National Parks and Wildlife Amendment (Illegal Forestry Operations) Bill 2012


Second Reading

I am proud to introduce the National Parks and Wildlife Amendment (Illegal Forestry Operations) Bill 2012, which amends the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 to substantially increase the penalties for illegal forestry operations.

Australia's forests and the animals which live in them have always been a source of pride and inspiration.

When Europeans first came to our shores they were beguiled by, and sometimes frightened of the bush: eucalypts, cycads, wattles and waratahs greeted the new settlers and became the backdrop to their lives.

The colonial wonder and amazement was palpable.

In 1791 the colony sent two kangaroos as exotic gifts to the king, and a dingo to the under secretary of state.

The art of John Lewin – an exhibition of which closed just this week at the Mitchell Library, further illuminated the colonial fascination.

In the first years of the 1800s Lewin painted Gymea Lillies and Waratahs, Tawny Frogmouths and Eastern Rosellas.

In 1803 Governor King dispatched him to record the first koala sited by white people.

His stilted efforts at capturing the koala, as with the distinctive eucalypt, reveal how foreign these forests and their animals seemed to European eyes.

Struggling against and subduing this wild landscape became the task of white settlement.

But by the late 19th century a nationalist pride in our forest heritage was awakening.

In the lead up to Melbourne's international expo in 1888 a competition was held to measure the tallest tree, with Australia hoping to find a Eucalyptus Regnan taller than the tallest Redwoods of the USA.

Although the contest to claim ownership of the world's tallest tree was never really settled and Australia's tallest eucalypts were cut down before they were properly measured, the nationalist pride that was piqued by the competition with the Americas opened Australians to the majesty of their forest heritage.

By the turn of the century some visionaries were starting to worry about the rate of forest destruction occurring in the new Federation.

Arthur Streeton was one.

The famous Heidelberg painter who played such a role in helping us see and embrace the Australian landscape as well as celebrating the work of pioneers in carving out an economic future on this challenging land of ours, was a strident activist, rallying against the destruction of our forests.

While clearly proud of all that the settlers had done, he wanted some balance:  he deplored Australia's failure to develop what he called a 'forest conscience' and painted images bluntly named - such as "The Vanishing Forest".

In 1940 Streeton exhibited his most openly critical painting, Sylvan Dam in Donna Buang AD 2000, which as art critic Tim Bonyhady wrote,

"conveys Streeton's nightmare vision of a wasted Australia, bleached, eroded and lifeless as a result of the clearing of the forests."

And the importance of our forests and their animals in the nation's culture is elegantly seen in our favourite children's books - May Gibbs' Gumnut Babies was first published in 1916 and Dorothy Wall's Blinky Bill in 1939.

Both remain staples in the childhood of so many Australians.

This history puts forests at the centre of Australia's identity - our sense of place, our sense of wonder at living on this most marvellous of continents.

And from this history the modern forest campaigns were born, with NSW leading the nascent movement.

In 1979 locals of Terania Creek, on the state's north coast, held protests to protect rainforest gullies slated for logging and forced a radical rethink to the open slather policies of forest use.

In 1982 Premier Neville Wran protected 90,000 hectares of the rainforests of NSW.

It is was a brave and historic new approach and reflected the changing attitudes in the community toward preservation of the state’s most impressive forests.

But still the community concern grew.

In 1989 and1990 the forest protests on the NSW south coast dwarfed the Franklin River blockade, continuing over 18 months with 1300 arrests.

In 1995 Bob Carr became Premier of NSW, aided by community sentiment for forest protection and Labor's promise to deliver a world class national park system and strong forest management.

Which is exactly what he did.

Labor reformed the timber industry in NSW.

Labor showed that it is not a crude choice between jobs and the environment but that a progressive society can create growing prosperity while protecting working people and the environment.

Labor provided generous transitions, and where the industry continued it was given certainty and resource security.

