Richmond Regional Vegetation Management Plan
Mr GEORGE (Lismore) [5.59 p.m.]: For some time I have been following the progress of the development of the Richmond regional vegetation management plan. The completed plan will affect ratepayers and land users within the Richmond region and will also affect travelling stock routes and reserves under the control and management of the local rural lands protection board. Considerable concern has been expressed by a number of ratepayers and land users that the proposals for the plan currently before the Richmond Regional Vegetation Management Committee threaten to restrict excessively the normal practice of agriculture. Landowners and users have continually expressed their concerns and are particularly apprehensive that the plan will reserve private property from sustainable timber production, often the land's most sustainable long-term use, thus unnecessarily placing the burden of nature conservation on well-managed properties with a good balance of forest cover.
The plan will reduce also the diversification potential of many farms during times of low livestock and commodity prices, thus contributing to a new class of rural poor. Cattle prices are currently good, but in the absence of diversity of income the next price downturn could have a harsh effect on ratepayers and land users. The plan will accelerate the demise of small rural communities by reducing the supply of forest products for processing in those communities and making farms unmanageable because of restrictions on management of land mapped by the Richmond Valley management committee as flood plain. This so-called flood plain has been mapped as far west as Busby's Flat in the Richmond catchment. Such unlikely mapping reduces the credibility of the maps and consequently our faith in the process which uses such maps.
The plan will govern and restrict the grazing of stock in areas of timbered land and native pasture, and regulate the fencing of such land. That has the potential to reduce livestock incomes and take management decisions out of the hands of the landowners, whilst no concomitant reduction in State taxes and charges is contemplated. The plan will force landowners into onerous restrictions on private land coveted by the National Parks and Wildlife Service for wildlife habitat corridors between areas of Crown land. It is felt the corridor concept is based on weak science and unsound assumptions of wildlife behaviour and, consequently, any corridor system on private property or utilising stock routes and reserves should be rejected. It will reduce the autonomy of the rural lands protection board's travelling stock reserve and stock route management. These important reserves are presently well managed, have good timber cover generally and serve a number of important functions.
The rural lands protection board is alarmed at the possibility that the management objectives of the reserve system will be taken from its hands and focused largely on nature conservation to the detriment of its ratepayers. It anticipates the plan will take away the right of farmers to use timber grown on the farm for on-farm uses such as fencing and yard building without first being granted development approval. The revocation of that right presently enjoyed by farmers sends the clear message that the presence of productive native forest on farms is a potential regulatory millstone rather than the present great benefit. I understand that a representative of New South Wales Agriculture has a seat on the Richmond Regional Valley Management Committee and I would appreciate being advised of the official stance and position being pursued by New South Wales Agriculture through its delegate to promote the legitimate interests of farmers and their advancement in the deliberations of the Richmond Regional Valley Management Committee.
The recent completion and signing by the State and Federal governments of the north-east regional forest agreement has allowed for a substantial Crown land reserve system to cater for the needs of nature conservation. Such a reserve system is for the public good and is operated at public expense. It is an unjust impost on ratepayers for further informal reserves and restrictions to be created on private property supposedly for even more public good, but to be operated at the owner's expense. Ratepayers and land users will be affected by the outcome of the Richmond Regional Valley Management Committee's deliberations. I hope and expect that the New South Wales Agriculture representative will work to deliver an outcome that reasonably reflects the needs of agriculture and is just and equitable to all concerned.
Ms NORI (Port Jackson—Minister for Small Business, and Minister for Tourism) [6.04 p.m.]: The Minister's office was advised of the honourable member's contribution, but obviously the Minister has been detained because of his responsibilities concerning the floods. I undertake to ensure these issues are drawn to the Minister's attention.