VOICES FOR THE EARTH: Biodiversity reforms to ‘cut red tape’

THE first of the NSW Government's biodiversity reforms went on public exhibition on May 3 for eight weeks. These proposed new laws are to replace other legislation including the Native Vegetation Act 2003 and the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995.

The draft Biodiversity Conservation Bill and the draft Local Land Services Amendment Bill are the first parts of the reform package to be released.

The stated purpose of the reforms is to "cut red tape, facilitate ecologically sustainable development and conserve biodiversity across NSW".

The cutting of red tape purpose is the result of the National Party promise to farmers that they would repeal the Native Vegetation Act. The new rules will specify a system of self-regulation for farmers wanting to clear land - a system that the Government says will provide them with greater flexibility.

Self-regulation is a mantra of government in the 21st century. It may be inspired by the desire to cut red tape for consumers as well as cutting costs for government agencies or, as a cynic may suspect, to allow "open slather" where there is usually very little checking by government agencies of whether the letter or spirit of the law is being met.

Whatever the Government's motive, self-regulation is wide-open to abuse.

Whether the new system will "facilitate ecologically sustainable development and conserve biodiversity" is very doubtful.

Conservationists believe that the Government's proposed changes to land clearing will endanger more species and lead to further carbon emissions.

There is concern that there will be increased clearing. We could see a similar devastation of native vegetation to that occurring in Queensland following the Newman Government's weakened clearing laws. Almost 300,000 hectares of bushland were cleared there in 2013-14.

According to NSW Environment Minister Mark Speakman this won't happen because there will be "a wider range of checks and balances in place to make sure that what we might have seen in Queensland does not happen in NSW."

The checks and balances will need to be carefully designed and properly funded.

Leonie Blain Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition



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