The state government’s controversial plan to make it easier for landowners to rid their land of native vegetation will lead to indiscriminate logging and land clearing, according to north coast environmentalists.
Conservation groups across NSW have slammed the announcement on Friday by deputy premier and NSW Nationals leader, Andrew Stoner, that the Native Vegetation Act, the Threatened Species Conservation Act and related biodiversity legislation would be ‘comprehensively’ overhauled.
NSW Farmers have welcomed the move as simplifying current legislation, but state Labor says land clearing is the single greatest threat to the biodiversity of NSW.
The North East Forest Alliance (NEFA) described it as ‘a black day for north east NSW’s native forests and woodlands and the future of our precious native flora and fauna’.
NEFA spokesperson, Dailan Pugh, said it amounted to a winding back of protections for native vegetation and an imminent ‘gutting’ of protections for threatened species.
The laws are regarded as vital in tackling soil erosion, salinity and greenhouse gas emissions and protecting threatened species.
Mr Pugh told Echonetdaily the government was intent on totally discarding protection for native plants and animals ‘by allowing the bush to be logged and thinned without constraint and to facilitate its clearing for agriculture’.
He said exemptions would be expanded to allow logging or, as the government puts it, ‘thinning of native vegetation’, removal of paddock trees and clearing of older regrowth.
‘When combined with the slashing of environmental protections allowed in council plans and the proposed removal of the environment from the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, it is a blueprint for open slather on our native bush and its inhabitants,’ he said.
‘To complete their environmental vandalism the NSW government has announced it is next going to overhaul the Threatened Species Conservation Act and the fauna and flora provisions of the National Parks and Wildlife Act. They don’t want to let threatened species stand in the way of their assault on NSW’s natural environment.
‘Contrary to environment minister Robyn Parker’s denials, these changes are all about winding back environmental protections and returning to the bad old days of indiscriminate logging and land clearing’.
Mr Stoner told a state Nationals’ conference in Bathurst that rules on land clearing under the former government had become ‘a patchwork of laws that is fragmented, rigid and overly complex and which has had the perverse effect of limiting both environmental and economic outcomes’.
He has based his overhaul on recommendations contained in a report on native vegetation management by an agricultural consultant released last week.
NSW Farmers president Fiona Simpson said the overhaul would ‘form the basis of achieving truly balanced legislation’.
Richmond Valley Council mayor Ernie Bennett said the laws and red tape surrounding land management had restricted people in what they could do.
Cr Bennett told APN Media most people ‘believe that if they have freehold title they believe they can make their own decisions’ but admitted that in the past there had been some overclearing of native vegetation.
Total Environment Centre executive director Jeff Angel told the Sydney Morning Herald it was a ‘massive loosening’ of native vegetation laws and the O’Farrell government was ‘taking guidance from the environmental vandals in Queensland, just doing it slower’.
Mr Angel said a farmer will now only need to alert the local catchment management authority of any plans to clear vegetation.
Labor environment spokesman Luke Foley told the SMH ‘these remaining areas of bush are the last refuge for our native animals in the vast sea of cleared agricultural land’.
Minister Parker said the changes meant farmers would be able to ‘self-assess many of their proposed low-impact clearing activities and will have access to a wider range of exemptions’.
Greens environment spokeswoman Cate Faehrmann said the government’s ‘anti-environment cowboys in the National Party are hell-bent on winding back all laws that protect the environment’.
Meanwhile, Save North Coast Nature (SNCN) is urging northern rivers residents to make a submission by 28 June on the government’s proposed new planning system as it was ‘vital the government hears people’s concerns about these regressive reforms’.
SNCN spokesman Andy Baker told Echonetdaily the new system ‘threatens to undermine community consultation, our natural environment and the amenity of our local neighbourhoods in the name of fast-tracking development’.
Mr Baker said proposed changes include: 80 per cent of all development in NSW will be assessed with no community consultation and little environmental assessment; the community will only have 28 days to comment on major strategic planning documents and state significant development proposals; and important environment protection zones will be removed.
He said the Nature Conservation Council’s submission guide (see online) would help those making submissions.