As Gladys Berejiklian flees under the scrutiny of an ICAC investigation, it's important to remember that one of her biggest crimes was against the environment.
PERHAPS THE MOST serious aspect of this appalling start of the bushfire season is the big question: Why are we facing such catastrophic conditions greatly exacerbated by the worst drought in Australian history?
The Rural Fire Service says more than 500,000 hectares have been burnt so far in New South Wales.
According to NSW Fire Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, the situation is likely to become much worse in the coming days as strong winds and the same conditions ensure that the fires will be spread much further across the state. It’s almost impossible to estimate the death toll of wildlife incarcerated in the firestorms. Koalas, possums, gliders and birds have little chance of escaping the ferocity. Koalas in NSW are already well and truly on the path to extinction.
Earlier this year, the NSW Berejiklian Government gave consent to clear over 7,000 hectares of native vegetation. Since 2015-2016, this is the second-highest rate of clearing in a decade, representing an 800% jump in three years.
The clearing is a direct result of the repeal of the Native Vegetation Act 2003 by the Berejiklian Government. A level resulting in a dramatic increase in biodiversity loss, dust storms and impoverished soil.
The Auditor-General's report found:
The clearing of native vegetation on rural land is not effectively regulated and managed because the processes in place to support the regulatory framework are weak.
There is no evidence-based assurance that clearing of native vegetation is being carried out in accordance with approvals. The rules around land clearing may not be responding adequately to environmental risks. There are significant delays in identifying unlawful land clearing and few penalties imposed.
Berejiklian ignores advice
The Berejiklian Government ignored the report and its recommendations and instead instigated the following:
- budget cuts for Fire and Rescue NSW;
- cut the budget for the National Parks and Wildlife Service;
- continued unprecedented massive clear-felling of native forests;
- planned to privatise state forests;
- planned to burn forests for biomass; and
- renewed Regional Forest Agreements (RFAs), which do not allow legal action.
In June 2019, the NSW Government cut the capital budget of Fire and Rescue NSW by 35.4%.
National Parks and Wildlife Service was cut by $200 million.
Add to the NSW Government’s recipe for disastrous consequences the clear-felling of native forests.
The Forestry Corporation manages 1.8 million hectares under the state forest estate, according to the Australia Institute:
'Native forest logging activities generate considerable greenhouse gas emissions. Nationally, native forest logging generates 38 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions which, if reversed, would constitute a substantial portion of Australia’s required emissions abatement to 2030.'
The same forests, which Berejiklian revealed earlier this year, she intends to sell to commercial interests.
As if this proposal wasn’t bad enough, her Government is pursuing a plan to burn forests for biomass. In a report by the Department of Primary Industries, the project recommended three hubs for wood-fired power stations could be developed in Grafton, Kempsey and Bulahdelah.
Add to the mix the RFAs which have been renewed for a further 20 years with no provisions for legal action in the event of Forestry Corporation breaches.
When the RFAs came up for renewal this year, leading scientist Professor David Lindenmayer at the Australian National University published an article in The Conversation focused on the deeply flawed agreements.
Prior to the renewal, Professor Lindenmayer identified that key issues with climate change and the value of carbon storage had not been covered, nor recognition that in some forest types, logging operations elevate the risks of crown-scorching wildlife:
'The agreements predate the massive droughts and changing climate that have affected the rainfall patterns and water supply systems of southwestern and southeastern Australia.'
The North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) details that:
‘...bushfire danger is increasing as a consequence of climate change predicted by scientists. Heavy logging and burning of forests increases flammability. Fire spreads rapidly through regrowth of logged forests.
Industrialised forests are proven to burn on a scale and with a ferocity not previously seen.’
“Climate change, weather and drought are altering the nature, ferocity and duration of bushfires.“
The Climate Council report, 'The Burning Issue: Climate Change and the Australian Bushfire Threat' states:
Human activities, such as burning of coal, oil and gas are causing dramatic changes to the climate system, which is having direct and indirect impacts on fire danger weather and fuel conditions. In particular, hot days are becoming hotter and heatwaves even longer, more frequent and more intense.
The IPPC has predicted with high confidence that bushfire danger weather in Australia will increase in the future.
The report predicts that 14,000 firefighters will be needed by 2020. NSW Rural Fire Service already has 13,000 on the ground, warning that some areas will not be able to be helped because of a shortage of manpower.
Morrison Government adds fuel to the fire
Veteran journalist Paul Bongiorno tweeted that the Morrison Government:
'...sat on bushfire report for seven months because it factored in climate change. Utter derelict in its duty. Dumb ideology ahead of reality.'
According to an article in The Guardian, Morrison was asked directly whether he believed climate change had contributed to Australia’s unprecedented early season fires. As usual, Morrison ducked the question.
Australians are now backed into a political corner. Our governments are led by politicians who either don’t believe climate change exists or refuse to act to minimise the impacts.
There are no leaders, only agents of destruction.
Unless there is an immediate moratorium on the destruction of native forests by the logging industry, any development which impacts koala habitat (an umbrella species for coastal forest ecosystems), the economic cost to NSW, Queensland and the Federal Government will push Australia into a recession.
The simple truth is we cannot survive without nature. If the clearing of native vegetation and forests is not stopped now, the drought and the dying will continue as the land becomes a desert. In the outback, farmers are struggling to survive. Kangaroos, wallabies, emus are dying in their millions.
It will be imperative that the authorities conduct population estimates of forest-dwelling species as soon as possible so that the remaining colonies of koalas, in particular, can be protected.
Developments approved by State and Federal governments that eradicate native vegetation and forests must be withdrawn.
Australia is facing an unprecedented environmental, economic disaster, led by politicians who show no indication of any solutions.
Poor fella, my country.
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