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Byron Shire
October 19, 2021

Baird’s ‘war on trees’ comes to Lismore

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Valuable and endangered private forests such as this one at Whian Whian, the scene of protests in 2013, are being logged to supply unrealistic state government agreements with sawmills.
Scene of a 2013 protest against clearing of Big Scrub rainforest at Whian Whian. Such clearing could become commonplace if new, watered down legislation is introduced, environment campaigners fear. Photo Jeff Dawson

Chris Dobney

A community meeting in Lismore has called on the Baird government to ‘end its war on trees’ and to increase protection for local bushland, wildlife and the climate by strengthening nature protection laws.

Last Thursday’s meeting took place just hours before a walkout of all the state’s key conservation groups from negotiations over the NSW Coalition Government’s revised biodiversity legislation.

Locals heard that the Baird government’s plan to replace the Native Vegetation Act and the Threatened Species Conservation Act with a drastically watered-down Biodiversity Conservation Act would make it easier for developers and landholders to remove trees and clear native bushland across NSW.

Total Environment Centre’s water and urban campaigner Leigh Martin said, ‘Mr Baird’s new law will put landmark trees and bushland in our towns and suburbs at risk, and add extinction pressures to the state’s 1000 threatened species.

Total Environment Centre’s water and urban campaigner Leigh Martin
Total Environment Centre’s water and urban campaigner Leigh Martin

Undermines carbon targets

‘The changes he is planning will undermine Australia’s attempts to cut our carbon pollution by increasing the rate of land clearing in NSW, which is one of our state’s biggest sources of greenhouse gases,’ Mr Martin added.

He said the government’s plans would:

  • put landmark trees and bushland in towns and suburbs at risk;
  • renew broad-scale land clearing across the state;
  • add extinction pressures to the state’s 1000 threatened species;
  • threaten clean, reliable water supplies;
  • degrade fertile farmland through erosion and salinity; and
  • undermine Australia’s ability to meet its carbon pollution reduction targets.

The meeting organised by the Stand Up for Nature Alliance was one of many across Sydney and regional centres around the state.

Environment groups walk out

On Friday (February 20), the combined forces of Total Environment Centre, National Parks Association, Wilderness Society, WWF and Humane Society issued a joint statement after announcing they would all quit negotiations with the government over the proposed legislation.

‘We have provided detailed analysis and constructive feedback to help develop a conservation law that addresses the increasing threats to wildlife, soils and climate, but it is now clear that the government is on a course to pursue development at high environmental cost,’ the statement read.

Outcome predetermined

‘It has become clear that the broad outcomes of this process are being predetermined by a minority of rural interests, and the proposed Biodiversity Conservation Act will fail to secure adequate protections for our wildlife, water and soils. It will also increase climate change risks by permitting the resumption of broad-scale land clearing.

‘We therefore refuse to legitimise a wind-back of protections for nature by participating in the current stakeholder consultations any further,’ the statement concluded.

North East Forest Alliance spokesperson Dailan Pugh Photo Sharon Shostak
North East Forest Alliance spokesperson Dailan Pugh Photo Sharon Shostak

Last shred of protection

Byron Bay-based ecologist and North East Forest Alliance spokesperson Dailan Pugh echoed their comments.

Mr Pugh said the northern rivers was ‘recognised nationally and internationally’ as a biodiversity hotspot, ‘because it has unusually high numbers of endemic species which are under a high level of threat due to land clearing.’

‘The Big Scrub used to be Australia’s largest area of lowland rainforest, covering 75,000ha, but now only comprises a few hundred hectares of mostly regrowth,’ he said.

‘This government is hell-bent on undoing decades of attempts to stop the clearing of our precious remnant vegetation and the destruction of animals’ homes.

‘Getting rid of the 2003 Native Vegetation Act is just the latest battle in this government’s war on trees.

‘They claim that instead they are going to rely more on local councils to regulate vegetation clearance.

‘Back in 2012 the National Party intervened to stop any native vegetation being protected in environmental zones in the Tweed, Byron, Ballina, Kyogle and Lismore Local Government Areas.

‘Last October planning minister Rob Stokes issued new rules that far north coast councils can only zone vegetation of the highest value, such as rainforest, old-growth forest, endangered ecosystems or habitat of endangered species, for protection if they can prove that it is already being managed for environmental conservation. At the same time he opened up existing environmental zones for review.

‘Now, with the removal of the Native Vegetation Act, the government is intending to remove the last shred of protection for our precious remnant vegetation.

‘Once again it will be up to the whim of the landholder to clear whatever they want. The National Party will then be able to claim victory over the environment,’ Mr Pugh said.

Motion carried

Thursday’s meeting called upon the Baird Government to act as a matter of urgency, in order to: halt species extinction in NSW; stop further loss of biodiversity; and commit to vegetation protection for the present and future wellbeing of NSW communities, city and country.

The text of the motion called on the government to:

  1. Ensure that the new Biodiversity Conservation Act does not lead to broad-scale clearing (as defined in the Native Vegetation Act).
  2. Ensure that the NSW Biodiversity Offsets Policy:
  3. prescribes a strict like-for-like requirement for any offsets;
  4. provides clear protection for environmentally sensitive areas; and
  5. does not allow supplementary measures such as cash payments.
  6. Ensures that offsets are protected in-perpetuity
  7. Prevents the use of conservation agreements as part of the offset policy
  8. Recognise and comply with recently announced federal policies to protect biodiversity and combat climate change.
  9. Seeks to restore and enhance biodiversity in NSW.
  10. Retain and strengthen protections for soil, water, air, flora, fauna, biodiversity and protected areas in legislation in force as of February 2016.

For further information visit the campaign website.


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  1. All governments, but particularly the Liberals, measure everything on a “money” basis. Their vision of the future is very short term. They have no knowledge of the impact of their actions on the soil and water. They do not realise the soil condition is critical for the future of vegetation, which in turn impacts animals and insects that depend on that sector and it has impacts on the air and water.

    Forest clearing in a lot of the Lismore area reduced soil carbon in the top 15-20 cm of the soil from about 25% to less than 3%. Without that carbon and the biological creatures that depend on it, the soil suffered reduced nutrient availability and failure of water retention for plant growth. Without the old soil condition the need for large scale use of fertilisers and irrigation exploded.

    The major political problem now is that the majority of politicians are lawyers and focus on the money and “gobblydegook” word manipulation, rather than the efficient use of the land.


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