Senate debates

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Matters of Public Importance

Koala Population

5:08 pm

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

I inform the Senate that at 8.30 am today, six proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate that the following letter has been received from Senator Siewert:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I give notice that today I propose to move that in the opinion of the Senate the following is a matter of public importance:

The Commonwealth government's lack of action on decimation of the koala population in New South Wales due to land clearing laws, badly planned infrastructure, logging and inappropriate development.

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

I understand informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific time to each of the speakers in today's debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.

5:09 pm

Photo of Mehreen FaruqiMehreen Faruqi (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Koalas in New South Wales face extinction by 2050. This is the harsh reality that we are grappling with today. This is no accident. It is due to the continued, insistent effort of the New South Wales Liberal-National government in pushing these species to the brink through badly planned infrastructure, through logging of native forests and through their ecocidal land-clearing laws. This is a matter of public importance because we are losing an iconic species, and we know exactly why that is happening. Koalas, trees and forests are an inconvenience for mining companies, for big agribusinesses and for big property developers. They want the ability to clear what they want, when they want and they're willing to pay big in corporate donations.

Koalas are on the pointy end of corrosive and corrupt conduct in politics, and the federal government is doing nothing. It is sitting on its hands, waiting for this destruction and devastation to happen. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act is meant to be the Australian government's central piece of environmental legislation. It is meant to provide a framework to protect and manage nationally and internationally significant plants and animals. It was established because we recognised that there is an appropriate role for the Commonwealth in relation to the environment by focusing Commonwealth attention on matters of national environmental significance. With the ongoing and accelerating decline of koalas in my home state of New South Wales under the helm of the worst-ever state government for the environment, it is clear that these Commonwealth laws need a rewrite. They provide for ministerial discretion over concrete action far too often. The Commonwealth must have the power to step in and protect iconic species like the koalas.

In New South Wales, koala populations have shrunk by ¼ over the last 20 years to just 36,000, according to the New South Wales chief scientist. Koala numbers in the Pilliga have dropped by a staggering 80 per cent since the 1990s while, west of the Great Dividing Range, 90 per cent of known populations are in decline. It is estimated that only about 8,000 koalas remain on the New South Wales North Coast in several colonies. Almost every koala population in New South Wales is believed to be in decline, and those that are not are coming under pressure from inappropriate development like at Macarthur, Camden and Campbelltown. No comprehensive koala management plan, no consideration of connectivity corridors and pandering to greedy developers are exacerbating the destruction of koalas.

Koalas, like many other threatened species, also bear the brunt of global warming and climate change. They are one of 10 species worldwide recognised by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to be highly vulnerable to climate change. Again, what is the coalition government doing to tackle climate change? Zilch, zero, nothing! We can only expect this to accelerate under the policies of the federal and New South Wales Liberal-National governments.

I'm sure many of you are aware of the New South Wales government's disastrous land-clearing laws, which are a catastrophe for our environment, threatened species, biodiversity, climate and, of course, koalas. For those of you who don't know the full story, let me say it in a nutshell: in late 2016, the final week of parliament for the year, the New South Wales Liberal-National government pushed through—literally in the middle of the night—legislation to abolish laws that protect biodiversity, native animals and vegetation. They have replaced them with a much weaker and flawed model that will lead to more and more land clearing and loss of habitat. Instead of rules that stop broadscale clearing, native trees can now be bulldozed using self-assessable causes with little or no oversight. We won't even know what we've lost until it's gone. Just before the laws were run through parliament, the World Wildlife Fund released modelling that showed that 2.2 million hectares of koala habitat could be cleared under the proposed weak laws. That represents about 10 per cent of known or likely koala habitats in New South Wales. As shocking as that is, I'm sorry to report that those WWF numbers were very wide off the mark.

We know the real numbers from a document obtained by the Nature Conservation Council. This document was produced by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage. This was the document the New South Wales environment minister signed to enact these laws. It talks about losses of not 10 per cent of koala habitat, not 20 per cent of koala habitat or even 80 per cent of koala habitat; literally 99 per cent of koala habitat can be legally cleared under these laws. The government and the minister for the environment knew full well that they were signing the death warrant for koalas, and yet they went ahead and did it.

The community, the Greens and I, as the New South Wales environment spokesperson at that time, fought tooth and nail to stop those laws. Every environment group opposed those laws. The esteemed Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists opposed those laws. Even their own adviser on the laws, Professor Hugh Possingham, quit in disgust. Josh Gilbert resigned as chair of New South Wales Young Farmers, arguing in New Matilda that the policy risks not only the repetition of past errors but also the trading of long-term profitability for short-sighted practices. They didn't take this seriously. The minister at the time even said:

The great majority of land that may be legally capable of being cleared will not be cleared.

I think this sums up the fairytale land that they live in.

