NSW state election 2015: Greens environment policy would halt Whitehaven mine, shooting in national parks

Clear-felling of the Leard Forest. Photo: Dean Sewell
Nanjing Night Net

Whitehaven’s Maules Creek Mine in the Leard State Forest. Photo: Dean Sewell

Leard forest is a ‘key hot spot for national biodiversity’ says NSW Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi. Photo: Ben Rushton

Clear-felling of the Leard Forest. Photo: Dean Sewell

Clear-felling of the Leard Forest. Photo: Dean Sewell

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The Greens would immediately halt clearing of the Leard State Forest – a key battleground for open-cut coal mines – and restore Environment as a standalone department.

The party’s environment policies also include restoring the ban on shooting by amateurs in national parks and re-allocating $19 million funds to combating invasive species. Also on the Greens’ election is restoring full protection to the state’s marine sanctuaries.

“The Leard State Forest is a key hot spot for national biodiversity with old-growth forests, dozens of threatened species and critically endangered ecological communities,” said Mehreen Faruqi, the Greens spokeswoman for the environment, and a candidate for the Legislative Council. “It is not too late to protect them for future generations but we must act now.”

Whitehaven Coal resumed clearing land at its Maules Creek mine in the Leard State Forest this month despite regular efforts by protesters to halt operations.

Andy Paine, a spokesman for the Leard Forest Alliance, welcomed the Greens’ position, noting that Whitehaven had cleared about one-quarter of the 8000 hectares of woodlands it planned to remove. “There’s potential to stop a lot clearing now,” he said.

Dr Faruqi said it was the Greens’ position to phase out coal mines, to be replaced with 100 per cent renewable energy, but the Maules Creek mine was a high priority: “There needs to be an independent process of reviewing and investigating how a mine with such huge ecological impacts was approved in the first place.”

Fairfax Media sought comment from Whitehaven, whose mine has the backing of the Coalition and Labor.

The Greens would legislate to ensure there was no compensation payable to the fossil fuel exploration and mining industry. “Investors have been aware of the huge environmental risks of mining coal and coal seam gas and the potential impact of addressing climate change on their industry for many decades,” Dr Faruqi said.

The party would also halt Santos’s plans for coal seam gas exploration in the Pilliga state forest.

Out of the top 100 achievements recently listed by the Baird government, only three environmental issues made the rankings, she said, adding “the number of environmental failures of the government, however, would fill a whole book”.

Environment in the Baird government is a junior ministry to Planning, a subordinate role that the Greens would reverse to put environmental protection, climate change and ecologically sustainable development “front and centre” in government decision-making, Dr Faruqi said.

“If the Baird-O’Farrell government can establish a standalone [Environment Protection Authority] due to unacceptable pollution incidents, then why not a stronger standalone national parks defender, given the growing pressures from hunters, loggers and graziers to access these precious areas?” said Keith Muir of the Colong Foundation.

The Greens would also make transparent the process of identifying high-conservation areas for priority protection in the national park estates.

One priority would be to ensure protection of the Gardens of Stone Stage 2 region of the Blue Mountains near Lithgow. The area is known for its hidden canyons and spectacular stone formations, and has been threatened by coal-mine development.

Kate Smolski, chief executive of the Nature Conservation Council, said that while the Greens had set the benchmark for nature conservation, the election platform “does not respond fully to all the threats nature faces in NSW”.

“What we need is a comprehensive environmental program that includes reform of the planning and mining approvals system, and strong policies to protect water and wildlife,” Ms Smolski said.

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