In 2014 the NSW Upper House undertook an inquiry into the performance of the NSW Environment Protection Authority, with its terms of reference including (vi) the regulation of forestry practices in Royal Camp State Forest.
This week, the government gave its formal response to the inquiry, though they have been reacting for some time. NEFA’s submission is available at Performance of the NSW Environment Protection Authority (Inquiry) (vi) the regulation of forestry practices in Royal Camp State Forest
NEFA welcomes the government’s announcement of the allocation of an additional $1.3 million to the EPA for forest compliance, though remains concerned that the most pressing need is for a change of attitude within the EPA, a willingness to take action, and a significant increase in fines to act as a deterrence.
But NEFA is dismayed that the government’s reaction to the exposure of the Forestry Corporation’s ongoing destruction of core koala habitat, and blatant flouting of environmental laws, in Royal Camp State Forest is to change the laws to reduce protection for Koalas and other threatened species.
At Royal Camp State Forest NEFA proved that the Forestry Corporation were still not meeting their legal obligations to identify and protect Koala High Use Areas after 14 years of being required to do so, and that the EPA had done nothing to rectify this.
The Inquiry recognised ‘the root cause of the breaches to be the Corporation’s failure to undertake searches for evidence of koalas – ‘that is, if you don’t look, you don’t find and if you don’t find, you don’t protect’.(Inquiry report 8.21, p87)
We are thus alarmed that because of their embarrassment over Royal Camp the government is intending on getting rid of requirements to look for koala scats and identify Koala High Use Areas as part of their new rules for logging on public lands.
Instead of protecting core Koala habitat they are intending to retain limited numbers of trees based on forest types ‘regardless of the active presence of koalas in the operational area’ (government response to submissions on IFOA Remake).
Under their new rules there will be no need to look, to find or to protect core koala habitat on public lands. This will enable Royal Camp to be logged.
The Inquiry recognised that koalas in the vicinity of Royal Camp have been assessed as being in serious decline to the point of being an endangered population (Inquiry Report 8.38, p91).
Without this requirement to look for koala scats and protect Koala High Use Areas we would have been unable to stop the Forestry Corporation from logging this core habitat within an endangered population.
It is grossly irresponsible for the government to now remove protection for such areas.
The Inquiry supported ‘the suggestion recently made by the EPA Board that the penalty for threatened species breaches be lifted from $300 to $15,000’ (Inquiry Report 8.48. p93, xvii).
At Royal Camp the Forestry Corporation never expressed any remorse for their crime of logging Koala High Use Areas, stating in relation to their paltry fines ‘Look in terms of the fines, they’re administrative, they’re like staying in a parking lot for a little bit too long’ (Inquiry Report 8.29. p90).
Given that the EPA refuse to prosecute the Forestry Corporation for such offences, NEFA is disappointed that the government still refuses to raise fines to realistic levels to act as a real deterrent to the Forestry Corporation.
The Minister’s claim that repeat offences ‘are usually dealt with by issuing an appropriate statutory notice or through court proceedings’ is contrary to our experience and the evidence we presented to the Inquiry.
One of our principal concerns with the EPA is their inconsistent response to offences and refusal to escalate penalties in response to frequent breaches, in fact the opposite has often been the case.
The Minister for the Environment claims he supports the Inquiry’s recommendation to make greater use of community consultation committees with genuine community participation, though he dismissed our recent request to him to establish a community consultation committee to oversee the preparation of the new logging rules for State Forests.
Despite the Inquiry’s ‘call for the EPA to make effective stakeholder engagement a greater priority’ (Inquiry Report xvii) in response to our evidence, since giving our evidence on Royal Camp our relationship with the EPA has significantly deteriorated due to the EPA’s ongoing refusal to engage with us in an open and transparent manner.
Dailan Pugh, NEFA spokesperson