Last Thursday, NSW state Labor MP, Mr Walt Secord, who is responsible for north coast issues, spoke out in parliament in support of a bill that would see a tenfold increase in penalties for illegal forestry of koala and other native habitats.
Mr Secord was speaking in the NSW Legislative Council in favour of Labor’s National Parks and Wildlife Amendment (Illegal Forestry Operations) Bill 2012.
The move was in part a result of illegal logging by Forests NSW in koala habitat on the north coast.
Under environment spokesperson Luke Foley’s Bill, the new offence will now attract a maximum penalty of $220,000 or imprisonment for two years, or both.
Currently, an illegal forestry operation faces a maximum penalty of $22,000.
Given the scale of many of the forestry operators in New South Wales that is a paltry amount. Regrettably, it could be reconciled by some operators as an operating cost as opposed to a genuine deterrent,’ Mr Secord said.
He cited a visit last month by Mr Foley, and the North East Forest Alliance temporarily halted the illegal logging by Forests NSW of local koala habitat near Casino.
‘In theory, Forests NSW is prohibited from logging in high-use koala areas. However, it is obvious that Forests NSW was failing in its legal obligation to protect a minimum number of koala feed trees and it did not undertake pre-logging surveys to identify and protect high-use koala areas.
‘Since Mr Foley and the alliance have drawn attention to the illegal logging, the minister for the environment has regrettably allowed a resumption of logging,’ Mr Secord said.
‘Local environmentalists and Mr Foley observed koala scratch marks on tree trunks and stumps in an area recently logged by Forests NSW and koala scats next to trees and stumps.
‘There was physical evidence showing the koalas had returned to the eucalyptus trees and discovered their homes had been reduced to mere stumps. I have seen the photographs and the evidence and they are heartbreaking. There are other examples of the O’Farrell government’s failure to protect koalas.
‘Last October, the minister for the environment, the Hon Robyn Parker, and the Environment Protection Authority failed to stop illegal logging of other koala habitats, including in the Boambee State Forest near Coffs Harbour and Bermagui State Forest on the south coast,’ Mr Secord said.
The 2012 Bill amends the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 to increase substantially the penalties for illegal activity in our state forests.
The object of the bill is to amend the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 to create a new offence that involves contravening a provision of the National Parks and Wildlife Act or the regulations in the course of carrying out forestry operations, which includes activities such as logging for timber production purposes.
It also increases the penalties applying to the offence under the National Parks and Wildlife Act of contravening any condition or restriction attached to a licence or certificate issued under part 6 of the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995.
The debate on the Bill will continue on September 6.