Now we are facing the grave on-ground reality of the consequences. A recent report from the World Wildlife Fund and Nature Conservation Council has confirmed that, since the laws passed, more than 5,000 hectares of koala habitat have been bulldozed in the New South Wales district of Moree and surrounding areas at a rate of about 14 football fields a day. That's 14 hectares every single day. At this rate, soon we'll have nothing left. Underpinning all this is the Biodiversity Offsets policy. Let me be clear: we aren't fooled by the government's spin doctors. No amount of scam that is biodiversity offsetting can replace an ecosystem once it has been destroyed. Once gone, it's gone forever.

Where is the Commonwealth government in all of this? Documents obtained under Freedom of Information show that the predecessor for the current offsetting policy, the New South Wales government's Biodiversity Offsets policy, for major projects was found by federal government environment experts to be significantly weaker than the national standards, but it was, nonetheless, shamefully approved anyway. The federal government has responsibility to protect koalas, but they are failing dismally. The Australian and New South Wales governments are jointly funding the Woolgoolga to Ballina Pacific Highway upgrade. I'm an engineer, so of course I agree that we need to upgrade our roads, but we can do it without destroying the environment. They have gone out of their way to choose an option that was the most destructive, cutting into core koala habitat. I've been to that region many times and it is absolutely heartbreaking to see the bulldozers ramming through core koala habitat. We can and must be much smarter. We could have had both a safer Pacific Highway and a protected koala population.

Finally, the federal government has failed to take action to protect koalas from forestry in New South Wales. In recent years, koalas have been injured, killed or found in really poor health in logging operations. According to the National Parks Association, regional forestry agreements allow proposals to log in public forests and these proposals do not require the usual approvals under the EPBC Act. This has devastated koala habitats over the past two decades. All this is nothing short of ecocide. I don't use the term 'ecocide' lightly, but what the Liberals and the Nationals are doing is deliberate, it is wilful and they know full well of the destructive consequences of their actions. The Australian government needs to see koalas as a national treasure, deserving of protection so that they can not only survive but also thrive way into the future.

5:18 pm

Photo of Jim MolanJim Molan (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We are debating here today, as a matter of public interest, a very, very serious issue: the maintenance of koalas in this nation—koalas being an extraordinary symbol of this nation, along with kangaroos and emus. They are national symbols of this nation that we must preserve. Someone who introduced me to politics was Bill Heffernan. Bill was a legendry representative of country people. Bill used to say that his worst nightmare was a Country Liberal who lived on 20 acres of land around Queanbeyan. Sadly for Bill, I live on 20 acres of land just to the south of Queanbeyan. I think this is a very important issue, but it's a poor MPI. We are a federation, and federations have responsibility at different levels. Certainly this federal government has responsibilities, and it's my contention that, in fact, we do exercise those through the legislation that exists at the moment.

Senator Faruqi spoke of ecocide. We do have problems in these areas. But these problems are not decimation in the sense of one-tenth—you explained that to us—yet your MPI says we have decimated the population. You make the case that we have done worse than decimate the population. We have an opportunity going into the future to solve this problem. As some senators might be aware, I spent much of my life in the military. In the military we tend to conduct exercises in pristine forests. We tend to conduct exercises where stillness and quietness allow us to actually understand the bush. I probably spent as much time in the bush as Senator 'Wacka' Williams has spent in the bush. It's a wild contention, but I think it's arguable. We in the military have many training areas which are very, very pristine areas. Ironically, the activities that we conduct in military training areas allow us to preserve those areas for the preservation of wildlife—koalas, kangaroos, emus, a vast range of Australia's animals. For example, Shoalwater Bay training area, just north of Rockhampton—we're not talking about New South Wales, but it's exactly the same around Holsworthy—is one of the most pristine areas that exists, for the simple reason that grazing animals are kept out of it.

But, as in so much in life, I think we have to get a balance. Balance with the national symbols of this country is very, very important. We can do it, and this government, in coordination with the state government, is in fact doing it. Liberals, especially conservatives, value the natural environment. As conservatives, we understand that the natural environment has been around for an awfully long time. We understand the value of that natural environment. We understand that in the natural environment in which we live balance is all important.

Symbols are also extraordinarily important to our national identity. When tourists seek to visit this country, they look for two things. They look for kangaroos and koalas. I wake up almost every morning—quite often in this place I leave before it gets light—but when I can actually see, I have probably 80 kangaroos on my Bill Heffernan-type broad acres of 20 acres.

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You're overstocked!

Photo of Jim MolanJim Molan (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very, very badly overstocked. This is a real problem that we face. In certain areas we are out of balance. In certain areas developments and the presence of human beings have multiplied the availability of water, which has multiplied the kangaroo population. This is not the situation that we face with koalas. But it just illustrates the point that often the presence of human development can go in the opposite direction to what Senator Faruqi is talking about, which then leads to the need to lower that population, normally by very, very violent means. Over the last couple of months I've seen a tendency for wombats to be feeding during the day. I have never seen wombats feeding during the day, but wombats are out around my place feeding through the day—this is a very serious matter we are debating here today—for the simple reason that there is not enough grass for them to feed sufficiently at night.

