The Annual General Meeting for the Society was held on 16 March 2019 and in this report I would like to begin by thanking all the members of the management committee for their enthusiasm and contributions over the last year and all the members for their continued support of the work of the Committee and the Society.
I would like to acknowledge and thank all the weekend volunteers at the Visitors Centre who have been on hand to meet and assist visitors to the reserve.
In summary I think it has been another year of achievement for the Society because of the efforts of so many members. The list of achievements is lengthy but I would like to highlight a few key matters. The first is the Ivanhoe Estate redevelopment proposal. This proposal to increase the number of dwellings from 300 to 3500 would have a severe impact of the remnant Sydney Turpentine & Iron Bark Forest located on the estate. The forest is a critically endangered ecological community and should be protected at all costs. The Society has made effective representations to the current MP for Ryde and to Ryde Council and at this time the proposed footprint for the development is being reviewed.
Another matter is Ryde Council’s proposal for generic plans of management for parks and reserves. The Society has made representations to the Mayor and met with relevant Council officers to follow up concerns about the protection of natural areas both zoned as such and not currently protected by relevant zoning. This is a matter that will require more attention by the Society in the year ahead.
The third matter is the Buffalo Creek pedestrian bridge. The Society has met with relevant Council officers and has been influential in the siting of this bridge. The endangered ecological salt marsh community will not be impacted by the bridge.
It has been a demanding year for the environment because of the policies and actions of the State and Federal Governments. I see a key continuing role of the Society as seeking to influence the decisions of Government and it is essential to work with other key environmental groups such as the Nature Conservation Council, National Parks Association, Parramatta River Catchment Group, Environmental Defenders Office and Australian Conservation Foundation to keep pressure on Government on behalf of the environment.
At the same time we have not lost sight of the management of the Field of Mars Reserve. The consultation process and direct contact with Councillors and Council officers has been constructive and fruitful.
For the year ahead I suggest more of the same is needed including a bigger emphasis on educating the local community and supporting key environmental groups in legal challenges to proposals that threaten the environment.
Thank you for your support this year and I am looking forward to another year of outstanding environmental action by the Society.
The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) states that Budget 2019-20 fails by devaluing the environment that sustains all Australians, while increasing the climate-damaging diesel subsidy and enabling public money to be used to support coal and gas projects. There is an overall budget of $900 million for the environment for 2019-20 compared to the diesel fuel tax credit subsidy which across the forward estimates will cost Australians $7.2 billion next year and $40 billion to 2022-23, nine times the total budget for the environment.
ACF calculates that since 2013-14, investment in protecting and restoring the environment has been cut by nearly 40 per cent, while the overall federal budget has grown by 17 per cent. “While Australians live through multiple environmental crises – record-breaking heatwaves, bushfires in forests that were considered too wet to burn, a million fish dead in the Darling River and mass bleaching on the Barrier Reef – the proportion of the overall budget invested in the environment is just 0.2 cents on the dollar,” Ms O’Shanassy, ACF's CEO, said.
“This budget devalues the environment that sustains all Australians, while paving the way for public money to be used to support new coal and gas projects and boosting fossil fuel subsidies. Coal mining companies alone will receive more than $1.5 billion a year in diesel fuel subsidies over the forward estimates. The current government plans to spend $4.36 subsidising pollution for every dollar it spends on climate action".
ACF welcomes new investment in the Emissions Reduction Fund (renamed the Climate Solutions Fund), but say the scheme needs an overhaul to get rid of rules that allow payments to big companies to burn more fossil fuels. $2 billion over 15 years is promised to top up this fund - though only $189.1 million will be spent over the current forward estimates period and it is no substitute for substantial policies like regulations, caps and trading schemes. Five years of rising emissions are testament to that. Despite the cuts, some of the new investments in potentially environmentally-friendly initiatives, including microgrid studies that could back clean-energy communities and investment in land stewardship and environment restoration, are welcomed.
Overall annual investment in cutting climate pollution remains flat across the forward estimates at $1.7 billion, as new spending under the climate solutions fund is offset by cutting funding for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). The Government has earmarked $3.5 million to support ‘firm’ energy projects, including new and refurbished coal and new gas plants, $50 million for electricity micro-grids in regional and remote communities,$8.4 million for feasibility studies into the opening of the Beetaloo Sub-basin for gas exploration and development; and the Snowy Hydro 2.0 project will see a $1.38 billion equity injection over the next six years. “Using public money to fund new coal and gas projects or upgrades to existing coal plants should not even be under consideration when we know how much damage burning fossil fuels is doing to our climate,” Ms O’Shanassy said. “Major international financial institutions like the World Bank and the OECD want nations like Australia to axe subsidies that encourage climate pollution, yet this notorious subsidy, which lets multinational mining companies like BHP, Glencore and Rio Tinto pay no tax at all on off-road diesel use, continues and will cost Australians $7.2 billion next year.” On a more positive note, $100 million over forward estimates will establish an Environment Restoration Fund to provide grants for on-ground restoration and protection projects; and $28.3 million, $150,000 in each electorate, for community-led environment projects.
While welcoming the restoration fund to help farmers and other landholders protect and restore biodiversity on private property, Ms O’Shanassy said “Despite Australia’s outstanding natural beauty, not enough is being invested in the protection of our unique wildlife and special places. Since Australia’s national environment laws came into effect 20 years ago, threatened species habitat larger than Tasmania has been bulldozed and logged. ACF believes annual investment of $1 billion a year is needed to restore our landscapes and stop extinction.”
It's just been announced that the Morrison government is gifting $8.4 million of taxpayer dollars to Origin and Santos to establish a fast-tracked gas fracking industry in the Northern Territory with no social licence.
The federal government is propping up an industry that Territorians don’t want, that puts water resources at risk, goes against the wishes of Traditional Owners and will drive up carbon pollution and gas prices.
Territory residents are outraged that the Federal Government is aiding the fracking industry whilst allowing crucial frontline services in the NT to wither from a lack of investment.
Remote Northern Territory fracked gas will be some of the most expensive gas to extract in the world - only assisting in keeping gas prices high for Australian consumers.
Less than a week after being returned to office, the Liberal-National Party moved quickly to weaken environmental protections and local government powers by transferring them to the planning department and the premier, Gladys Berejiklian.
Under the Administration of Acts Order and associated changes, the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) has been scrapped. This department was tasked with the oversight of environmental protection across the state.
Recently the OEH produced a very thorough and critical review of the proposed redevelopment of Ivanhoe Place at Macquarie Park, effectively supporting concerns expressed by our Society.
According to Administration of Acts Order, Planning Minister Rob Stokes will now exercise all powers under the Local Government Act 1993.
Greens MP David Shoebridge pointed out that the changes disempower Ministers from having any official role in the administration of key legislation in their areas including the Protection of the Environmental Acts, the Heritage Act 1977 and the Local Government Act 1993. He said, “NSW Planning has a history of abusing the environment, not protecting it, which makes these changes so dreadfully concerning. It’s not just the Planning Minister who has seized control, so has the Premier by taking over all responsibilities under the Heritage Act 1977.”
NSW is now the only State in Australia without a stand-alone environment department.
For the first time in many decades there will no longer be a dedicated state government agency looking after the state’s natural and built environments. Responsibilities previously undertaken by the OEH will be merged into a larger Department of Planning and Industry.
During the election campaign, Premier Gladys Berejiklian claimed that environment was a priority, but we now see the Premier acting against the environment.
At risk are the health of our rivers, oceans, animals, plants and people, security of water supplies, and protection of forests on the north coast from logging and overdevelopment.