Independent MLC Justin Field has slammed the NSW Government for failing to effectively monitor and enforce their own land clearing and biodiversity rules and has called for a moratorium on all land clearing on private land until the Government can guarantee biodiversity protections will be effectively monitored and enforced.
This call follows the release of a new Performance Audit by the NSW Auditor-General, Margaret Crawford, Managing Native Vegetation that reviewed the management and regulation of land clearing in NSW after new laws were introduced by the Liberal/National Government in 2016.
Alarmingly, the Auditor-General found that ‘clearing of native vegetation on rural land is not effectively regulated and managed because the processes in place to support the regulatory framework are weak’ and that the ‘rules around land clearing may not be responding adequately to environmental risks’.
Crawford also found that “Despite around 1,000 instances of unexplained clearing identified by OEH and over 500 reports to the environmental hotline each year, with around 300 investigations in progress at any one time, there are only two to three prosecutions, three to five remediation orders and around ten penalty notices issued each year for unlawful clearing. Further, OEH is yet to commence any prosecutions under the current legislation which commenced in August 2017.”
Independent MP Justin Field said, “The report shows the Government has failed to adequately monitor and enforce their own rules leaving the state’s threatened plants and animals at risk of errors and deliberate breaches of NSW laws. These laws were a significant watering down of biodiversity protections that many warned would lead to increased land clearing and the loss of important habitat and threatened species. This report proves those warnings to have been accurate. The Government assured the people of NSW they were seeking to balance the interests of landholders with biodiversity protection but the reality is that they are failing to monitor and effectively enforce the already weak protections leaving the state exposed to further loss of critical habitat and a worsening extinction crisis.
Earlier this month media reporting of data obtained under freedom of information laws showed that in the lead up to the new laws being implemented in 2017 land clearing rates in NSW exploded. Over 20,000 hectares, double the average over the previous seven years, was cleared for crops, pasture or thinning in 2016/17.
Mr Field said, “What is clear from this report is that the Government will have little confidence in how much clearing has happened since the laws came into effect because monitoring and compliance is failing. We don’t know how much has been cleared, never mind whether or not it has been done in compliance with the law or impacted on important habitat and or protected areas. This land clearing is not being done by small family farmers. This is big Agribusiness operating in the knowledge that their lobbying efforts were going to pay off through new laws enabling broad scale land clearing on private land with little impediment due to the under resourcing of monitoring and lax compliance. We need to press pause on land clearing until this mess can be sorted out and an effective monitoring and enforcement regime with accurate mapping is put in place,” Mr Field said.
The NSW Legislative Council passed a motion moved by Justin Field calling on the NSW Government to provide an implementation timeline by the end of June 2019 on three critical elements of the land clearing and biodiversity regime including completed vegetation mapping, a process for nominating Areas of Outstanding Biodiversity Value and formation of the Native Vegetation Panel. The NSW Government is yet to respond.