The notion of this MPI implies that the Commonwealth government is doing nothing. That is not the case. We support the population in New South Wales and we support it along with the state government. We're working through the required legislation to provide sufficient protection for koalas in New South Wales. Currently the Department of the Environment and Energy is leading the development of a recovery plan for koalas in response to the population declines. We intend to manage the issue. We know the problem and we're working to solve it.

The government is working with state authorities, as I said before. The real value of having a Liberal and National government at the federal level and at the state level is that the level of cooperation is very, very high. In New South Wales the plan that we have has a number of elements which will help us to preserve the koala population. This involves creating over 24,000 hectares of new koala reserves and parks. I think that my 20 acres is about eight hectares—Wacka, I think that would be about right. So it's an area slightly larger than what I've got, at 24,000 hectares. There is also increasing wildlife care training, plans for reducing chlamydia amongst koalas and the development of a monitoring program to track populations and their habits, and that's very, very important.

Moreover, the draft of the government's national plan will be open for public consultation. We're not going to do this in secret. We will open that plan up for consultation and suggestion, allowing concerned and relevant parties to contribute to discussion on how best to protect one of our national icons.

Furthermore, this MPI implies that we do not already have existing conservation plans in place. These plans were approved at the time of the koala's listing as vulnerable under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and guide current strategies to support the koala. Our environmental laws also provide a number of safeguards to protect not just the koalas but all vulnerable species across the country. The department has provided guidelines for proponents and decision-makers on whether a development may impact on the vulnerable koalas and whether government assessment and approval is required.

Really, on this front, this MPI ignores the importance of forestry in continuing to develop our economy. I was fortunate enough to recently visit the Hyne sawmill near Tumbarumba. Their material relies primarily on plantation forests—primarily pine production. Hyne provides an extraordinary example of industrial capacity for a regional town. The jobs and economic impact are considered by the locals to have kept Tumbarumba going at a time when so many rural towns are suffering due to the lack of highly skilled jobs. This industry sustains the town. It brings economic development, young families and money into the economy. This is what the environment is all about. It's about balance. Without the forestry industry in Tumbarumba, the town would likely be dying as young families and workers seek better opportunities elsewhere. Forestry in this aspect is also very efficient. They are extraordinarily advanced—probably as advanced as any forestry industry in the world.

If we badly manage our reactions to shifts in human populations, we risk not just symbols such as the koala but also towns such as Tumbarumba. As such, the government is ensuring that it manages how we conserve koala populations in a way that not only best supports the koala but also supports our rural and regional communities. Liberals, especially farmers, are greenies. We are environmentalists. There is not a lack of action. There is always the need to be balanced, and that's what this government will deliver.

5:28 pm

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

On a very lovely winter afternoon back in July this year, while the sun went down I stood in Bangalow next to a stand of eucalypts and tallowwoods. I listened to Linda Sparrow as she explained the challenges she faced in her work as president of Bangalow Koalas. The community on the New South Wales North Coast want to protect local koalas and their habitat from development, but the New South Wales government has done absolutely nothing to protect these iconic Australian animals.

Earlier this year, 70 volunteers from Linda's organisation, Bangalow Koalas, planted over a thousand trees to generate koala corridors to compensate for key koala habitat lost to highways and land clearing on the New South Wales North Coast. The trees were planted on private land with the support of local landholders wanting to see koalas protected. Publicity from the event has led to additional landholders requesting to become part of the program. This is an amazing example of a community taking steps and taking matters into their own hands to support these beautiful animals. But I tell you what, they don't receive any support whatsoever from the New South Wales Liberal government.

Koala's are facing extinction in New South Wales as their numbers rapidly decrease. New South Wales has less than 10 per cent of the nation's koalas and it is genuinely harrowing to hear the koalas in the Pilliga have declined by 80 per cent since the 1980s. I worked for four terrific years with Bob Debus, the trailblazing Labor Minister for the Environment in New South Wales. During that time, Bob worked on legislation to protect thousands of hectares of woodland for conservation in Brigalow and Nandewar.

It is disappointing indeed to watch as the New South Wales coalition government fails to take any commensurate or similar action to protect a koala population that is seriously in danger. In fact, all of their actions lean in the other direction. Their agenda of increased land clearing and building highways through key koala habitat has been a key contributor to their decline. A recent report released by the Nature Conservation Council and the World Wide Fund for Nature found that koalas are on track to be extinct by 2050 in New South Wales if current land-clearing rates continue. What does it say about us if we knowingly drive one of our national icons into extinction?

