National Parks and Wildlife Legislation Amendment (Reservations) Bill 2011 - SW Cypress Reservation Delay


On behalf of the Labor Opposition, I indicate at the outset that Labor cannot support the National Parks and Wildlife Legislation Amendment (Reservations) Bill 2011 in its current form. We will vote against the bill unless sections dealing with the delay in the south-western cypress reservations are excised from the bill. If they are not excised from the bill, the Opposition will vote against it. As the Parliamentary Secretary stated, there are three particular aspects of the bill, and I will deal with each of them in turn. The first deals with changing the Wianamatta Regional Park's reservation status to a nature reserve. The Labor Opposition supports that part of the legislation and welcomes it.

The truth is that the New South Wales Liberal Party and The Nationals did nothing to conserve that land. Its protection from housing was locked in years ago, when the Western Sydney Conservation Alliance secured $15 million in Federal funds to buy the site. That triggered the Penrith City Council's decision that the Penrith local environmental plan [LEP] would rezone the site for nature conservation. The stream of speeches made in the lower House by the Minister and other members of the Government who were crowing about this move for Wianamatta were very much overstated. Having said that, I add that the Labor Opposition welcomes the change in reservation status from a regional park to a nature reserve.

The second aspect of the bill proposes both an addition and a revocation to the Hunter Wetlands National Park. The Parliamentary Secretary has provided us with details of those changes. I read the agreement in principle speech made by the Minister for the Environment in the lower House, and I do not believe the statements she made about an error by the previous Government have been sufficiently substantiated. I am advised that the area this bill seeks to revoke from the national park is of interaction significance and is already under pressure due to industrial activities in the area. The Parliamentary Secretary has spoken about Kooragang Island, which we are all well aware is a site for heavy industry in the Hunter. The area that this bill revokes provides significant habitat for birds. I do not believe the Government has put a sufficient amount of information on the record. Perhaps there was an error—I do not rule out giving the Government the benefit of the doubt on that. But I do not believe sufficient information has been advanced.

The Labor Opposition was briefed for the first time on this legislation when the Minister for the Environment was delivering her agreement in principle speech in the Legislative Assembly. The Opposition was asked to respond immediately and was told that the Legislative Assembly would move to immediate debate on the bill. In other words, the Opposition would not be provided with any time to consider the bill before replying. The Hon. Carmel Tebbutt, representing me in the Legislative Assembly, made it clear that she simply reserved Labor's position on the bill until we had sufficient time to look at it. I note that the addition to the Hunter Wetlands National Park comprises some 22 hectares and the revocation is 18.5 hectares. So there is a net conservation gain of 3.5 hectares. As I have said, while I believe the Government has not substantiated its argument regarding an alleged error, I do not rule out giving it the benefit of the doubt on that matter if it provides more information in the parliamentary debate.

The majority of my contribution will address the third part of the bill that seeks to delay the reservation of two forests in the south-western cypress area. The Labor Opposition objects to that section of the bill. I will provide the House with an overview of what happened last year with respect to the south-western cypress reservations. The National Park Estate (South-Western Cypress Reservations) Act 2010 was passed in November 2010. That Act saw an additional 70,000 hectares of land added to the reserve system, which included approximately 46,000 hectares of forest land in the south-western area of the State. It also included more than 15,000 hectares of Joulni Station, including the most significant known Aboriginal burials in Mungo National Park within the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area. Finally, that Act added more than 8,000 hectares of Crown land in the Brigalow. The Act sought to complete the regional forest assessments in New South Wales that occurred for almost the entire life of Labor government in this State from 1995 to 2011.

The National Park Estate (South-Western Cypress Reservations) Act dealt with the cypress and woodland forests of south-western New South Wales. Previous regional forest assessments and agreements were undertaken in the Labor years for the Eden, southern, upper and lower north-east, Brigalow and Riverina regions. The Labor Party is proud of its history of forests reform from 1995 to 2011, and believes those series of assessments and agreements delivered strong and balanced forest conservation decisions over the life of the Labor Government. I want to address the 46,000 hectares of forest land in the south-western area that were protected by the National Park Estate (South-Western Cypress Reservations) Act 2010. Those 46,100 hectares of forest land are dotted across southern and central New South Wales and are significant as some of the only naturally vegetated land in the most cleared part of New South Wales. I will come back to that important point later in my contribution.

