The NSW Government's Environmental Track Record (March 2011 to date)
As the NSW Government's term draws to a close it is possible to assess its impact on the NSW environment.
While there have been some welcome actions such as the declaration of Dharawal National Park, the vast majority of the NSW Government's legislation, policy, and regulatory changes related to the environment have been, or will be, detrimental.
The following list is not exhaustive, but it is reasonably comprehensive and covers key legislative changes and proposals effecting the environment.
Positive actions have a green light and detrimental actions a red light. Orange is reserved for actions that sound good but are only promises, or for improvements (often forced by massive public pressure) to what were originally very bad decisions.
Wherever possible links to additional information are provided.
While we think that overall the NSW Government's record is extremely poor, we encourage you to examine their track record below, assess it for yourself, and arrive at your own conclusions.
2010 - 2011 The Transition Labor to Coalition - Local Environment Plans
Labor Government had introduced and the Coalition Government continues a "one size fits all" policy for Local Environment Plans that effectively undermines environmental protection provisions.
2010 - 2011 The Transition Labor to Coalition - Solar Feed-In Tariffs
Labor Government had cut the solar feed-in tariff (from 60 cents to 20 cents per kilowatt hour) for "new" solar installations with "existing" participants' tariff remaining unchanged. The Solar Bonus Scheme remained in place.
The 2011 New South Wales State Election was held on Saturday, 26 March.
The 16-year incumbent Labor Government led by Premier Kristina Keneally
was defeated by the Liberal-National Coalition opposition led by Barry O'Farrell.
The new NSW Government seeks to retrospectively cut tariff for existing feed-in tariff scheme participants, and close the Solar Bonus Scheme to all new participants.
The NSW Government abolishes the Department of Environment making it an "Office" under the control of the Premier.
The NSW Government commits to repeal of Part 3A of the planning Act (a very good move) only to introduce their own "State Significant Development" and "State Significant Infrastructure" legislation thus continuing to exclude local communities from major development decisions.
After an enormous public backlash the NSW Government abandons plans to retrospectively cut solar feed-in tariffs for existing recipients. However the Solar Bonus scheme remains closed to new participants, so that there is no legislated solar feed-in tariff scheme whatsoever in NSW to encourage solar expansion. Feed-in tariffs become a purely voluntary matter for Electricity suppliers.
NSW Government backs a Shooters and Fishers Party bill calling for a five-year moratorium on new marine parks and sanctuaries.
NSW Government signs into law a five-year moratorium on new marine parks.
Dharawal Nature Reserve and State Conservation Area upgraded to national park and explicitly protected from mining.
NSW Government moves to allow hunting in 79 National Parks - breaking a Pre 2011 Election promise.
NSW Government cuts funds to the Murray Darling Basin Authority by more than 60% resulting in axing of the Native Fish Strategy and the Sustainable Rivers Audit.
The NSW Government proposes major reform to planning legislation, including "Code Assessable Development" that would lock local residents out of final development approval process.
In late 2013
, the NSW Planning Bill passed the Upper House but with major amendments and as a result the Bill has been put on hold indefinitely by the NSW Government.
The NSW Government remains committed however to implementing key aspects of the planning reforms, including reducing the number of new developments requiring formal assessment, through existing non legislative means such as statewide planning policies.
NSW Government releases strategic regional land use plans, and in the process breaks a raft of pre-election promises. The plans offer no real protection for our land, water, or air from Coal Seam Gas (CSG) and mining. A clear "get to it" is given for CSG and fracking in NSW.
NSW Government closes the internationally recognised Cronulla Fisheries Research Centre amid enormous controversy.
NSW Government introduces "pre-gateway review" planning process that allows developers to challenge unfavourable council rezoning decisions if they are prepared to pay the NSW Government a $20,000 fee. Previously council and local community zoning decisions were final. (see also May 2014)
The NSW Government considers granting local councils and communities "some" leeway to differentiate their Local Environmental Plans from a "one size fits all" standard template.