We can and we must do better. Last week in parliament senators and MPs had the opportunity to meet Gizmo the koala here at Parliament House. It was part of Threatened Species Day, and Gizmo was a lovely, lovely little animal. But it is one thing to pat a koala at an event here at parliament and it is another thing to do something about it. Neither the government here nor the government in New South Wales—in both cases led by Liberals—has any solution whatsoever to protect animals like Gizmo, because, apparently, they simply do not care about preserving native species or their habitats. Unlike New South Wales Labor, the New South Wales Liberals refuse to produce a koala protection strategy. In fact, there has been no plan in place for koala protection for the last half decade since the New South Wales koala recovery plan, which was developed by the last New South Wales Labor government.

Unlike New South Wales Labor, the coalition government refuses to commit to conservations' calls for a koala national park that would see the state forests that presently provide habitat in the mid-North Coast around Coffs Harbour and Bellingen incorporated to provide better protection for these beautiful animals. The federal government is absolutely no better. They have sat on their hands as their Liberal colleagues in both Queensland and New South Wales have trashed Labor's historic land-clearing protections. Labor in government will step in and put this right, because the situation is untenable.

Members of our community have played a key role in bringing this issue to light. I spent a day up in the forests around Bellingen with volunteers from the NPA, including an old colleague from the New South environment department, Ashley Love. It's vital that we elect representatives who care about the environment and protect koalas—people like Andrew Woodward, our candidate for Cowper, who has a strong background in environmental advocacy, and people like Asren Pugh, our candidate in Ballina, who worked with me to initiate the Labor Environment Activist Network many years ago, and has been out planting trees with Linda from Bangalow Koalas. I look forward to 2019, when conservationists like Asren can continue this invaluable work as part of a New South Wales Labor government that is actually committed to ensuring that koalas will thrive. It's time for the New South Wales coalition government and this government to step up before it's too late.

5:33 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Exactly a week ago in the Senate, I gave a speech about the threatened species inquiry—our extinction crisis inquiry—that I'm chairing under the environment committee. We are facing an extinction crisis in Australia; there are 448 animals that are threatened or endangered. In my 10 minute speech, I decided I'd attempt to name them all—all 448. I only got to 167. I only got through the species that are critically endangered and endangered. I didn't even finished the endangered species list and didn't even get to the vulnerable ones. I didn't even get to mention the koala.

We are facing an extinction crisis and the koala is an absolute symbol of what is wrong—448 Australian animals, yet we cannot even act to save one of them that is so iconic and such a symbol of Australia. It is sliding—in fact, it is heading rapidly—towards extinction. I'm pleased that Senator Molan noted how significant koalas are, and I believe him in his sincerity that he wants to see koalas protected. But, in order to do that, we've got to take real action, and the Commonwealth is absolutely abrogating its responsibility to be taking real action.

I want to, first of all, outline an example of the level of decline of koalas in New South Wales. As part of our inquiry into the extinction crisis, we've received over 12,000 contributions from the public, including hundreds of submissions from very learned experts on what the issues are and why these animals, our precious wildlife, are hurtling towards extinction. In their submission, the National Parks Association of NSW talked about the issues a whole range of animals, particularly koalas, were facing and noted that the koalas in southern New South Wales are a perfect example of what's been going on with our animals in crisis. They used the example of the Eden area, which was known in the late 19th century to have had a koala population large enough to support a pelt export trade.

But, now, following the clearing of the Bega Valley for agriculture, the clear-felling for woodchipping as well as the impacts of climate change, the koala population is on the verge of extinction. It is estimated that between 30 and 60 animals remain between the Bega and Bermagui rivers. They note that, in ecological terms, this decline is precipitously rapid. We have gone from an animal population in New South Wales and Queensland that was abundant to one which is now expected, under current activities, will be extinct by 2050. The population of koalas in New South Wales has shrunk by a quarter in the last 20 years. This is a crisis.

It's particularly tragic that this is ongoing before our very eyes when we know what's causing it and we know what we need to do to protect koalas as well as a huge range of other animals. We have to protect their habitat. That means, in particular for koalas, protecting them the clearing of land for land development, for mining and for agribusiness and protecting their habitat from logging. All these things are occurring in koala habitat—and not because the Australian community want those activities to happen. We have people all around the country who are passionate about protecting koalas. This destruction of their habitat is not in the interests of the Australian community, let alone in the interests of the koalas. It's all happening in the interests of big business. They are the ones who are driving the policy. They are the ones who are driving the inaction of this government. And all the threats to the koala populations are going to be exacerbated by climate change, which will make the forests that koalas live in hotter, drier and more susceptible to fire. These are the threats that koalas are facing. Basically, greedy, wildlife destroying companies are calling the shots, and they are aided and abetted by state and federal governments.

