In recent years the NSW Government has made significant changes to native vegetation and biodiversity legislation. Despite Government assertions that there will still be adequate protection for the natural environment, many scientists and conservationists fear these new laws will result in broadscale rural land clearing and large-scale biodiversity loss.
Indeed, land clearing rates in NSW started accelerating even before the changes were passed in August. This has led to concerns that NSW will see the same type of devastation as has occurred in Queensland where hundreds of thousands of hectares of native vegetation have been destroyed annually (e.g. 395,000 ha in 2015-16).
In an attempt to stem this destruction the Nature Conservation Council of NSW (NCC) has launched a legal challenge to the Government’s land clearing codes in the Land and Environment Court. (The NCC is the peak NSW environment body with more than 160 community organisation members from across the state.)
The NCC is being represented by public interest environmental lawyers Environmental Defenders Office NSW (EDO).
The challenge is based on two grounds.
The first is the failure by the Minister for Primary Industries to get agreement from the Minister for the Environment before the Code was made, with the implied failure of the Minister for the Environment to act as custodian and guardian of the environment.
The second relates to the failure of both Ministers to have regard for the internationally recognised principles of Environmentally Sustainable Development (ESD), particularly the precautionary principle, the principle of intergenerational equity and the conservation of biological diversity and ecological integrity.
Clearing of native vegetation has been recognised by scientists as a serious problem. It was listed by the NSW Scientific Committee as a Key Threatening Process under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016. However, as EDO Chief Executive Officer David Morris points out, “The Code allows broadscale clearing across NSW in the absence of any assessment of its likely cumulative impact on biodiversity or land or water resources.”
The outcome of this legal action will be of interest to a wide range of community members as well as the NSW Government.
- Leonie Blain