The new land clearing laws introduced by the NSW Liberal National parties in 2017 that rely on a ‘self assessed land clearing regime’ have been found ineffective in a report released yesterday by the auditor-general for New South Wales.
‘The clearing of native vegetation on rural land is not effectively regulated and managed ,’ states the Auditor-General for New South Wales, Margaret Crawford in the report.
‘The processes supporting the regulatory framework are weak and there is no evidence-based assurance that clearing of native vegetation is carried out in accordance with approvals.’
The report also states that:
- The rules around land clearing may not be responding adequately to environmental risks;
- The amount of land clearing has increased but the latest data is yet to be publicly released;
- There has been no assessment under the Code to gauge whether a thinning or clearing will improve productivity or result in a decline in the condition of the land;
- There is no assessment as to whether selection and management of land set aside for conservation is effectively counter-balancing the impact of land clearing;
- The release of the mapping categorising land has been delayed, limiting landholders’ ability to determine if their plans for clearing are lawful;
- Responses to incidents of unlawful clearing are slow, with few tangible outcomes, and where approvals are given there is limited follow-up to ensure they are complied with; and
- Despite around 1,000 instances of unexplained clearing and more than 500 reports to the environmental hotline each year, with around 300 investigations in progress at any one time, the Government has not commenced a single prosecution under the new laws.
Call to suspend land clearing
Interim opposition leader Penny Sharpe has called for the immediate suspension of the Berejiklian and Barilaro government’s self-assessed land clearing regime after a damning assessment was handed down finding failures at every stage.
Ms Sharpe said in a press release that the findings ‘validate the predictions of scientists and experts when the laws were introduced. Land clearing has increased but there are currently no measures to gauge the extent of any improvement in agricultural productivity, nor any measures to assess success in managing environmental risks.’
200,000 hectares cleared
‘It is alarming that 200,000 hectares of native vegetation has been approved for clearing since the new land-clearing laws commenced in August 2017. There is still no indication of how much was self-assessed or illegally cleared, with OEH (Office of Environment and Heritage) still assessing land clearing from 2017,’ said Byron Shire based ecologist Dailan Pugh.
‘The Auditor General’s report shows that the regulation of land-clearing in NSW is fraught with problems of weak processes, poor assessments, inadequate protection, limited monitoring and poor enforcement.
‘Though the biggest problems are caused by the government’s refusal to release the maps regulating 80 per cent of native vegetation, and the rules that make it hard to reject clearing applications.
‘The NSW government needs to recognise that we are in a climate and extinction emergency and revisit their failed land clearing laws.
‘Retaining and expanding our forests to maximise their take-up and storage of atmospheric carbon is essential if we are to have any chance of avoiding the worst impacts of climate heating.’
Read report online at the audit office of NSW.