This matters. Whether we are talking about koalas, crustaceans in creeks, insects or reptiles, we cannot continue to survive without a healthy environment. Our very survival depends upon having a healthy environment. As the saying goes, there are no jobs on a dead planet. We can have economic development and prosperity and protect the environment. We can have healthy koala populations and economic wellbeing, certainly here in Australia. But we know what we need to do. It is very simple: we need to stop destroying koala habitat. That means that we need to stand up against big business and say, 'No, you will not continue to log that forest'; 'No, you are not going to be permitted to clear that area of land'; and 'No, that mining operation cannot go ahead there because it is going to be putting these animals under threat'. We need to say enough is enough.

That's what Australians want to see. They want to see koalas protected. Australians want to see the survival of these animals that we love and have known as a symbol of Australia so that our children and our grandchildren will be able to love and enjoy those animals as well, along with all the rest of our precious wildlife. It's just not enough to have those cute photo-ops for Threatened Species Day, and it's not enough, as is proposed in the New South Wales supposed 'koala strategy', to be setting aside wildlife parks into which koalas will get translocated as their habitat gets destroyed elsewhere. That is not going to protect the koalas.

My colleague Senator Faruqi has talked about some of the threats from land clearing and agriculture. I want to focus on logging and the impacts of logging on koala habitat. Again, we know what needs to happen: we need to stop logging. We need to scrap our failed logging laws, which are continuing the destruction of habitat. The National Parks Association, again, in their submission to our inquiry, have said that, under the proposed integrated forestry operations approvals, under the New South Wales proposed regulations, there will be a 140,000-hectare intensive harvesting zone between Taree and Grafton, which covers 43 per cent—almost half—of the mapped high-quality koala habitat in state forests, and logging in this area will move up to 100 per cent of the trees and see just five to 10 trees of minimum 20-centimetre diameter left. This is not going to be compatible with koala conservation. We know that. We know that koalas need mature-forest growth stages. We know what happens when you remove the trees. It's not rocket science—you remove the trees, the koalas can't live there. We need to stop logging in our native forests. We need to be shifting all of the wood production in Australia to plantations.

It was very interesting to hear Senator Molan talk about plantations in Tumbarumba—absolutely, I almost called out; hear, hear! Eighty-seven per cent of the wood that is now coming from Australia is coming from plantations. We need to increase that to 100 per cent. We haven't got another 10 years left before we do that. We need to start doing that now. I was pleased with the release of the government's National Forest Industries Plan last week. It was instructive that it recognises that the future for the wood production industry is in plantations. There is scarcely a mention of native forest logging in this strategy, and that's because it's on its way out and we don't need the wood that we are getting from native forests. Not only do we not need the wood from native forests, but continuing to log native forests is having these incredible impacts on our precious wildlife.

In conclusion, we've got that good news. We know what we need to do to protect koalas, to increase their populations, and that is to the stop the destruction of their habitat. I really want to thank people all around the country who are taking action, planting trees and advocating and who have made submissions to our Senate inquiry. I know that the people of Australia, as well the koalas, are behind you and that we can protect koalas if we decide to act and do so.

5:43 pm

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a bloke once said, the first thing you learn in life is that you can't educate idiots. How true it is! I'm going to say that I agree with Senator Rice—we should protect the environment of the koalas—and with those opposite, the Labor Party, saying we should look after the environment. But I tell you who's destroying the environment: the National Parks Association and the national parks.

I'm very proud that on our farm of 400 acres, of which about 80 per cent is cleared, we have a great colony of koalas. They are safe because we graze sheep, we keep the fuel levels down and, if lightning strikes, we don't get a savage fire that kills the koalas. Senator McAllister said, 'There's been an 80 per cent reduction of koalas in the Pilliga.' Of course there's been that sort of reduction in the Pilliga. The Pilliga Forest didn't even exist 200 years ago. It's grown in 200 years. Under forestry, they allowed grazing and timber milling in it. An old timber miller told me one day that when he was a kid you'd hardly ever see a koala. He said—this was 15 years ago—'Go down to the creek tonight and you won't sleep for the noise of them.' They have the strangest noise, if you've ever heard the noise of a koala. But what we've done, because of the Greens and the Labor Party, especially the New South Wales government under Bob Carr, Senator Faruqi—

Senator Faruqi interjecting

However you pronounce it. I apologise. They locked up the country and left it. They wouldn't have hazard reduction burning. They wouldn't allow graziers to keep the fuel levels down. Once you get more than five to 10 tonnes of fuel per hectare, with a 40 degree day and a 50 kilometre wind, the fire is uncontrollable. No grazing; they don't keep the fuel levels down; and what happened to the Pilliga six years ago? It burned from one end to the other in a savage fire, because it's all national park now with no hazard reduction burning and no reduction of fuel levels. I wish the Greens and Labor would go and talk to Professor John Wamsley, who did his research for years. For thousands of years the Australian countryside was grazed by little kangaroos, millions of them, and native animals. What happened to them? They're extinct. Why are they extinct? Because some fool brought foxes here. That's why they're extinct. So now the National Parks Association lobbies the Greens and the Labor Party to lock up all this country, leave it all unmanaged and let it burn and kill the animals in it. That's what they call conservation. It is an absolute disgrace. You wonder why 80 per cent of the koalas are dead in the Pilliga. It's because of the Labor Party locking it up in national parks.

