The annual rate of land-clearing soared 800 per cent in the three years before the Liberal-National government downgraded environmental protections further and made it easier for clearing to occur, new data show.
A report obtained by the Guardian Australia after a lengthy freedom-of-information battle shows annual clearing increased sharply between mid-2013 and mid-2016, from 900 hectares to 7,390.
Nature Conservation Council campaigns director Daisy Barham said, ‘We fear these losses will be dwarfed by a new wave of deforestation that has been unleashed by the Berejiklian government’s new regime of weaker land-clearing laws.’
‘The spike in clearing shown by these data occurred under the old stronger laws and before weaker environmental protections were introduced in August 2017.
‘The government’s own advisers warned that these new laws would accelerate deforestation and put the koala at great risk of extinction.
‘The Guardian reported last month that calls to the government’s illegal land-clearing hotline increased nearly 30 per cent since the new laws came into force, so it is clear that clearing is rising further.
‘Environment minister Gabrielle Upton was warned the new laws would increase clearing up to 45 per cent a year and that 99 per cent of identified koala habitat on private land would be unprotected from bulldozing.
‘We call on the government to release up-to-date land-clearing and deforestation data so the community can assess the full impact its new laws are having on bushland and wildlife.
The Echo asked local Nationals MLC Ben Franklin if he believed the figures to be accurate, and if so, ‘are you concerned by them?’
Also The Echo asked, ‘Will the government ‘release up-to-date land-clearing and deforestation data’ to inform the public on the impact these laws have had so far?’
Instead he replied, ‘The NSW Liberal and Nationals government understands the importance of striking a balance between protecting our environment and supporting farming and timber industries’.
‘As part of the biodiversity and land management reforms, the government has committed more than $240 million to private land conservation. This funding is only just beginning to deliver conservation outcomes.
‘Under the reforms, we have seen a boost for conservation with more than 35,000 ha of farmland set aside from clearing under the new legislation. I will continue to work to ensure we get the balance right.’