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Byron Shire
June 4, 2023

Legal centre warns of govt’s push for QLD-style land clearing

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Critics are worried that changes to laws that protect native plants and animals in NSW could lead to land clearing and habitat destruction. (file pic)
Critics are worried that changes to laws that protect native plants and animals in NSW could lead to land clearing and habitat destruction. (file pic)

Hans Lovejoy

‘A serious retrograde step for biodiversity’, is how lawyers from public interest environmental law centre, EDO NSW, have described proposed sweeping changes to the state’s environmental protection laws.

And to have your say, you had better get in quickly – public submissions close Tuesday June 28.

As part of statewide public meetings, EDO NSW lawyers Nina Lucas and Emily Ryan presented to a well- attended audience on Friday at the Byron Bay Community Centre. Nature Conservation Council campaign director Daisy Barham also spoke.

Despite its name, the Biodiversity Conservation Bill appears aimed at anything but conserving biodiversity, with EDO saying major checks and balances have been replaced with ill-defined and relaxed rules.

It’s designed to replace the Native Vegetation Act 2003, Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, the Nature Conservation Trust Act 2001 and parts of the National Parks & Wildlife Act 1974.

A Local Land Services Amendment Bill is also proposed, as are land clearing codes.

But according to NSW government ministers, the aim is to get a balance between species and ecological decline and ‘improving farm productivity’ by cutting red tape for landowners to clear their property.

On May 3, 2016, minister for the environment, Mark Speakman (Liberal), told the NSW parliament that the Bills ‘are not conflicting objectives if things are done smartly and more strategically.’

Mr Speakman argued, ‘Too much red tape alienates the very people whose co-operation is essential for great biodiversity outcomes.’

He says the package will include ‘$240 million over five years for private land conservation, with another $70 million each year after that.’

And minister for primary industries, Niall Blair (Nationals), told parliament in June 2015 that the laws that Labor introduced, ‘have failed’.

Mr Blair said, ‘For almost two decades, those laws have unfairly placed the burden of biodiversity protection solely on the shoulders of our farming community.’

Laws not broken

But Ms Lucas and EDO disagree with the government’s rationale that the current laws are ‘broken’, and instead suggest the system worked well before funding that assisted native vegetation rehabilitation was cut.

Ms Lucas says that since the Native Vegetation Act 2003 came into force, ‘land clearing has reduced from up to 21,500 ha per year to 11,000 ha per year.

‘Funding cuts to catchment management authorities after the initial four-year investment in Property Vegetation Plans (PVPs) caused delays in land clearing approvals and making property vegetation plans.’

Ms Lucas referred to materials that are available on www.edonsw.org.au.

‘The Act is also underpinned by a scientific Environmental Outcomes Assessment Methodology (EOAM) that ensures not just biodiversity, but soil, salinity and water impacts of clearing are scientifically assessed.’


EDO say the proposed Local Land Services Amendment Bill would replace the Native Vegetation Act 2003 and its assessment methodology with four new self-assessable codes: management, efficiency, equity and farm planning.

‘[It] allows significant amounts of clearing, even in endangered ecological communities. The codes assume that landholders have ecological expertise to determine their own code-based clearing, and they allow landholders to set aside areas that might be managed or replanted to justify clearing elsewhere on the property.’

A Land Use Map is also proposed to determine whether land clearing rules apply.

EDO say they are most concerned with category two, which allows self-assessment for land-clearing.

‘There are no clear environmental baselines, aims or targets,’ they say. ‘There is no ban on broad-scale clearing, no mandatory soil, water and salinity assessment, and no “maintain-or-improve” standard to ensure environmental outcomes.’

‘QLD provides clear evidence of what can happen when clearing laws are relaxed. It has been estimated that there was a huge pulse of 275,000ha of land clearing after QLD’s land-clearing laws were relaxed in 2013–14.’

But the minister for the environment, Mark Speakman, refutes any claim the reform is a move to the QLD model. He told parliament in May, ‘Unlike QLD, we have this massive investment in private land conservation, this massive investment in saving our species. In addition, we have strong caps – both area and time – on clearing.’

The Bill’s offsetting regulation is also of concern, say EDO. ‘Offsets’ compensate the loss of biodiversity with development or clearing. EDO claims the government has ‘opted to base its reforms on the tool with arguably the weakest offset standards.’

Pay for extinction

Another major concern is how, under the proposal, developers could make a single payment into an offset trust fund to address ecological extinction. ‘This puts the burden of avoiding extinction on the trust money without stopping to find out if that is actually possible through offsetting.’

n Public comment on the reforms close June 28. Visit www.landmanagement.nsw.gov.au/have-your-say.

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