NEW KOALA LAWS EXPLAINED
The SEPP (Koala Habitat Protection) 2021 and current state of koala protection policies in NSW
The NSW Government promised it would double koala numbers by 2050, yet its new SEPP (Koala Habitat Protection) 2021 is a disaster for koalas because it fails to protect the majority of koala habitat in NSW from logging and land clearing. Almost two-thirds of koala habitat is found outside national parks and state forests, on private land, so it’s vital that laws are in place to protect this habitat if we are to stop koalas becoming extinct before 2050. The revised Koala SEPP released last year after lengthy consultation was supposed to increase protections for koala habitat on private land, but after lobbying by powerful timber, developer and farming interests, the National Party caved in and threatened to blow up the government. What we are left with is a weak policy that gives the National Party and their industry mates everything they demanded and leaves our precious koalas more vulnerable to extinction.
No protection for koala habitat on rural and agricultural land
The new State Environment Planning Policy, Koala SEPP 2021, exempts rural, agricultural and forestry lands (zones RU1, RU2, RU3) from being subject to protections under the Koala SEPP 2021 or a council’s Koala Plan of Management (KPoM). This accounts for 80% of the land the Koala SEPP 2021 would otherwise apply to.
Instead, agricultural and rural land developments will be assessed and approved by Local Land Services according to new private native forestry (PNF) and local land services (LLS) codes. The government has promised to revise and release these codes in the near future but there is little information about how these codes will consider koala habitat protections, if at all.
No protection from logging on private land
With the anticipated release of the new PNF codes, all PNF activities (i.e. logging) will be assessed according to the Local Land Services Act. There will be a complete ‘decoupling’ of PNF approvals from the Koala SEPP 2021 and any KPoMs, meaning koala habitat on private land will be able to be logged.
The dual consent mechanism requiring both state government and local government approval for PNF development applications will be removed. Only the state government will have the authority to consent to PNF proposals, something which has alarmed many local councils who have been trying to protect koala habitat in their local government areas for years.
Councils will no longer have any authority to prevent koala habitat being destroyed on rural and agricultural land, even if a KPoM previously covered those areas.
Councils will also no longer be able to rezone RU1, RU2 or RU3 lands as environmental zones, further removing their ability to protect koala habitat or any other environmentally sensitive lands such as wetlands and rainforests. The Minister for Planning will issue a direction that requires all rezoning proposals of this nature to be approved by his department alone. Given the track record of the Department of Planning in approving development, along with no concurrence role for the Minister for the Environment, this is hugely concerning.
More hurdles for Koala Plans of Management (KPoMs)
Councils already spend huge amounts of resources to prepare KPoMs to identify and protect koala habitat in their local government area before they submit it to the Department of Planning for approval. Most have been waiting many years for them to be approved by the Department of Planning, with some Councils still waiting. Under this new SEPP, KPoMs will now need concurrence from the Secretary of Regional NSW along with the Secretary of Planning. There is no justification for the involvement of the Department of Regional NSW in approving these KPoMs. Concurrence should be required by the Minister for the Environment considering they are the Minister with the responsibility for threatened species in NSW.
Prevent the PNF and LLS codes from permitting the destruction of koala habitat
- Koala habitat must be increased, not weakened under the codes. This means preventing the destruction of koala habitat on any lands subject to development or PNF activities under the LLS Act.
- All PNF activities must receive dual consent from the council as well as LLS. The government must not remove dual consent provisions for PNF activities.
- All development and PNF activities must be subjected to a pre-harvest survey to identify any koala habitat. The survey must be performed by a Public Service employee qualified in environmental sciences at the shared cost of the applicant and the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE).
- Following a pre-harvest survey, any identified koala habitat must be mapped, retained and protected with appropriate measures to prevent edge-effect disturbances to koala populations, such as road crossings, buffer zones and fencing.
- Proposed amendments to the codes should be subject to a community consultation process to enable public review before any changes are made.
Uphold councils’ authority to establish Environmental Protection Zones
- The Minister for Planning must not issue a direction to remove councils’ ability to rezone RU1, RU2 or RU3 land as Environmental Protection Zones.
- Councils must be allowed to rezone land where koala habitat is at risk of destruction due to development or PNF activities outside of the protections of the Koala SEPP 2021.
Prioritise Koala Plans of Management Approvals
- Approvals for all outstanding KPoMs must be prioritised, with DPIE to designate a public service employee to support councils to move applications through the additional approval channels defined in the Koala SEPP 2021.
- DPIE must fully justify any reasons for refusing KPoMs, and explain why any outstanding issues have not been resolved.
Incentivise the protection of koala habitat
- Increase government Biodiversity Conservation Trust grants and payments to landholders who protect koala habitat in perpetuity.
- Do not proceed with legislative attempts to strip landholders in conservation agreements of rates exemptions. Landholders should not be punished for protecting core koala habitat.