They say that you can't have grazing of sheep and cattle in a national park because they have hooves. You can't have hooved animals in a national park. Half the national parks are live with wild pigs, feral goats, brumbies and deer. None of those run around in ugg boots. They've all got hooves at the bottom of their legs. It's alright for them to graze the national park, but don't allow proper grazing and keep the fuel levels down. When are you going to learn that you can't lock up country and leave it? If you do the grass grows, the rain falls, the grass grows, the grass dries out, the lightning strikes and it burns. When you get the savage hot fires, what do they do? They get up into the crown of the tree, they kill the trees, they're so hot on the ground that they kill the native grass and native seeds.

This is destruction of our environment. Make no mistake about it: the Labor Party in New South Wales begging to the Greens, the Greens pushing it with the National Parks Association, have caused a huge loss of our environment and the death of koalas. Make no mistake about that. You can't argue about it. Come to my farm, Senator, and have a look at the koalas. I'll show you the photos on my phone in a minute, out the front of the house, how my wife goes out all through summer and puts water dishes at the bottom of the trees so they've got plenty of water. They've got the creek to water in as well. Koalas do need water. They don't drink a lot of it, but if the trees are getting dry and the year has a dry summer, as we get at times, the eucalypt leaves don't contain enough moisture, so they do like to get down from the tree and have a bowl of water. I would bet that my wife and I have done more to save koalas than any other senator in this place, because we make sure they stay alive on our farm. We don't let them get burnt. We keep the fuel levels down, and they are safe and happy and also very healthy. I'm very proud of that fact. It is just unbelievable, this whole green religion, how you think you're going to save the planet when in actual fact you're destroying it.

As I said, fuel levels are the big issue. The country was grazed for thousands of years—history will show that. There were millions and millions of small kangaroos, only a foot high. Sadly, they are extinct because things like the foxes were brought to Australia. In the last 100 years, half the animals in the world that have become extinct have come from Australia, because of things like the foxes and the feral cats and so on—animals that have been brought here and upset nature. Of course all we'll get from the Greens and others is, let's ban 1080. Don't kill the feral pigs, the wild goats and the foxes that are destroying the environment—target the farmers, target the coalition government. How ridiculous is that?

The senator says climate change is a big cause. Well, let's go to the Black Saturday bushfires, that terrible time in Victoria with the loss of life and loss of property. Half of the country burnt, roughly, was national park. It was full of fuel. I remember one bloke there cleared the area around his house. They fined him something like $40,000 for knocking down trees, but it was the only house left standing after the fire because he got rid of the fuel around it. Ninety million tonnes of CO2 was released into the atmosphere from the Black Saturday bushfire. Australia produces 550 million tonnes in total. But disregard the 90 million tonnes from the bushfire—half of them in the national parks. Those CO2 levels don't matter. We don't pay any attention to them. Even the department said: 'Don't worry about bushfires, Senator. When the grass burns it puts the CO2 into the atmosphere, but when the grass grows it neutralises it.' If that's the case, when you want to ban grazing and wind back farming activities, you can do the same here: if the animals are putting out greenhouse gases, just remember they eat the grass and it regrows again. If that's equation you want to live on, we can do the same.

The koala is Australian. The koala and the kangaroo are as Australian as you can get. Koalas are a wonderful animal. As I said, we are very pleased to have them on our farm and have them doing very well. We had University of Queensland koala inspectors come down to our property. My wife took them around. They had a little Jack Russell terrier dog, who was the spotter for the koalas. Even our sheepdogs look for the koalas. The kelpies look up in the trees for them. Of course, they don't harm them. The dogs can't climb a tree. Anyway, the inspectors were very pleased with the way the koalas were looked after on our property, the feed supply they've got. Of our property of 400 acres, at least 80 per cent is cleared for farming country. The hundreds of trees, eucalypts, down the creek are a great home for the koalas, and they thrive. There is plenty of water and plenty of cover and, most of all, there's protection from bushfires. That is the point I'm making.

I saw the Pilliga Scrub six or so years ago after a fire went through there. It was just amazing. It was just black sticks. When you walk into those forests after they've been burnt, the thing that's so amazing is the silence. There's not a bird. You don't hear a tweet. You don't hear a bird noise. You hear nothing. The whole environment has been wiped out. That will continue to happen so long as the green movement, pushed by the National Parks Association, continue their whole ideology of how they're going to protect the animals and the planet and the environment. They are 100 per cent wrong. Of course, it's a race to the bottom for the Labor Party in trying to secure the votes the Greens are taking off them. The end result is the destruction of our environment—total destruction.

