with their bushland habitat. The group has produced a brochure (find it at the Field of Mars Visitor Centre) and a policy document, to be available at NCC’s Annual Conference, advising how we can best ensure their environment is safeguarded into the future. Greater Sydney region has 60 breeding sites and it is critical that we all learn what is needed to secure the Owls’ survival.
Documents obtained under freedom of information laws by the North Coast Environment Council and the National Parks Association – and released on ‘Save the Koala Day’ on 28 September – found NSW state reserves cover just 0.2 per cent of so- called "koala hubs" that are home to key colonies. Koalas are in trouble across eastern Australia, including in NSW where the WWF estimates the animal faces extinction by mid-century. Only one-seventh of 77,517 hectares of koala hubs in north-east NSW are located in national parks, with a fifth in state forests and the remaining two-thirds on private land, according to the data. Changes to forestry permits that will allow an intensification of logging, particularly in the NE of the state, increased land-clearing for farming, and rezoning for housing will further affect key koala habitats. Drought and heatwaves are also having a big impact on numbers. A report released by WWF states koalas will be extinct in NSW by 2050 on current trends "without a significant reduction in tree clearing, mitigation of climate change and [a] major expansion of protected areas". It estimated the koala population sank by one-third to 21,000 by 2010.
Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton has defended the government's record, declaring its Koala Strategy, to reserve more habitat, tackle diseases and fix roadkill hotspots, as "the biggest commitment by any state government to secure koalas in the wild". However, the NPA believes the Strategy will inevitably fail because it will not halt logging of native forests or wind back land-clearing which has dramatically increased since the repeal of the state’s Native Vegetation Act in 2017. They want the government to urgently establish a Great Koala National Park in the Coffs Harbour hinterland where a fifth of the state's wild koalas are at risk from logging activity. They say this "is the most important area of public land for koalas in NSW and a conservation priority given the concentration of hubs within its boundaries". About 56 per cent of hubs in the state's north east would be contained within that proposal.