A freedom of information request by a north coast environment group has revealed that an ‘independent’ panel of the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) advising on threatened species is dominated by serving and former NSW Forestry Corporation staff.
A spokesperson for the group has described the move as ‘state sanctioned environmental destruction’.
The North Coast Environment Council (NCEC) made the GIPA (Government Information Public Access) application after the authority failed to make public the make-up of the panel.
The Threatened Species Expert Panel is advising the EPA on the re-writing of the logging rules for public forests.
According to NCEC, the documents show that far from being ‘independent experts’ they are government employees, dominated by current and former employees of Forestry Corp.
The EPA have refused to release any of the panel’s recommendations on the grounds that they ‘reveal or tend to reveal the position that a particular minister has taken, is taking or will take on a matter in cabinet’.
North Coast Environment Council spokesperson Susie Russell described the refusal as ‘an abuse of the exemption for cabinet documents in freedom of information law’.
‘It is difficult to see how the notes made by someone at a workshop could reveal a minister’s position, unless of course there was political interference in the process and someone said that the minister had a particular view, or wanted a particular outcome,’ Ms Russell said.
‘This confirms our impression that the EPA’s re-writing of the rules covering logging in State Forests is an overtly political process being run by the Forestry Corporation. It is no wonder they are resisting our attempts to find out what the panel’s recommendations were,’ she said.
OEH panel members withdrew
‘We know now, that the Expert Panel includes 13 people, not the 20 claimed by the EPA on their website. The claimed independent experts are ex-Forestry Corporation employees. The EPA’s representative even worked for the Forestry Corporation until recently.
According to NCEC, the EPA’s Threatened Species Expert Panel had three workshops in Sydney in March 2014.
The first consisted of ‘a Forestry Corp employee sitting down with someone else from the Department of Primary Industries, to decide the fate of koalas,’ NCEC says.
The second was ‘dominated by current and former employees of Forestry Corp’, NCEC says after ‘two zoologists from the North Coast Office of Environment and Heritage withdrew from the meeting’.
The third workshop dealt with flora.
Dailan Pugh of the North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) said it was ‘shocking that the EPA are now proposing to remove the need to do pre-logging surveys to identify and protect core habitat for koala, spotted-tailed quoll, squirrel glider, golden-tipped bat, brush-tailed phascogale, Hastings River mouse, rufous scrub-bird, Albert’s lyrebird, marbled frogmouth, giant narred frog and many other threatened species.’
‘The Forestry Corporation has long-resented having to protect threatened species because they mean less timber and now the EPA’s stacked process is set to deliver what they want. This whole sham process is driven by a desperate hunt for timber to meet unsustainable wood contracts, he added.
‘Given that the EPA are proposing zoning over 140,000 hectares of north-east NSWs forests for widespread clear-felling and to allow intensification of logging elsewhere, while at the same time reducing streamside protection buffers, they should be increasing protection for threatened species not removing it,’ Mr Pugh said.
‘These are not actions of a genuine environmental protection agency, this is state sanctioned environmental destruction,’ Ms Russell said.