Up to 500 people joined a protest on October 19 near NSW Parliament against the Coalition government’s plans to weaken land clearing laws.
The Coalition came to power promising famers more rights to undertake mass land clearing. Opposition has been wide-ranging.
The changes have been criticised by scientists, local governments and conservation organisations. They say the changes are likely to push threatened species, such as the koala, quoll and pygmy possum to extinction.
The rally, organised by the Nature Conservation Council of NSW (NCC) and the Total Environment Centre, heard from environment organisations, Labor leader Luke Foley, Greens MLC Dr Mehreen Faruqi and Mark Pearson from the Animal Justice Party.
All pressed home the point that the proposed changes will pave the way for farmers to carry out large-scale clearing when NSW only has a meagre 9% of native vegetation intact.
Kate Smolski from the NCC told the rally Premier Mike Baird was playing politics with the environment. "Mike Baird is trying to solve a political problem that he has with the National Party with bad policy," she said.
"We do not believe the spin we are hearing about the so-called Biodiversity Conservation Act. This legislation has nothing to do with conserving biodiversity and everything to do with allowing large agri-business to go in and take more of the remnant fringe bush that our wildlife so depends on."
She said under the Native Vegetation Act native animals had been saved. “Now they want to remove that, putting koalas, among other animals, at risk and bring in land clearing laws.”
Foley said that Labor would oppose the Coalition’s moves. “We need laws that maintain and improve biodiversity. These laws will escalate species’ extinction.”
Faruqi condemned Baird for land clearing laws she described as a “blueprint for environmental destruction across NSW”.
“We’re seeing in a climate-constrained world, new coalmines being set up and wind energy being considered pollution. There is no logic to Baird’s proposed changes.
“As critical thinking falls by the wayside, we see the destruction of parkland, bushland and an open slather approach on land clearing.
“This is the result of being ruled by big money and vested interests. Leadership and change comes from the people. We need to make sure these crappy laws, which allow for the commodification of the environment, are scrapped,” she said to applause.
Mark Pearson from the Animal Justice Party said Baird had just “back-flipped” on greyhound racing and now he wants to destroy the last bit of native vegetation.
Dr Maryanne Large from Sydney Wildlife said that 84% of the submissions received, including from farmers, to the Biodiversity Legislation Review Panel were opposed to any weakening of the law.
She said just 150 farmers, from north-western NSW, supported the proposals and that is because they are aligned to the National Party.
A bill to repeal the Native Vegetation Act and replace it with the Biodiversity Conservation Act is expected to be brought to NSW Parliament before the end of the year.