The south-western area has some of the lowest levels of reservation in New South Wales, and it is certainly the case that the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water—now the Office of Environment and Heritage—has had a strategy for some years to address the low levels of reservation in western New South Wales. I commend it for its work over the years in addressing that matter. The forests that were protected last year support significant areas of three types of ecological communities, as well as many threatened species, particularly birds. I want to talk also about the timber industry. Yesterday the Minister for Roads and Ports was bowled a Dorothy Dixer during question time in order to attack me about the forest industry. That is fine, but now I want to talk about Labor's view regarding the forest industry because we certainly do not yield to The Nationals or the over-the-top attacks by the Minister for Roads and Ports yesterday regarding the forest industry. Indeed, I will show in this contribution that the Act that was passed last year under a Labor Government delivered a very balanced outcome between nature conservation and security for the forest industry in the south-western area.

The Crown timber industry in the area is based on two cypress mills: one at Condobolin and the other at Narrandera, both operated by Grants Holdings Pty Ltd. Grants made two submissions to the Natural Resources Commission process that assessed the south-western forests before the Act was debated last year. The Baradine Saw Mill takes most of its timber from the Brigalow. However, it will occasionally access timber from the south-western cypress forests. Unlike in other forest assessments, those mills have locked into 20-year wood supply agreements. The mills are important employers in their communities, which was recognised by the Legislature last year when the National Park Estate (South-Western Cypress Reservations) Act was passed.

As a result of that Act, the forest industry was able to continue and, crucially, the Act did not affect the existing 20-year cypress wood supply agreements. That Act represented the central component of the former Government's response to the report and recommendations of the Natural Resources Commission. That legislation achieved the balance that the Natural Resources Commission said could be delivered for the south-western cypress forests. More than half the forests transferred were eucalypt woodlands that are of no commercial timber value. The then Government committed to expedite an integrated forestry operations approval providing legal certainty that had not existed. The Natural Resources Commission recommended that 29 of the 197 forests totalling more than 26,000 hectares, being eucalypt woodland forest with little or no cypress resource, be managed for their conservation values.

The Labor Government endorsed that recommendation, and 24 of those forests were reserved under the National Parks and Wildlife Act. The other five are protected and managed by the Land and Property Management Authority. The Natural Resources Commission recommended that the other 168 cypress State forests remain in Forests NSW tenure. It also recommended additional rules covering harvesting and grazing in some of those forests. The Labor Government considered those two recommendations and determined that a better result would be achieved by reserving a further 18 whole State forests and parts of another four under the National Parks and Wildlife Act and by providing streamlined rules covering harvesting and grazing. It is important for the House to understand that that is how the 46,000 hectare area I have referred to was arrived at: 26,000 hectares plus 20,000 hectares were added to the national park estate by the former Government.

That improved the representation of white cypress pine in the reserve system and contributed to the New South Wales reservation targets, which I referred to earlier, and the Commonwealth reservation targets without affecting wood supply agreements. Of course, the then Government was also cognisant of the minerals potential of some of those forests and, as a result, three forests were reserved as State conservation areas. The reservations referred to in the 2010 Act were to come into force in two parts: first, 41 forests were to come into force on 1 January 2011, and, secondly, five forests—which are the nub of today's debate—were to come into force on 1 January 2012. It is that arrangement that the O'Farrell Government seeks to alter today.

The delay in the reservation of those five forests until 1 January 2012 was to allow Forests NSW to conduct exit harvests, which were to be carried out in line with updated standards agreed between the then Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water and Forests NSW. Some 149 forests covering nearly 150 thousand hectares remained as State forest. I believe that was a very solid outcome for the timber industry. These issues are never easy. It was not an easy issue inside the Labor Government and there were debates within the party. Getting the balance right took a long time. The Labor Government took the whole process of forest assessments very seriously. That is why we will not sign up to some bill rushed in today by the new Government seeking to disturb those settled arrangements that we believe struck an appropriate balance.

The Coalition opposed tooth and nail the change of status of the two forests the reservation of which this bill seeks to delay. Coalition members of this place moved to excise the reservation of those two forests from the bill. Wilbertroy State Forest and Yathong State Forest have very high conservation value and the areas we are debating amount to more than 5,000 hectares. This is not a minor matter. The Minister for the Environment devoted less than 20 per cent of her agreement in principle speech to this decision to delay the reservation of 5,000 hectares of forest by two and three years. Almost all of the Minister's agreement in principle speech was devoted to crowing about a net conservation gain of 3.5 hectares in the Hunter.

The Hon. Walt Secord: How many?

