The Land and Environment Court has ruled the historic NSW Government native vegetation laws invalid because they were made unlawfully.
The NSW Government is rushing to assure farmers they will not be damaged by the extraordinary ruling. Local Land Services is privately assuring farmers nothing will change and that after due process is carried out, the native vegetation legislation will remain as is.
A spokeswoman from the office of Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair said “the NSW Government remains absolutely committed to delivering on this important reform and meeting its obligation to act on the recommendations of the Independent Panel”.
“The NSW government is now moving quickly to respond to Court’s declaration and its top priority is providing legal and operational certainty to ensure the benefits of the reform continue to be realised.”
NSW Shadow Environment Minister Penny Sharpe said “today’s court loss speak volumes for the mess this government is in when it comes to the environment, with an incompetent environment minister being railroaded by a mendacious agriculture minister intent on ideological battles of the past.”
“The NSW Environment Minister abrogated her responsibility as the custodian of our natural assets and native wildlife,” Ms Sharpe said. “Future generations won’t thank her for failing to stand up to the retrograde vandals among her colleagues in the National Party.”
“However we now have an opportunity to fix these bad laws and reinstate the protections for native plants and animals that had been operating successfully for many years.
“Today I am calling on the Premier to step in and bring all parties back to the table to redraft biodiversity laws that protect the precious water, soil, and wildlife of New South Wales.”
The Nature Conservation Council, which brought the court action says the Government has bungled one of its prime pieces of legislation.
“The government has bungled the introduction of one of its signature pieces of legislation, and in the process demonstrates its careless disregard for nature in NSW,” Nature Conservation Council chief executive Kate Smolski said.
“Today’s ruling is an embarrassing admission of failure by the Berejiklian government and a great victory for the rule of law and the thousands of people who have supported us in taking this action.”
The Nature Conservation Council, represented by public interest environmental lawyers the Environmental Defender’s Office NSW, launched a legal challenge of the government’s land-clearing codes last November.
NCC had argued through its barristers Jeremy Kirk SC and David Hume the codes were invalid because the Primary Industries Minister failed to obtain concurrence of the Environment Minister before making the codes, as is required by law. The government today has conceded this was indeed the case.
“It is deeply troubling that the government disregarded the important oversight role of the Environment Minister when making environmental laws, but we are even more concerned about the harmful content of the laws themselves,” Ms Smolski said.
“By the government’s own assessment, they will lead to a spike in clearing of up to 45 per cent and expose threatened wildlife habitat to destruction, including 99pc of identified koala habitat on private land.
“These laws were made against the advice of the scientific community and against the wishes of the vast majority of the many thousands of people who made submissions.
“It would be completely cynical for the government to immediately remake these laws without first correcting their many flaws and including environmental protections the community wants and the science says we need.
“Premier Berejiklian must act now to prevent further plundering of our forests, woodlands and water supplies by scrapping these laws and making new ones that actually protect the environment.”
Ms Smolski pledged to continue the campaign to overturn weak land-clearing laws.
“As the state’s peak environment organisation, we will do everything we can to expose the damage of land clearing and will not stop until we have laws that protect nature,” she said.
“These laws are a matter of life or death for wildlife. More than 1000 plant and animal species are at risk of extinction in this state, including the koala and 60pc of all our native mammals.
“Land clearing is the main threat to many of these animals, and the laws this government introduced unlawfully are pushing them closer to the brink,” she said.
“It is regrettable that we had to take the government to court to make it abide by its own laws, but it demonstrates the critical role organisations like ours play in our democracy.”