The Tenterfield fires were about 15 years ago. My good friend Rick Colless MLC—you'd know him very well, Acting Deputy President Leyonhjelm—went up there and, after walking through the forest after it was burnt, he said that all he heard was silence. There were no animals left there. It destroyed the lot. Why was that forest destroyed? Because of the fuel levels underneath it. If you're not going to go on the journey to reduce the fuel levels, this destruction of our native trees, our native forests and our native animals will continue.

As I've said, they won't allow grazing. They don't let the sheep in, like we do on our property. It's funny; the koalas thrive at home with the sheep around. They don't worry the koalas one bit. They have no effect on the koalas, but the sheep do keep the fuel levels down and they're not faced with having their lives destroyed through fire. You can't put sheep in open areas in a national park. They say, 'No, that will damage the environment.' It will save the environment. I will say it again: the destruction of our native trees, our native forests and our native animals is brought about through locking up country and leaving it. It's as simple as that. And what do you do with national parks? You lock it up, you leave it and you destroy the trees and the animals that live in that environment. The Greens and the Labor Party will continue to go down this stupid road of the destruction of our environment.

5:53 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Environment and Water (Senate)) Share this | | Hansard source

In the past few years it's been reported that Australia has joined the top 10 nations in the world for large-scale land clearing. This is not a list I believe Australia wants to be on. Perhaps I'm contradicting the remarks, through you, Mr Acting Deputy President Leyonhjelm, of Senator Williams who came before me. He talked about the scale of clearing on his own property. I say to the chamber today: I want there to be an Australia in which all Australians have the opportunity to see and enjoy Australia's native koala population, just as Senator Williams is able to do on his own property—and it's lovely to hear about the care he takes of his local koala population. But the simple fact is land clearing has had an enormous impact on Australia's environment yet Australian environmental law is unable to deal with land clearing without legislative change.

We in the Labor Party took to the last election a policy to amend the EPBC Act to specifically regulate land clearing. Unfortunately, though, the coalition on the other side have no intention of picking up on this issue. When it comes to environmental protection, we have a government that are completely asleep at the wheel. It is a national disgrace and action needs to be taken. I was listening to the remarks of the new environment minister, Melissa Price, who says that protection of endangered species is one of the government's key priorities. Well, I tell you, you cannot protect endangered species in this country without doing something real about land clearing. We have land-clearing rules which were introduced by state governments back when John Howard was Prime Minister. They were a critical part of protecting Australian biodiversity and of reaching the targets under the Kyoto Protocol. But we have seen the unwinding of those land-clearing laws by both New South Wales and Queensland conservative governments and this has left large tracts of Australia unprotected.

I'm pleased to say that Labor will not allow this large-scale land clearing to continue. We on this side of the chamber are a party for the environment. We put in place the largest network of marine reserves. We put in place solutions to solve 100 years of conflict on the Murray-Darling Basin. We were the ones who put a price on climate change and we also delivered the Tasmanian forest agreement.

We have the most at-risk populations of koalas in Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT and they deserve our protection. The numbers of koalas have plummeted because of road collisions, dog attacks and land clearing. The rate of land clearing has tripled in the state's north since the axing of the New South Wales Native Vegetation Act in August 2017. Think about that: those laws just changed a little more than a year ago and yet we have seen the rate of land clearing in New South Wales triple. It only goes to show how important those land-clearing laws are.

Koalas will face extinction in New South Wales by, it's speculated, about 2050 due to land clearing according to Martin Taylor, a conservation biologist. Senator Williams, you might like to take your own farm as an illustration of the welfare of biodiversity of koalas representative of the whole country, but I think we should be a bit more scientific than that. We shouldn't accept that koalas a couple of decades from now will only exist in captivity. We need to save koalas in their wild environment where they belong. We know koala populations across the country have declined dramatically. In New South Wales, the population's declined by a quarter over the last 20 years and is now home to fewer than 10 per cent of the nation's koalas, with just 36,000 of them remaining in the wild.

Since 2011, the Liberal government has done, frankly, more to harm koalas than to save them. We've seen in New South Wales land-clearing laws that could see eight million hectares of core koala habitat destroyed, signing off on clearing codes that will allow 99 per cent of koala habitat on private land to be cleared, selling off core koala habitat land to developers for $250,000 at the Mambo wetlands in Port Stephens. We've seen the redirecting of route of the Pacific Highway upgrade at Ballina through key koala habitat. We have also seen a refusal to support the Great Koala National Park; it was called simply a political gimmick. We can't allow housing development in core koala habitat in the Macarthur region, including the upgrade of Picton Road, without adequate protections for the only chlamydia-free koala population in New South Wales. They are carting koalas off in sacks from the Liverpool Plains to make way for the Shenhua coalmine and allowing logging operations that do not properly take account of the koalas in state forests with further weakening of the protections currently in place.