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: Just 3.5 hectares, which is the equivalent of a couple of football fields. She also focused on the conservation of 180 hectares in western Sydney, which we welcome. However, she did not address in any detail the most serious aim of this bill, and that is to delay the reservation of more than 5,000 hectares of forest. Wilbertroy State Forest is located south-west of Forbes and is an example of a forest that has important remnants of riverine woodland with river red gum, threatened grey box and belah. It is an important part of the flood plain from the Lachlan River to Lake Cowal. It is a very significant forest remnant that is surrounded by the heavily cleared Jemalong irrigation area and it was recognised by the Natural Resources Commission as having high landscape function value.

The inland grey box that occurs in Wilbertroy State Forest is listed as an endangered ecological community in New South Wales. In fact, the commission report estimates that 56 per cent of the forest qualifies as an endangered ecological community. The forest contains diverse vegetation types and it is recognised as one of the highest priority additions to the reserve system due to its highest conservation significance, and that is why it was reserved in the legislation passed last year. It provides habitat for a number of threatened and declining woodland birds, such as the diamond firetail and the speckled warbler.

Yathong State Forest is located north of Hillston and is considered by environmental groups to be one of the most important core reserves in the south-west region because of its size and because it provides for the substantial and important consolidation of Yathong Nature Reserve. The Natural Resources Commission recognised it as having high landscape value function and it is considered to be a likely habitat for the endangered malleefowl. Taronga Western Plains Zoo bred malleefowl that were then released into the forest because of its conservation value. Its location on the boundary between bioregions highlights its importance as a link between regions and underscores the diversity of species it contains. The Natural Resources Commission report indicated that 24 threatened fauna species have been located in Yathong State Forest and the surrounding area.

The Hon. Rick Colless: Name them.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: As the member has asked, I will. It is known habitat for the threatened little pied bat, Major Mitchell cockatoos, grey-crowned babblers—which are sure to be of interest to the Hon. Rick Colless—and hooded robins.

The Hon. Rick Colless: Did the member not say that there were 24? How many was that?

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: I am giving the edited highlights otherwise we would be here all night. The South West Slopes Bioregion is the most significantly cleared landscape in New South Wales. Over 80 per cent of the region has been cleared of native vegetation. In some areas the clearing figure is as high as 88 per cent. Last week I spoke about my fears that this weak environment Minister will let The Nationals run all over her and gut the important parts of the Native Vegetation Regulation 2005. Of course, the Hon. Duncan Gay has dropped several buckets on me since. The Nationals have been frothing at the mouth to roll back Labor's native vegetation laws and nature conservation achievements.

The South West Slopes Bioregion is where most of the south-western cypress forests exist. Because of the previous clearing that has taken place they generally appear as isolated patches surrounded by cleared agricultural land. These forests are unique in an over-cleared landscape. They serve as a reminder of the vegetation that grew in these areas before the land was cleared. They provide refuge for a wide variety of threatened and non-threatened native species. These forests perform a critical function of providing areas for feeding and nesting for many threatened birds. In some cases these small forests are linked to other areas by steep ranges, such as the Jemalong Range west of Forbes. However, in most cases they are the only native vegetation in lower parts of the landscape. Many of the south-western cypress forests grow as mixed forests with a variety of different types of vegetation.

The Hon. Rick Colless: What sorts are in there? Give us the species. Tell us what you really know about this stuff, because you do not know anything about it.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: The Hon. Risk Colless interjects. If The Nationals members want to contribute to this debate and pay homage to an environment Minister who is rolling back environmental protection, I say let them go for it. A key part of the Act passed last year was for an Integrated Forestry Operations Approval for the south-west cypress. I will now briefly address that. The Integrated Forestry Operations Approval that was tabled in this House some weeks ago is a weaker document than the approval that covered some other areas of the States, such as the Brigalow Belt South Integrated Forestry Operations Approval. The most recent Integrated Forestry Operations Approval does not require any specialised targeted services for any threatened animals prior to logging. This sets it apart from the Brigalow Belt South Integrated Forestry Operations Approval, in which targeted surveys are required for 12 different fauna species. Yet 45 threatened fauna species are known to inhabit the south-western cypress forests. The Natural Resources Commission report taught us that.

Threatened species that require surveys in the Brigalow approval and not in the south-western cypress forests approval but which are likely to occur there include the powerful owl, the squirrel glider, the spotted-tailed quoll and the brush-tailed phascogale. The Integrated Forestry Operations Approval is therefore entrenching ignorance as an excuse to destroy threatened species' habitats. Under this Government we have seen a weak Integrated Forestry Operations Approval when compared with those arrived at under Labor governments for other forested parts of the State. That is no surprise, because we know that this Government is not committed to nature conservation.