Labor created the best forested national parks system in Australia, protecting for perpetuity the most ecologically important forests.

Over 16 years Labor created 3 million hectares of new national parks, many of this on former state forests land.

Iconic places like Chaelundi and Jilliby in the north and Deua and the South East Forests National Park are now protected forever.

But this was only half the equation.

For the state forests left open to logging Labor designed a comprehensive set of laws and prescriptions designed to ensure that logging did not decimate the ecological fabric of the forest, instead leaving the building blocks of forest diversity and recovery, ensuring water ways were kept clean and animals not robbed of their homes entirely.

The Integrated Forests Operations Approvals, or IFOAs, are the detailed documents which outline forest prescriptions and the licenses granted to forestry operations, perhaps most significantly those relating to threatened species.

One of the challenges with logging of native forests is that animals require a mix of different aged trees.

A clear fell destroys the forest as a home for animals, as the trees which grow back are all the same age, creating a biological desert.

Many animals specifically require big, old trees.

It is only after a tree is mature that it starts to drop branches and create the hollows that many animals rely on.

Gliders, birds and bats require these cosy hideouts to survive.

Hollows have been called the apartment blocks of the forest, and many species of fauna in Australia are hollow dependent.

Labor's rules require a set number of old trees, called habitat trees to remain in a logged area.

This is one example of the many sensible prescriptions which govern logging in state forests in NSW.

Furthermore under IFOAs, pre-logging fauna surveys are to be undertaken by fully qualified experts, and particular prescriptions have to be followed if threatened species are found to be present.

Specific numbers of hollow-bearing and recruitment habitat trees must be clearly marked, protected and retained; feed trees, nests, roosts and den sites are identified, marked and protected; buffer zones must be established and clearly delineated, and dedicated staff must be on hand to ensure there are no animals in harm's way.

In reality though, things are very different.

Audits of logging operations that have been undertaken by environment groups on the north and south coast over the past 2 to 3 years have alleged the systematic breaching of virtually every threatened species prescription.

In March this year I visited the Styx River State Forest, east of Armidale.

The area is prime habitat for the Rufous Scrub bird, a small secretive understorey bird that lives in the highland wet forests in north-east NSW.

It is a living fossil with a lineage dating back over 65 million years, to the age of the dinasours, but is now listed as vulnerable to extinction on the NSW schedule of threatened species.

Burning and logging are recognised as primary threats to its survival.

Locals became concerned when they visited the Styx River Forest and found it had been burned and was being logged.

The area is modelled as Rufous Scrub habitat in the IFOA.

Further, in 2007 a Forests NSW ecologist saw Rufous Scrub birds at 7 locations in compartment 502 of Styx River State Forest.

Forests NSW identified these records as extremely reliable and they were included in the NSW Wildlife Atlas.

When locals complained about the logging occurring in the habitat of the Rufous Scrub bird Forests NSW explained it had deleted the records from the Wildlife Atlas without consultation with OEH.

Our threatened species need better care than this, both from Forests NSW and from OEH.

Our threatened species deserve consequences for reckless “mistakes” like this one.

Last year I was first alerted to the seriousness of the problem.

The then Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water prosecuted Forests NSW for contravening its Threatened Species licence by undertaking a bush fire hazard reduction burn in a Smoky Mouse exclusion zone in Nullica State Forest in southern NSW.

The Smoky Mouse or Pseudomys fumeus is a furry little rodent that is in deep trouble.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has it on its international Red List for endangered species and notes that there are less than 2500 left in the wild.

Once common across south eastern Australia, the IUCN states that the population continues to decline.

We are in real danger of losing this creature.

Forests NSW was found guilty.

The penalty - a paltry fine of $5 600.

It was the judge's comments however that struck me.

In her sentence in June 2011 Justice Pepper wrote with respect to Forests NSW, "the number of convictions suggests that either a pattern of continuing disobedience in respect to environmental laws generally or, at the very least, a cavalier attitude to compliance with such laws."

