‘Line in the sand’: NSW Labor plans blitz to undo environmental ‘mess’ (Sydney Morning Herald)

Peter Hannam, SMH

A Labor government in NSW would expand national parks to protect koalas, curb feral horses, and step up climate change action including setting a target to source half the state’s electricity from renewables by 2030.

A Climate Change Summit would be called within the first year of a Daley-led government to determine the best pathways to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. The gathering would inform a Climate Change Act to drive the transition, including the setting of interim goals for 2025, Labor said in a statement.

The burst of election policies, announced on Thursday, was generally welcomed by environment groups, although several called for an immediate moratorium of deforestation of koala habitat to arrest a rapid drop in the numbers of the much-loved marsupial.

“NSW doesn’t have another four years to waste to take real action on climate change and to arrest the biodiversity crisis in the state,” Penny Sharpe, Labor’s deputy leader and environment spokeswoman, said. “This really is the line in the sand.”

Among the announcements, a Daley Labor government if elected on March 23, would expand the Tomaree National Park to increase koala protection near Port Stephens, and create a new national park between Glenfield and Appin where a healthy colony of the animal is at risk from new housing on Sydney’s south-western edge.

Labor would oppose plans by the Berejiklian government to raise the Warragamba Dam wall that would flood some 50 square kilometres of the Blue Mountains World Heritage National Park, and would renegotiate the purchase of the Radiata Plateau to fold into the park.

It would also stick with plans to nominate the Royal National Park for World Heritage listing and block the government’s plan to drive the proposed F6 motorway through part of the area.

One protection that would be removed, though, would be that of feral horses in the Kosciuszko National Park. Labor would repeal the controversial Wild Horse Heritage Act introduced in 2018.

Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton, though, dismissed the proposals as Labor’s “latest round of recycled environmental announcements”. These fell short of the government’s achievements including the range of programs paid for by the $1.4 billion Climate Change Fund.

“It has all the appearances of a hastily cobbled together series of statements rather than a state-wide strategy”, she said.

‘Urgent action needed’
Labor is hoping its environment policies will strike a chord with an electorate concerned by climate change if polls are any guide.

“The largest emissions cuts would be available in the electricity sector, where there is the most mature, available and affordable technology,” Adam Searle, Labor’s climate and energy spokesman, said.

Environmental groups applauded the ALP’s plan to expand protected regions and reverse loosened land-clearing laws that anecdotal evidence suggests has led to a rise in vegetation loss. The government hasn’t released land-clearing figures for years.

Labor’s proposal for a taskforce of scientists, conservationists and farmers to recommend laws “capable of stopping deforestation”, however, lacks urgency, the Nature Conservation Council said.

“Our koalas can’t wait for another taskforce because hundreds of hectares of koala habitat are being bulldozed every month,” Kate Smolski, the council’s chief executive, said.

“The crisis faced by nature in NSW requires an immediate moratorium on destruction of koala forests and other threatened species habitat, and a rapid end to logging of our public native forests.”

Lyndon Schneiders, the Wilderness Society’s national campaign director, said 99 per cent of the habitat that was on private land was unprotected, and the animal could be extinct in the wild by mid-century.

Labor would also back tighter air quality standards but omitted a commitment to extending the so-called Load-Based Licensing scheme to include coal mines.

“We are unaware of any justification for this blanket exemption that allows coal mines to emit ever-increasing amounts of particle pollution and other pollutants,” James Whelan, a campaigner for Environmental Justice Australia, said.

Labor will release costings of its plans when they are fully unveiled, Ms Sharpe said.

This article was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald.

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