This bill seeks a two- and three-year delay to the reservation of those two forests, or parts of them. I will be precise about this because the Government members have not dealt with it in their contributions in the other place or here. The two areas we are talking about are 1,048 hectares of the Wibertroy State Forest and 4,151 hectares of the Yathong State Forest. Other parts of those two forests were added to the reserve system on 1 January 2011. So it is parts of these two forests that we are dealing with today with the delay that has been put before us.

In the very small part of her agreement in principle speech that addressed the delay in reserving these two forests the Minister told us that there will be no extra logging. The justification is that they will take the same amount of tonnage but they need more time. Labor would be prepared to consider that if the Government provided us with some evidence. In parliamentary debate last year it was stated that these areas and three others would not be reserved until 1 January 2012 so that an exit harvest could take place. It was always the date that was contemplated; not the tonnage.

The onus is on the Government to make the case and to bring the evidence about the further time it needs to take the timber. Yet there is not a word in the bill. There was also no detail provided in the Minister's agreement in principle speech or in any of the supporting speeches by Government members in the other place. We are simply told that the final harvest that was to take one year will now take two years and three years. We need to know the logic behind the need for a period of three years for a final exit harvest in one of these forests that was originally contemplated to take one year. I accept there has been flooding.

The Hon. Rick Colless: That was your Government.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: The Hon. Rick Colless gives the game away. His comment shows that, as ever, The Nationals are in charge. His interjection was that it was our government that wanted only a year. He has revealed the real motivation here, and that is that The Nationals never wanted this to be in the reserve system on 1 January 2012. They never wanted it to be in the reserve system at all. They moved in this place that those two forests never be in the reserve system. The Minister comes, with weasel words, and tells us they need two and three years for the same timber harvest.

The Hon. Rick Colless: You do not care about timber workers.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: The Nationals interject and give away the real motivation: they do not want it to be reserved at all. The Nationals give the game away, as ever. And, of course, in the other place the Nationals were gagged from speaking. The Hon. Richard Colless interjected that I do not care about timber workers. I am not going to accept from people who have come to this place and voted up punitive industrial laws that they are the champions of the rights of workers. Give me a break! Members on this side of the House are not going to cop interjections from those people—interjections from people who have come here, year in, year out, for the past hundred years and more, to vote for punitive laws against working people and to vote against every advance in the rights of working people put forward by the Labor Party. We are not going to accept—

DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Paul Green): Order! I remind members that interjections are disorderly at all times. I know that many members are passionate about this topic. However, they will have an opportunity to contribute to the debate when the Hon. Luke Foley concludes his passionate contribution.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY: We know that the Minister for the Environment is in bad shape when she has to be defended by The Nationals and the Hon. Peter Phelps, who came in here and declared in his early weeks—it is in Hansard—"I love the sound of chainsaws". The Minister for the Environment in the O'Farrell Government is defended by the Hon. Peter Phelps and The Nationals. That says it all about her performance. She is in the job because she will not stand up for the environment of this State, and we all know it. In 16 years Labor added three million hectares to the national park estate. In six and a half months the O'Farrell Government has added how much? Twelve hectares.

It is 2,011 years since the birth of Christ. At this rate we will need another 135,440 years for the O'Farrell Government to match Labor's nature conservation achievements. And now we get this bill and the Minister crows about adding 3.5 hectares to the national park estate in the Hunter—3.5 hectares. I will allow her the 181 hectares at Wianamatta—that gets the O'Farrell Government to 196.5 hectares of new national park. I thought they were on a roll but, no, they actually have to drive it backwards: they stop 5,000 hectares of Labor's reservations because, as the Hon. Richard Colless said, they have always been about ensuring that these two forests are not in the reserve system. He gave the game away. This is a Government that has no commitment to nature conservation. This is a Government that has not made the case as to why it needs two and three years longer in these two State forests before they are added to the reserve system.

The Minister for the Environment will not fight for the environment; she is a captive of The Nationals. It will take 135,440 years at the rate they are going to match Labor's nature conservation achievements. They are now seeking to attack the legislation passed by Labor to protect the biodiversity in a region of this State that has been most devastated by land clearance over the past couple of hundred years. That is the effect of what they are doing today—rolling back Labor's achievements in nature conservation in the south-west of the State, the region of the State that has been most affected by land clearing. Over 80 per cent of the region has been cleared of native vegetation and in some parts of the region the clearing figure is as high as 88 per cent. Labor went through the forest assessment process for 15 years. There were long debates internally and in this Parliament about balancing conservation and security for the timber industry. Our bill was passed last year. We object to what is being done today. Unless those parts of this bill relating to the south-western cypress reservations are excised from it, we will vote against the bill.