Removal of environmental protections under the controversial 10/50 vegetation clearing code which led to destruction of protected littoral rainforest on the Tweed Coast was pushed by former environment minister Rob Stokes, secret reports have revealed.
The NSW Greens have forced the Baird government to hand over a series of damaging internal documents on the 10/50 tree culling code, which also led to widespread felling of historic trees around Sydney Harbour by landowners wanting to improve views.
Greens MP David Shoebridge said the confidential government documents show the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH), then under minister Stokes, ‘actively working to oppose any environmental protections in the 10/50 tree clearing code’.
Mr Shoebridge said the documents, now released to the public, show how the Rural Fire Service (RFS) was advised by the OEH that:
* ‘no consideration be provided’ in the tree culling code to “threatened biodiversity”
* no protection should be given to ‘rainforests, alpine vegetation, coastal dunes, freshwater and saline wetland communities’
* Internationally recognised Ramsar wetlands should not be protected
* Critically endangered ecological communities including Blue Gum High Forest and koala habitat should not be protected
* 689 hectares of high conservation SEPP 26 littoral rainforest should not be protected, and
* 90,000 hectares of high conservation SEPP 14 coastal wetlands should not be protected.
Mr Shoebridge yesterday said the RFS accepted this advice and delivered the appallingly blunt and damaging tree-culling code that is still seeing thousands of cherished trees lost across NSW, including from rainforest, wetlands and critically endangered ecological communities,’ he said.
‘All of this clearing was given the green-light by then Minister Stokes’ Office of Environment and Heritage.
Mr Shoebridge said that a recent review of the tree-culling code has found the protections that were rejected by Mr Stokes’ department ‘must be urgently inserted into the code to protect essential environmental values across the state’.
‘From day one it was clear that this tree-culling code would cause irreparable environmental damage as landowners and developers exploited the complete removal of environmental protections,’ he said.
‘What is most remarkable about these documents is they show the Office of Environment and Heritage actively intervening to ensure there were no environmental protections in the code.
‘Rob Stokes was the minister for environment at this time, he was meant to be standing up for rainforests, wetlands and our suburban canopy, but instead he gave a greenlight to the chainsaws.
‘Minister Stokes’ department even agreed to the tree-culling code covering internationally recognised Ramsar wetlands that are crucial for the survival of the planet’s migratory birds.
‘No wonder the government fought for 12 months to prevent these documents becoming public, they expose how deeply the anti-environment agenda runs in the Baird government,’ he said.
The scheme, introduced after the Blue Mountains bushfires in 2013, gave property owners in many coastal and bushfire-prone areas the right to remove trees within 10 metres of their homes and vegetation within 50 metres, without seeking approval.
The changes at the time sparked a heated dispute in Fingal Head on the Tweed Coast where a landowner wanting to redevelop a property removed a patch of littoral rainforest, which outraged neighbours who believed it was protected by state and federal laws.
Police and council managers were called out to a standoff in Queen Street when the felling began.
And across Sydney Harbour’s foreshore, historic old trees were brought down to improve views or facilitate development.
Mr Shoebridge said ‘What has gone so wrong with government in NSW that the Office of Environment and Heritage is approving no protections for Blue Gum High Forest, koala habitat, littoral rainforest and coastal wetlands?’
‘The Baird government was told that the 10/50 code would expose 90,000 hectares of high conservation coastal wetlands and 689 hectares of littoral rainforest to chainsaws, and they just didn’t care,’ he said.
‘After 12 months of destruction a review has now found that the protections rejected by the Office of Environment and Heritage should now be put in the code.
‘From the outset, anyone with the smallest amount of common sense could see how this code would be exploited and the severe environmental damage it would inevitably cause.
‘Despite the complete absence of environmental protections, Labor and the Coalition supported these appalling laws through the NSW Parliament with only the Greens standing against them.
‘No amount of amending, patching or tinkering can fix the 10/50 tree culling laws. They must be immediately repealed and proper environmental protections restored across the State,’ Mr Shoebridge said.