State Forests Environmental Assessment Program

About this Item
SpeakersCochran Mr Peter; Souris Mr George
BusinessQuestions Without Notice

Mr COCHRAN: I address my question without notice to the Minister for Land and Water Conservation. What is the current status of the environmental assessment program for New South Wales State Forests? Can the Minister provide the House with details of how the Government has improved, and will further enhance, this program?

Mr SOURIS: I thank the honourable member for Monaro for his question, which was well worth waiting for. The environmental impact statement program of State Forests is without doubt the most comprehensive EIS methodology and program in the world.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Port Stephens to order for the second time.

Mr SOURIS: The current program of 15 environmental impact statements involving an expenditure of $15 million over a five-year period -

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Port Stephens to order for the third time.

Mr SOURIS: - started long before the sequence of legislation and decisions that have occurred over the past four to five years, which have an impact on the EIS program. After 10 years the Kempsey-Wauchope EIS has been finally determined by the Minister for Planning. Numerous court decisions have had an impact on the EIS program, particularly the Chaelundi decision. In the past few years legislation introduced included the Timber Industry (Interim Protection) Act, with amendments, including the amendments that will be dealt with in the House in due course; the Endangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Act, again with amendments including, only late last year, a two-year extension of that Act; and other bills have been put before the House by private members.

In addition, there has been the southeast forests agreement between the Commonwealth and the New South Wales governments, the national forest policy statement, the National Resources Audit Council process, and amendments to the National Parks and Wildlife Service Act. The current EIS program has put an end to self-determination of environmental impact statements from State Forests, a greater survey methodology for fauna, a greater legal involvement and a proliferation of the legal process. That has even included third party action and litigation. The Government has been engaged in the development of assessment methodology, particularly by the Department of Planning and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

The national forest policy has had added to it survey requirements, particularly for old growth forests. The refinement of EIS methodology to account for larger areas than were previously anticipated - or which were within the experience of State Forests - has also been a compounding factor in the evolution of the EIS program. The EIS schedule, which was based on optimistic time targets, was nothing more than indicative. The assessment process is taking longer. All this has led to a better assessment process and better environmental outcomes and it represents a cautious and flexible approach by
Page 1215
State Forests. Ultimately, it will lead to superior EIS methodology and work and a better quality outcome by world standards, which will ensure that no environmental compromises are made.

Three of the 15 EISs to which I referred a moment ago have already been determined. One of the remaining 12 relating to the Dorrigo area, which was due in October 1992, has been delayed and is now expected in October 1994. That was one of the first EISs to be dealt with before the new requirements of the Timber Industry (Interim Protection) Act and the Endangered Fauna (Interim Protection) Act. Fauna surveys and the methodology relating to fauna surveys were obviously inadequate and legislative changes were required. Extensive criticism of that EIS led to its withdrawal and required new work to be done, hence the expectation that the assessment will commence after October 1994.

One of the remaining EISs, which is currently being exhibited, is awaiting determination. That leaves 10 EISs. Six of those 10 EISs are expected within one to two years. They have been delayed in the short term because of the more extensive survey work to which I have been referring - survey work required in the field and more stringent methodology. The remaining four EISs are not due under the initial schedule; therefore, they are not considered to have been delayed. Today I am announcing a substantial upgrading of the EIS program. I am announcing a five-point program for the enhancement of our EIS process and its methodology. First, State Forests is working with the National Parks and Wildlife Service to refine endangered fauna survey methods and appropriate management prescriptions to ensure that management does not adversely affect the conservation status of this important group of species. Known or expected occurrences of these animals are set aside from logging, or logging practices are altered to limit impact.

Second, a review of fauna surveys will be undertaken by recognised external experts. Third, an interim process will be developed which will enable State Forests to identify areas of old growth forests and to assess the relative conservation, recreation, aesthetic and archaeological values of those areas. Those assessments will be used to avoid scheduling operations in old growth forests which could have high conservation values, pending a comprehensive statewide assessment to meet national forest policy undertakings. A pilot project which is under way, involving State Forests and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, will be funded by the Natural Resources Audit Council. Fourth, an external review of legal aspects of EISs will be conducted. Finally, a specially developed wildlife training program will be implemented for State Forests staff. State Forests and the Board of State Forests are committed to the highest level of expertise in the EIS program. They are determined to remain at the forefront of world practice.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Bligh to order.