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March 3, 2024

Ballina adopts Biodiversity Strategy, but…

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Ballina biodiversity pushed to the edge? Photo David Lowe.

At its last meeting, Ballina Shire Council adopted the Biodiversity Strategy which has been on exhibition recently, but there were questions about whether it was a purely aspirational document, or would mean anything on the ground without adequate funding.

Cr Rod Bruem described the diversity plan as a wonderful document. ‘It’s scary in terms of the number of endangered species we have in our shire that we need to protect, and I hope that this policy will go a long way towards addressing it,’ he said.

Cr Rod Bruem. Photo David Lowe.

Cr Bruem said he hoped that, ‘over time, we will be able to make the savings that we need to make within council so that it can be properly implemented.’

Cr Phil Meehan was concerned about funding of the strategy, having identified some fine print in the document which he felt left the door open to a future special rate variation to support biodiversity, but said he had since had his concerns allayed by staff.

General Manager Paul Hickey reiterated that the idea was to fund the strategy ‘over time’, from existing resources, and hopefully also new government grants.

Cr Kiri Dicker responded by saying she would vote against the adoption of the strategy in this form. ‘I think what I can see happening here is that this council is passing a biodiversity strategy that is underfunded – and will unlikely achieve much of what’s contained within it – and then simultaneously, systematically eroding the real legal protections that allow us to actually protect biodiversity,’ she said.

‘It’s particularly dangerous because it gives the impression to the community that we care about biodiversity, and I’m not that convinced that we actually do.’

Ballina Cr Kiri Dicker. Photo David Lowe.


Cr Dicker said that together with the failure of Ballina Council to accept Conservation Zones, ‘There’s a risk that this strategy is a facade and that it makes it look like we’re doing something when we’re not.’

Arguing that the strategy was seriously under-resourced, Cr Dicker said, ‘I suspect it’s mostly just going to be unimplemented, and something that we trot out at various things because it looks pretty and it’s got great artwork… but that’s not going to do much for all the threatened species and the low percentage of vegetation cover in the shire.’

Mayor Cadwallader then gave her usual speech regarding budget items she doesn’t regard as a priority, saying ‘we’ve got to live within our means, councillors.’ She said Ballina Council had a ‘good track record of biodiversity protection.’

Cr Simon Chate said he would be supporting the strategy, with caveats, noting that Ballina Shire had the lowest coverage of native vegetation of any LGA on the NSW North Coast.

Ballina Cr Simon Chate. Photo David Lowe.

‘Ballina is being asked to put in place a biodiversity strategy that will formally prioritise preservation and protection of our environment; our threatened wildlife and its habitat,’ he said.

‘We’re being asked to make this a focal point for our council, in alignment with our community’s clearly stated desire to continue living in this beautiful environment.’

Cr Chate went on to say, ‘The biodiversity strategy is not about rezoning private land… it seeks to promote understanding of our shire’s biodiversity values and clarify actions that contribute to conserving and enhancing our biodiversity for future generations.’

After talking about the local endangered species in need of additional protection, Cr Chate said, ‘I would like to have seen this with more teeth.’

He noted that other jurisdictions, such as Sunshine Coast Council, had spent significantly more on similar strategies, via a modest environmental levy, but said he would rather see any plan than none at all.

Ballina Cr. Jeff Johnson. Photo David Lowe.


Cr Jeff Johnson said it wasn’t correct to say that Ballina Council couldn’t afford to fund the strategy properly, noting that reserves had doubled to $100 million since the time that he had become a councillor, with recent interest rate rises pouring more money into council coffers.

GM Paul Hickey said all of this money had already been allocated.

Cr Johnson then moved an amendment to secure extra funding for the Biodiversity Strategy immediately, to which Mayor Cadwallader responded with laughter.

Cr Kiri Dicker thanked Cr Johnson for the idea, saying, ‘I’m just so angry and fed up that I couldn’t even think of a proper amendment. So I think that this is getting us a little bit closer.’

In terms of money, she said, ‘We do all sorts of things that rarely raise an eyebrow. But when it comes to biodiversity, we’re just not interested. I can’t stress enough what an existential threat biodiversity loss is. What are we here for if we’re not going to take urgent action? It’s worth every cent.’

After some debate, Cr Johnson’s amendment was defeated, but it was mentioned that there would be a quarterly update built into the biodiversity strategy, to track its progress, or otherwise.

Missingham Bridge
Bridge to a better future for Ballina’s environment? Photo David Lowe.

Cr Chate still hoping for SRV

Cr Simon Chate said, ‘Ideally, I’d like to see a 1 per cent special rate variation. I’m not going to do anything about that today.

‘But at the cost of $11 a year to the average resident, it’s $2.75 per quarter. And as we know, 75 per cent of the people who responded to the biodiversity exhibition also said that they’d be happy to contribute financially.’

GM Hickey clarified that the intention of staff was that $2 million would be allocated to the Biodiversity Strategy over a ten year period, if the money could be found.

The Ballina Shire Biodiversity Strategy was ultimately adopted by all councillors apart from Cr Dicker, making it official policy.

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  1. Not many residents of Ballina Shire necessarily agree that Ballina Council has a good record of biodiversity protection. They have a very small number of amazing staff who do what they can but their total capacity is well below what is needed to protect and repair our natural assets from the twin pressures of tourism and population growth. Our Council promotes our natural assets to attract tourism and commercial operations but overall invests very little in maintaining or enhancing them. Unfortunately this current Council term is characterised by an increase in decisions that put pressure on these assets and a decrease in decisions that protect or enhance them.


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