Australia and New South Wales have been exposed once again as environmental destroyers. We are the only developed nation on the World Wildlife Fund's 2021 world list of deforestation hotspots, with eastern Australia named and shamed alongside Colombia, Peru, Laos and Mozambique. This should not come as a surprise. Land clearing in New South Wales has risen nearly 60 per cent since this Government relaxed our native vegetation protection laws in 2017. Now there are 980 threatened species and over 100 threatened ecological communities here in New South Wales. We are losing biodiversity at an alarming rate and Australia now has one of the highest rates of extinction in the world, yet this Government is refusing to act.
Good outcomes for animals and the environment clearly are not being achieved under the current laws. Assessing and listing threatened species is not good enough, because a lot of the time that is all we are doing. Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, there is no requirement to implement a species recovery plan or to report on progress and the outcomes achieved. Where plans are made, they generally are not backed by the necessary action to implement them. Under these arrangements our failures have been made abundantly clear. The list of threatened species and communities has increased over time and very few species have recovered to the point that they can be removed from the list. Koalas are a key example of this. These iconic animals continue to face extinction in New South Wales because of the Government's ongoing failure to take action.
Nine years ago koalas were listed as a vulnerable species requiring a recovery plan, which was supposed to be developed and commence in 2014. Now, in 2021, there still is no recovery plan for koalas. There is not even a threat abatement plan for koalas. Their populations continue to decline. Why? Because developers can still clear what little remains of koala habitat. While they may be required to "offset" what has been lost, government audits have found environmental offset programs often have been ineffective and have worsened the plight of endangered species. To make matters worse, in New South Wales offsets can just involve paying an additional fee. The Black Summer bushfires took a devastating toll on koalas. Approximately one‑third of koalas living in New South Wales were killed, and up to 70 per cent of the North Coast population was wiped out. The scale of loss is now understood to be so high that koala populations may now be upgraded from vulnerable to endangered. I say it again: Koalas face extinction in New South Wales.
Yet recently this Government has taken another step backward on koala protection. After finally updating the 25‑year‑old State Environmental Planning Policy for koalas in early 2020 to include improvements for koala protections, the Government then undercut any positive change this may have achieved for koalas by introducing the Local Land Services (Miscellaneous) Bill. This bill was referred to as the "koala killer" bill for a reason: It watered down the definition of "core koala habitat" and enabled land clearing for the majority of agribusiness without any provisions or restrictions. Thanks to the brave actions of the Hon. Catherine Cusack and her ongoing commitment to koala protection, the bill did not pass. But with the Government now reverting to a 25‑year‑old policy that continues to provide little protection for koalas, something needs to urgently change.
I say to this Government: Any new policy developed in 2021 must put in place genuine protections for koala habitat. Our failure to protect these animals cannot continue. Last week nearly 100 community members stood outside Parliament and tied messages to the fence line begging the Premier to protect these animals. Koalas have a right to survive. By creating the Great Koala National Park, ending native forest logging and ending the clearing of koala habitat for agriculture, mining and urban development, we can ensure they do. It is time the members of this House acknowledged other species' intrinsic value and their right to exist. What is faced by koalas is not unique. The Bellinger River snapping turtle, northern and southern corroboree frog, regent honeyeater, beach stone‑curlew and long‑footed potoroo are just some species facing a similar fate. We must act before animals become endangered and we must intervene to prevent extinction, because their lives should not be an afterthought. Their extinction and their suffering is caused by us.