Her Honour also wrote,

“Given the number of offences the Forestry Commission has been convicted of and in light of the additional enforcement notices issued against it, I find that the Forestry Commission's conduct does manifest a reckless attitude towards compliance with its environmental obligations....

"The penalty…is exceedingly low compared to penalties for other environmental offences, particularly given the seriousness with which the community has come to view environmental offences.

"However any increase in the penalty is a matter for Parliament."

And that is what this bill is about.

In NSW, if a corporation pollutes a waterway it is liable to a $1 million fine and $120,000 for each day the offence continues.

In NSW, if an individual illegally clears bush on their own property they are liable to a $1 million fine.

In NSW, if you contravene the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act you are liable to a $1.1 million dollar fine and $110,000 for each day the offence continues

If you hurt a threatened species in any context apart from forestry the fine is $220,000 and/or 2 years imprisonment.

However, if you take the life of a smoky mouse or a long-footed potoroo by contravening the threatened species licence under an IFOA the maximum penalty is a paltry $22,000.

This inequity in the respective penalties for contravening environmental laws is ludicrous.

Forests NSW is failing the people of NSW in its obligation to manage the forests.

But lack of real incentive to stick to the rules is one important part of this problem.

That is why this bill increases the penalties for breaching the provisions of an Integrated Forestry Operations Approval tenfold.

This Bill amends the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 to create a new offence that involves contravening a provision of that Act or the regulations in the course of carrying out forestry operations.

The new offence under the Act will attract a maximum penalty of 2,000 penalty units, that is $220,000, or imprisonment for 2 years, or both, which is, in most cases, substantially higher than the existing penalties for contravening a provision of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 or the regulations.

This Bill also increases the penalties applying to the offence under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 of contravening any condition or restriction attached to a licence or certificate issued under Part 6 (Licensing) of the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995.

The maximum penalties applying to the offencewill be increased, in the case of a individual, from 100 penalty units, that is, $11,000, and 10 penalty units for each day the offence continues to 1,000 penalty units and 100 penalty units, respectively, and, in the case of a corporation, from 200 penalty units and 20 penalty units for each day the offence continues to 2,000 penalty units and 200 penalty units, respectively.

Section 8A of the Forestry Act 1916 defines the objects of the Forestry Commission.

In essence it is charged with the three key objects: to deliver timber, to provide for recreation and to care for the resource it manages.

This third object specifically requires the Forestry Commission to “conserve birds and animals" in our state forests.

It is time for Forests NSW to fulfil its legal obligations.

It is time for the Office of Environment and Heritage to fulfil its obligation to ensure that the rules are obeyed and to prosecute when they are not.

And it is time for the Parliament to step up and call a halt to illegal forestry without real consequences.

Earlier this year I visited Boambee State Forest, just outside Coffs Harbour.

Boambee is home to one of the last koala populations on the coast.

I was shown a litany of prescription breaches, including perhaps most startlingly, the intensity of the logging.

There are prescriptions which govern the volume of the forest that can be logged, called the "basal area."

Logging is meant to be limited to 30 to 40% of the basal area of the forest.

I can attest the volumes were much greater than this.

Further, trees that were meant to be retained as habitat and feed trees for koalas were logged.

Our koalas deserve better than this.

It was in reference to the logging of Boambee State Forest that Environment Minister Robyn Parker said last year in Budget Estimates that “logging protects koalas.”

The koala is becoming an emblem of what is at stake here.

There has been quite a bit of attention on the koala of late.

When those first white folk landed in Sydney Cove an estimated 10 million koalas lived in Australia.

The current NSW koala population is estimated to be around ten thousand.

This is a tragedy.

The current scale of illegal logging is one of the key threats to this Australian icon.

This bill addresses this problem by creating appropriate penalties for environmental crimes in our forests.

I commend the bill to the House.