Adding to the threats facing koalas, the Liberals and Nationals introduced land clearing laws that will take a chainsaw to trees and wildlife conservation across the state, including 99 per cent of identified koala habitat open to clearings. They continue to ignore koala protection as a serious issue in our nation. It's all very well for Senator Williams to highlight the issue of bushfire on koala populations, which is indeed important, but what we're trying to point out here is the multifactorial nature of the pressures on the koala species. Senator Williams is wrong to point out we should just do something to protect koalas by preventing bushfires. Of course we want to prevent bushfires. We want to prevent bushfires by doing things like acting on climate change. Indeed, prescribed burns in my own home state have an important role to play. We know that managed fire is important, but you on the other side cannot point to managing fire as a panacea to the litany of issues that are affecting Australia's koala population. Issues like habitat loss and fragmentation of that habitat have indeed been the major causes of the decline in koala numbers in our nation.

In the 2016 election, we committed to a number of policies to enhance vegetation protection in Australia. We know that koalas are important, and not only for their intrinsic social and environmental value; saving koalas helps grow jobs in tourism in Australia. We want to prioritise the creation of national parks that protect our koala population. We want to see eucalypt forests and rainforests that are home to significant koala populations assessed as soon as possible for priority additions to the national park estate. On this side of the chamber, we want to remain at the forefront of national environmental leadership and protection in Australia. In developing policies for the next election, we will ensure that policy initiatives support the conservation of one of our greatest national icons, the koala.

6:03 pm

Photo of David SmithDavid Smith (ACT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The koala is one of Australia's most recognised mammals. Alongside the kangaroo, emu, platypus and wombat, when tourists from around the world think of Australian wildlife, the image of the koala is one of the first that comes to mind. But for many Australians, seeing a koala in the wild is a favourite and all too rare memory. Koalas are one of our most threatened species, being highly dependent on their habitat and highly vulnerable to habitat destruction and fragmentation. Indeed, last week when the Australian Reptile Park and the Threatened Species Commissioner brought a number of animals to Parliament House to highlight the species whose protections are under threat, one of the animals they brought was a koala. It's a pity they had to come here to highlight their plight.

Estimates of remaining koala populations vary widely. Official estimates from the Threatened Species Scientific Committee are that there were just over 400,000 koalas remaining in the wild in 2010. The Australian Koala Foundation has estimated that the number of koalas in the wild is less than 80,000, where once there were millions. Even on the higher figures, populations declined by 29 per cent nationally between 1990 and 2010. In New South Wales, the state government's own report estimates that only 36,000 koalas remain in the wild. The remaining koala populations are dependent on an ever-shrinking amount of habitat, particularly in eastern New South Wales and South East Queensland. There are many threats faced by koala populations, including disease, drought and climate change, fire, dogs and being struck by vehicles, but the most critical and immediate danger is loss and fragmentation of habitat. It is only through concerted action on all these issues, and in particular ensuring we maintain koala habitat, that Australia can ensure we maintain our koala populations.

My colleague Senator Pratt outlined Labor's proud record on environmental issues in relation to marine reserves, the Murray-Darling Basin, a carbon price and delivering the Tasmanian forest agreement. Similarly, on koalas, Labor took action when we were in government to protect Australia's most at-risk populations of koalas—those in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory—by bringing them under national environment law. The then federal environment minister, Tony Burke MP, listed these populations in April 2012 as vulnerable under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, enabling action to be taken to maintain their habitat and ensure their development took account of the need to minimise threats to koala populations.

However, the record of the Liberal-National coalition could not be more different. Since coming to government five years ago, they have repeatedly ignored koala protection unless forced to take action, seeking to hand the responsibility for environmental approvals to the states. Moreover, at the state level, people understand that only Labor can be trusted to take action on koala protection. In New South Wales, with an election coming up next March, Labor has committed to protecting the local populations of the North Coast with a national park focused on areas of significant koala numbers and returning environmental protection to biodiversity and land-clearing laws so that clearing of high conservation value areas, like koala habitat, comes to an end. The tired Liberal government in that state, in contrast, brought in land-clearing laws that left 99 per cent of koala habitat open to clearing. In some areas of New South Wales, the rate of land clearing, as we heard from Senator Pratt, has tripled in the last 12 months since the current Liberal government's new land-clearing laws came into effect. This cannot continue if we hope to maintain koalas in the wild. At the same time, in Queensland earlier this year, the Palaszczuk government reintroduced effective land-clearing laws that were removed by the previous Newman government in 2013. As the head of the Queensland Conservation Council, Tim Seelig, said:

The passing of these reforms is a hugely important milestone in the history of Queensland's land clearing regulation.

Today, our laws have been made better and the direction of regulation corrected.

Labor has always been at the forefront of national environmental leadership in Australia and voters understand that Labor policies to strengthen our environmental laws would improve protections for high-conservation areas, including areas where koalas live. The question for this chamber is: how much more of this government can a koala bear?

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

The time for this discussion has expired.