Berowra Valley Regional Park upgraded to a national park.
NSW Government initiates logging trial in Murray Valley National Park.
NSW Government initiates cattle grazing trial in NSW national parks.
NSW Government introduces $465 million program (over 5 years) to improve waste management in NSW. The initiative is called "Waste Less, Recycle More".
NSW Government introduces new coal dust reduction programs, but see also February 2014.
NSW Government allows recreational fishing in established Marine Parks.
The NSW Government releases for public comment the Draft Metropolitan Strategy for Sydney, which sets new housing and development targets for local Councils across Greater Sydney. The draft identifies the lower Blue Mountains (Faulconbridge to Lapstone) as a future urban growth area, and imposes an unviable new housing target for the whole of the Blue Mountains.
Hunting in National Parks suspended after Premier O'Farrell disbands the Game Council of NSW following a critical review of its operation.
Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson re-affirms continued moratorium on declaration of new marine parks as Marine Parks Amendment (Moratorium) Bill 2013 passes to allow reviewing zoning plans and altering sanctuary zones.
NSW Government introduces legislation to control illegal dumping.
NSW Government weakens forest and woodland protections to dramatically increase the type and number of clearing activities that can be none without approval or assessment.
NSW Government blocks legislation protecting water catchments from Coal Seam Gas.
Revelations emerge of major cuts to NSW Government staff focussed on climate change.
NSW Government tables legislation to make economic benefits of large mining projects the "principal consideration" in assessments, trumping adverse social and environmental impacts.
In response to enormous community opposition Resources Minister Chris Hartcher suspends CSG in Sydney and Illawarra water catchment special areas.
NSW Government releases measures to protect many dwellings and some agricultural land by way of CSG exclusion zones. However key water resources (including drinking water catchment areas) and sensitive environmental areas (e.g. Pilliga) still not protected.
Major cuts to catchment management authorities' jobs and funds and then merger into Local Land Services under the Primary Industries Minister.
Accusations of failure to police coal dust in Newcastle and Hunter Valley emerge.
NSW Government starts hunting trial in National Parks.
NSW Government expands Nattai Wilderness to more than 40,000 hectares.
The NSW Government's submission to the federal Renewable Energy Target (RET) review gives in principle support for the RET, but recommends delaying large scale component and reducing incentives for rooftop solar.
NSW Government announces review into its own "pre-gateway review" planning process, a process that NSW Government Environment Minister Stokes has labelled as "providing endless backdoor opportunities for disreputable developers"
The NSW Budget papers show large cuts to the funding of National Parks. In the coming 2014-15 budget year the NSW Government intends to cut 16% ($88.7 million) from National Parks' operating expenditure, as well as cutting 35 jobs.
NSW Budget Papers
(Note: the cuts are not obvious and require consolidation of figures from multiple parts of the Budget Paper)
Government announces creation of Greater Sydney Commission to streamline major infrastructure and urban planning, including implementing the Sydney Metropolitan Strategy (when finalised). Little detail is available on the role and scope of the new Commission including whether the Blue Mountains will be included.
Exercise caution, we are now entering election territory!
Consider all promises and proposals carefully.
Pre 2015 Election Promise: Premier Baird and Environment Minister Stokes pledge commitment to make NSW "Australia's answer to California" for clean energy.
NSW Government and local member Roza Sage take no action to protect Katoomba RSPCA shelter, with almost certain consequence of increased feral animal populations in Blue Mountains National Parks. Public protests deliver a six month reprieve.
NSW Government proposes change to policy that will allow fracking near to dwellings.
NSW Government changes State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) to allow fracking within just 100s of metres of homes without a full Environmental Impact study. This has immediate consequences for Gloucester community where AGL has now been given the go-ahead.
NSW Government Minister admits in Budget Estimates hearing that the highly contentious Crown Lands Act review has been shelved, though it may re-emerge.
Many believed that this review was a vehicle to facilitate the large scale sale of public lands, as such it attracted more than 600 submissions expressing community concerns.
