Former Federal Treasurer Dr Ken Henry AO, (and Manning River resident) has delivered a scathing Final Report – “The Independent Financial Review of the Biodiversity Act of 2016” to the NSW Government. 

While the Act has been in operation five years Dr Henry believes it will never meet its obligations. Ecosystems aren’t adequately protected, indeed most are obsolete and no longer fit for purpose.

In an interview on ABC’s Radio National Dr Henry said “environmental considerations have to have primacy” for all governments. He adds that the Intergenerational Report unveiled by the Treasurer this week is an “intergenerational tragedy” for young tax payers, who will be slugged with the burden of an ageing population.

“Because it’s the young people who are going to be the workers of the future,” he said. “People who are weighed down with HECS debt, who are going to have to repay a mountain of public debt, who are dealing with the consequences of climate change … [and] who are facing diminishing prospects of ever being able to afford a home of their own. These poor buggers are also going to be the ones who are facing ever-increasing average rates of income tax.”

Because tax brackets are not indexed to inflation, increases in nominal wages lead to increases in average taxes since a greater proportion of a worker’s pay is pushed into the highest bracket applicable to them. (Known as “bracket creep.”)

In the Review Foreword Dr Henry states –

“We started with the available evidence, consulted widely and reviewed numerous submissions. 

Biodiversity is not being conserved at bioregional or State scale. The diversity and quality of ecosystems is not being maintained, nor is their capacity to adapt to change and provide for the needs of future generations being enhanced. Yet these are the principal purposes of the legislation. 

It is clear to the Review Panel that the operative provisions of the Act are incapable of supporting its objectives. Too much rests upon the operation of other pieces of legislation that have their own, competing, objectives. This has to be addressed. 

 . . . .As has been recognised in many global forums over the past few years, the natural environment is now so damaged that we must commit to ‘nature positive’ if we are to have any confidence that future generations will have the opportunity to be as well off as we are.”

Dr Henry also said Australia’s 30 per cent company tax rate needed to be cut to match the lower levels seen abroad, arguing the current system was effectively a tariff on imported capital.

“One respect in which Australia is quite unique, is that among industrialised countries, we’re the only one that hasn’t cut its company tax rate,” he said. “What’s happened through the course of this century, thus far, is as other countries have been cutting their company tax rate … capital inflow into the Australian economy has been declining.”

Dr Henry speculated the reason why the Treasurer, Dr Chalmers, was unwilling to cut the company tax rate was because it was the main way the federal government collected revenue from the mining sector.

The way to deal with this, Dr Henry says, is to implement a separate system for taxing mining profits. This would give the federal government scope to cut the company tax rate for other sectors of the economy.

The Act Is Not Meeting Its Primary Purpose 

The Review Panel found that the present Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 is not meeting its primary purpose of maintaining a healthy, productive and resilient environment, and is never likely to do so. 

Biodiversity across NSW is at risk from a range of environmental disturbances: 

Clearing of native vegetation, intensifying land use, a growing population and associated infrastructure development has led to the destruction, alteration and fragmentation of habitat across the state. 

The effects of climate change are being felt, and are expected to become more pronounced. Projections show that extreme weather events such as bushfires, droughts, heatwaves, storms and floods will become more frequent and severe throughout NSW. Species and ecosystems are already being impacted, limiting their ability to adapt. 

Weeds are out-competing native plants and taking over large swathes of habitat, disrupting the natural balance of ecosystems and reducing species diversity. 

Feral animals are competing with native wildlife for resources, overgrazing native plants, and preying on native animals. 

Some of the biggest fires in NSW have occurred since 2002. The 2019–20 bushfires had a profound impact on biodiversity. Estimates suggest the fires affected more than 5 million hectares of habitat in NSW. These burnt habitats are more prone to altered fire regimes, particularly large-scale fires that burn at high intensity. 

The state’s major inland river systems continue to be affected by water extraction, altered river flows, loss of connectivity and catchment changes such as altered land use and vegetation clearing. These affect water availability, river health and ecosystem integrity. 

Native forest logging is damaging forest ecosystems and the habitat of native species. 

In summing up, the 62 page Review states that – 

“The interplay of state and national legislation and the roles and responsibilities are complex. In most cases, these intersections do not accord primacy to environmental considerations, and result in outcomes that are not consistent with, and do not support, nature positive outcomes. 

Getting to nature positive will require a whole lot more government actions and accountability. Legislative reform and corresponding changes to administrative arrangements may be required to align relevant Acts with a nature positive outcome.

While not totally comprehensive, the Review Panel identified 57 examples of legislation where intersections impact biodiversity outcomes. 

The full Review makes significant, comprehensive and to most of us, sensible, reading.  One hopes the MidCoast Council (indeed all NSW Councils) read this Review from Dr Henry and his team and take it to heart that times are changing, that there is a new and urgent emphasis in how everyone needs to put nature first if we are to survive.

Profits, greed and brown paper bags will be of no use if we lose nature, wildlife, land, and a living. Your kids and grandchildren will not thank those responsible for playing even the smallest role in the on-going deterioration of nature and our lives. This is a desperate call to make the changes needed to save what we can that’s left. Nature rules. Ask the dinosaurs. 


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