The impacts of our failing national environment laws are being felt in every corner of Australia.
Previously we looked at case studies in the ACT and SA where wildlife has had to pay the price for our ineffective laws.
Below, we highlight two more devastating examples of our broken environment laws in NSW and NT.
Right now in the halls of Parliament, there is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for reform of our national environment protection framework and a chance for Australia to prove that we can learn from our mistakes.
Learn more by reading below and check back in as we explore the places we love across the country and the urgent need for reform to protect them.
Bulga Forest, located in the Mid North Coast region of New South Wales, is a place of exceptional environmental significance, beauty and cultural value for First Peoples. It is home to amazing wildlife like koalas, spotted tail quolls, greater gliders, and 76 other threatened species. The forest forms part of the water catchment area for the nearby towns of Port Macquarie, Wauchope, Taree and Wingham.
The Black Summer bushfires nearly destroyed it all. But three years on, locals say they can see signs of regrowth among the surviving public native forests and animals still calling it home.
Despite the forest providing critical habitat for threatened species, the NSW government has allowed its Forestry Corporation to decimate the forest for woodchips, pallets, floorboards and firewood. This loss-making industry is subsidised by the taxpayer to the tune of millions of dollars every year – even though it risks irreparable damage to ecosystems, is clearly unsustainable, and offers almost no economic benefit.
Through the concerted efforts of community groups in the area like Save Bulga Forest, the NSW Conservation Council and The Wilderness Society, logging in the area has been ‘suspended’ but it can be revoked at any time.
Native forest logging covered by Regional Forest Agreements is exempt from the EPBC Act – no assessment or approval is required.
In the face of worsening climate and biodiversity crises, this loophole must be closed. Public native forests must be protected. They are carbon sinks – meaning they absorb more carbon from the atmosphere than they release – and are home to many vulnerable and threatened species. Native forest logging should be required to comply with national environmental laws and standards like every other industry.
We need to preserve what’s left, by ending the exemption of native forest logging from national environmental laws, tackling habitat loss through broadscale land clearing, and providing better protection of threatened species habitat.
With that protection in place, and strong legal enforcement, we can ensure native public forests are protected, and alongside them, the homes of endangered animals like the koala and the greater glider.
Habitat destruction is the primary driver of extinction in Australia; impacting 60% of our threatened species. Over half of Australia has already been cleared and in light of the extinction crisis, it’s hard to imagine how anyone could possibly think new greenfield development is a good idea - or how our environment laws could possibly approve it.
In 2019 a project at Lee Point near Darwin was approved under our national environment laws. The approval would have allowed 131 hectares of critical habitat to be cleared. A number of threatened species are found here, including the Gouldian finch, Black-footed tree-rat, and the Darwin Cycad. The project was proposed by Defence Housing Australia (DHA), a statutory body with a history of proposing development over sensitive environmental habitat including critically endangered grasslands in the ACT and sensitive Koala habitat in Queensland.
For decades the broader community has fought to protect the area of Lee Point. In recent years, the community ran a relentless campaign to push back against the proposal, but despite the environment minister herself acknowledging significant risks associated with the project to the endangered Gouldian finch, it was reassessed and reapproved again in 2023. Shortly after the reapproval, bulldozers descended upon the site and were met by a blockade of protesters, resulting in the loss of important habitat and 15 arrests.
In the following days, Senior Danggalaba Kulumbirigin Larrakia people took bold action against the project by making an emergency application for works to be halted due to impacts on cultural heritage. This application was made under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 – not our national environment laws.
Following this emergency application, other Larrakia Families came out publicly in support of Saving Binybara/Lee Point. Works were paused for nine months until March 2024, but the future of the area remains uncertain.
The fact that the proposal was assessed and approved under our national environment laws twice, despite the significant impact on cultural heritage and the environment, demonstrates the holes in our national environment laws.
This case highlights the enormous burden that is placed on First Peoples when our laws are broken. Tireless work has been put into the current campaign to protect Binybara as the community has appealed and re-appealed for protection of the important area.
Questions remain regarding the evidentiary basis of the decision and the release of the statement of reasons is well overdue. But if it wasn't for the bravery of Larrakia people over the last century and the local community in the last few decades, century old trees would have been cleared under the EPBC Act and everybody would still be waiting for the reasons why it was allowed.
We urgently need new nature laws that respect and acknowledge the knowledge and aspirations of Australia’s First Nations and ensure that their rights and interests are recognised.