The NSW Government refuses Ceemac Pty Ltd's application for a Petroleum Exploration Licence (PELA 158) that covered a substantial portion of the Blue Mountains.
However, AGL's PEL 2 which is the more immediate and real threat remains in place.
NSW Government announces its plan for a 10-fold increase in the penalties for environmental crime.
(Note: This traffic light will be changed from Orange to Green when actual enforcement of these new larger fines is demonstrated.)
The NSW Government has invited companies to apply for uranium exploration licences, clearly paving the way for uranium mining in NSW.
The NSW Government fails to adopt a widely supported weed reform package proposed the NSW Natural Resources Commission weed review, guaranteeing the state's weed problems will continue to grow.
Reminiscent of medieval "indulgences" to buy your way into heaven, the NSW Government from 1st October 2014 will take money (in lieu of an equivalent land offset) into a government fund as the quid pro quo
for the destruction of environmentally significant areas by developers and miners.
The NSW government has extended its moratorium on new CSG exploration licences by 12 months (i.e. until September 2015). However, all existing production and exploration licences remain in place, including those in the Blue Mountains, Gloucester, the Pilliga, and other vast tracts of NSW.
The NSW Government revokes 3 CSG exploration licences for compliance breaches. The three licences covered land at Kandos (Rylstone), Nowra, and Moree and were all held by a single company, Leichhardt Resources Pty Ltd. As this is a first for the NSW government, it is considered a "landmark" event.
Despite enormous and ongoing public outcry, much of it directly to the Minister for Resources and Energy Anthony Roberts, the NSW Government has allowed AGL to commence CSG "fracking" (hydraulic fracturing of underground strata) in the Gloucester area.
NSW Government announces its "new" CSG plan which is roundly criticised from nearly all directions. Environmentalists note that it is "big on rhetoric, light on detail"
with nothing extra being protected; the farm lobby notes that the plan does "nothing to stop landholders being forced to give access against their will"
and "the first thing that comes to mind is bribery"
; and mining interests note that there's nothing new - "a repeat of what the Government has already said, a few more bells and whistles"
The Climate Council of Australia releases it report: The Australian Renewable Energy Race: which states are winning or losing?
A key finding is that Victoria and NSW have moved from leaders to laggards in Australia's renewable energy race. Furthermore, NSW is identified as "last among the states for new per capita investment in renewable energy"..
The NSW Government's Minister for the Environment, Rob Stokes, announces the acquisition and the planned acquisition of lands for new National Parks and conservation area extensions. The areas include: the Everlasting Swamp, a wetland in the Clarence River floodplains; additions to Ramsar-listed wetlands at the Gwydir Wetlands State Conservation Area and the Doodle Comer Swamp Nature Reserve; some lands at Dorrigo, Morton, and Deua NPs to consolidate the Great Eastern Ranges initiative; and some small areas to extend several coastal NPs.
In moves that will further reduce time for community say and participation in mining approvals the NSW Premier Mike Baird announces (at a private Minerals Council event) plans to halve the time it takes to get a mine approved as well as his intention to have much harsher fines for protesters. New timeframes would also be applied to the Planning Assessment Commission, the independent body that decides some of the state's most controversial proposals and the last resort for many communities opposing a mine.
In a "retrograde step"
the NSW Government announces plans to further weaken the CSG approval process by "allowing exploration to proceed without environmental impact statements"
. The Principal Solicitor at the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) characterises this move as "completely inconsistent with the over-arching recommendations of the Chief Scientist's report"
The NSW Government has stated that it intends to facilitate research in 2015 that might
result in "an integrated marine protected area along the metro coast by 2016"
. This move by the government has deferred any Sydney marine park decision until well after the state election. In response, the Campaigns Director of the NSW Nature Conservation Council said "More science is always welcome, yet what really matters for our marine life and those who love the ocean, is action"
The NSW Government has partially (not all sites) and in a deferred manner (a period of consultation with only "cautions") reinstated the ban on shore based fishing in some of NSW's marine protected areas. The Government had earlier (see March 2013) initiated a much criticised "amnesty" for shore based fishing in these protected areas.
