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Maules Creek Coalmine Biodiversity Offsets call for papers

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Cate Faehrmann
NSW Greens MP
27 February 2020

Ms CATE FAEHRMANN: I move:

That private members' business item No. 448 outside the order of precedence be considered in a short form format.

Motion agreed to.

Ms CATE FAEHRMANN (21:36:06): I seek leave to amend private members' business item No. 448 outside the order of precedence as follows:

(1) In paragraph (a) insert "the assessment, determination, calculation or viability of" after "relating to".

(2) Omit paragraph (c) and insert instead:

(c) all documents created since 30 March 2019 relating to what was discussed at any meetings between either the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, the Minister for Energy and Environment, the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, or the Biodiversity Conservation Trust related to Whitehaven Coal's Leard forest biodiversity offsets

Leave granted.

Ms CATE FAEHRMANN: Accordingly, I move:

That, under Standing Order 52, there be laid upon the table of the House within 21 days of the date of passing of this resolution the following documents in the possession, custody or control of the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, the Minister for Energy and Environment, the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, or the Biodiversity Conservation Trust:

(a) all documents created since 30 March 2019 relating to the assessment, determination, calculation or viability of Whitehaven Coal's biodiversity offsets, required as a condition of project approval to operate the Maules Creek coalmine, for the clearing of the Leard Forest;

(b) the latest available Management Plans and Biodiversity Offset Strategies prepared by Whitehaven Coal, whether in draft form or approved by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, required as a condition of project approval to operate the Maules Creek coalmine;

(c) all documents created since 30 March 2019 relating to what was discussed at any meetings between either the Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, the Minister for Energy and Environment, the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, or the Biodiversity Conservation Trust related to Whitehaven Coal's Leard forest biodiversity offsets; and

(d) any legal or other advice regarding the scope or validity of this order of the House created as a result of this order of the House.

This call for papers seeks documents that would clarify the approval of the Maules Creek State mine to conduct land clearing of the Leard State Forest on the basis of offsets that Whitehaven Coal appears unable to provide. The Leard State Forest was a treasure trove of biodiversity, and included the largest single remaining stand of white box grassy woodland in New South Wales, which is a critically endangered ecological community [CEEC]. This ecological community, combined with red gum community along the riparian areas of Maules Creek, was home to numerous threatened species, including the koala. In 2012 Whitehaven Coal was given approval to bulldoze 1,665 hectares of native vegetation in the Leard State Forest.

That approval was conditional on Whitehaven acquiring equivalent or greater offsets—a combined area of habitat to replace the land cleared in the Leard State Forest. Whitehaven Coal acquired numerous properties as offsets. The offsets did not have to be immediately accessible to the displaced wildlife. In some cases, the offsets are 40 kilometres away and at an altitude of over 900 metres above sea level, compared with the Leard forest's elevation of 300 metres. Nor did they have to be of the same quality; some of the offsets are farms. The company was obliged to restore grazing paddocks to woodland that would support the rich biodiversity previously found in the Leard forest.

Last year, 500 pages of documents obtained under the Government Information (Public Access) Act [GIPAA] by the Wando Conservation and Cultural Centre revealed that the Biodiversity Conservation Trust [BCT] has conducted site visits over 18 months and repeatedly refused to sign off on the Maules Creek offsets for conservation agreements. This means the Leard Forest Critically Endangered Ecological Community has been cleared for six years, from 2014 to 2019, on the basis of false biodiversity offsets. The planning department approved the Maules Creek coalmine offsets in March 2018 and forwarded them to the Biodiversity Conservation Trust. The conditions of approval require Whitehaven to permanently secure the offsets in the form of transfer to the national parks estate or a binding conservation agreement approved by the BCT. There were deadlines in the approval conditions to secure the offsets repeatedly missed and extensions granted. Whitehaven has now had two extensions and it appears it has been granted another exemption with the BCT, claiming that an undisclosed amount but not all of the offsets have now entered into conservation agreements. The planning department's approval for the Maules Creek coalmine, paving the way for the destruction of the CEEC as mentioned before, was based on vegetation mapping and description of the habitat in the offsets provided by Cumberland Ecology, an ecological consultancy.

The proposed offsets and Cumberland Ecology's advice to Whitehaven had already been the subject of longstanding controversy, opposition from the New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage, an investigation by the ABC'sBackground Briefing and an independent peer review conducted by Greenloaning Biostudies. For years, local community groups have called on the planning department to release ground truthing audits, which would show what vegetation was found on the offsets detailed in Cumberland Ecology's report and acquired by Whitehaven. The department has repeatedly refused. Whitehaven fought tooth and nail against disclosure too and now we know why. Approved by the planning department but rejected by the Biodiversity Conservation Trust, the offsets remain in limbo yet Whitehaven has made clear profit of $1.5 billion in the past three years. This is owing considerably to the production of coal from Maules Creek, its largest mine—and by the way, it has not paid tax in all those years.

Whitehaven has also been openly exploring for coal on one of the offsets since 2016, nevertheless the department of planning still approved the offset as a viable replacement for the Leard forest CEEC. The scope of this call for papers picks up from 30 March 2019 where the Wando Conservation and Cultural Centre's GIPAA documents finish. It will bring to light how the Biodiversity Conservation Trust and the planning department have managed Whitehaven's continued inability to produce adequate like-for-like offsets while continuing clearing operations in the Leard State Forest, which are potentially continuing this week. I note that we have been in discussion with the office of the Minister for Energy and Environment to limit the scope of this call for papers as much as possible to reduce the potential workload for the department; that is what my amendments do. I commend the motion to the House.

The Hon. ADAM SEARLE (21:41:55): The Labor opposition will be supporting the motion.

The ACTING PRESIDENT (The Hon. Trevor Khan): The question is that the motion be agreed to.

Motion agreed to.

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Cate Faehrmann
NSW Greens MP
27 February 2020
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