The NSW Government announces the introduction (within the next few weeks) of a drinks container deposit scheme. Jeff Angel, of the Total Environment Centre and the Boomerang Alliance, notes that: "With a 10 cent deposit you get well over 80 per cent of the drink bottles and cans returned for recycling, . . . that's certainly the case in South Australia where we already have a 10 cent deposit that's refundable."
The NSW Government has stepped back from its original plans to include Blue Mountains areas up to Faulconbridge as part of Sydney's "metropolitan urban area", this potentially would have opened up the Lower Blue Mountains to major development. However, areas from Lapstone up are now defined as being part of the "metropolitan rural area". The development implications for areas with this poorly defined and self-contradictory designation are not at all clear at this stage.
The black soils of the Liverpool Plains near Gunnedah are acknowledged as among the very best in Australia, this is absolutely prime agricultural land. Yet the NSW Government, by failing to intervene with promised protection measures, is now allowing the massive Shenhua Watermark coal mine to go ahead and thereby destroy vast tracts of NSW's very best farmland. The Blue Mountains Liberal local member, Roza Sage, as recently as 28th January 2015 stated that "Each mining application is considered . . . to ensure that prime agricultural land and environmentally significant area are preserved".
Emails obtained under freedom of information by Lock The Gate indicate that "The Baird government worked 'hand in glove' with Rio Tinto to accelerate a key environmental approval for a coal mine expansion in the Hunter Valley"
The NSW Liberal Party's election campaign web site (nsw.liberal.org.au
) promotes "The Baird Plan"
A review of the website shows no trace of environmental issues whatsoever.
page addresses Transport, Roads, Health, Police, Education, and the Vulnerable; there is no mention of the environment, nor is there any mention of National Parks or Marine Sanctuaries. The Baird Plan web site is also silent on the Government's plans for CSG and mining in NSW.
The major study "Coal and Health in the Hunter"
released in late February demonstrates the enormous impact that the mining and burning of coal has on human health (estimated at $600 million p.a. in the Hunter Valley alone). The study's release has renewed calls for the phase-out of coal. In response Premier Baird says he would not contemplate a phasing out of the state's coal industry and that "I actually think it is a good thing"
In mid February the NSW Upper House (Legislative Council) General Purpose Standing Committee No. 5 issued the report The performance of the NSW Environment Protection Authority
The report reveals that Dr Mehreen Faruqi moved that an additional recommendation be inserted. The recommendation was "That the EPA take immediate steps to stop pollution of the Wollangambe River."
Greens and Labor members of the committee voted FOR the motion; Liberal, National, and Shooters & Fishers members voted AGAINST.
As a result the report does not include the recommendation.
The cancellation of any CSG licence in NSW is a good thing, but the NSW Government's recent announcements of CSG licence cancellations are more a matter of election hooha
than of merit. One of the licences was in large part unexploitable due to proximity to residential areas, and the others are effectively worthless and had already been handed back to the Government by the mining company. The Sydney Morning Herald reported: "A spokesman for Pangaea [the mining company] said the unlisted miner had explored for CSG but had handed back its permit last month after finding little of interest to exploit."
The NSW Government has announced that it will protect 50 hectares around the "The Drip" gorge near Mudgee by adding it to Goulburn River National Park. This represents the first step of the NSW Nature Conservation Council's recommended three step plan to fully protect the groundwater and river systems of the Upper Goulburn River catchment.
More about "The Drip" and NCC's full recommendations:
The NSW Government has bought and then cancelled 3 CSG exploration licences covering part of the Sydney Water Catchment. However, AGL's Exploration Licence (PEL2) which also covers a portion of the water catchment remains in place, as does the ever present danger posed by long-wall coal mining in the greater catchment.
The above track record has given you the nitty gritty detail. You may also be interested to know that NSW's major environmental organisations have developed a consensus summary assessment of the NSW Government's track record to date, you can find it here.