Natural Resources Commission Bill
Native Vegetation Bill
Catchment Management Authorities Bill
The Hon. MICHAEL COSTA (Minister for Transport Services, Minister for the Hunter, and Minister Assisting the Minister for Natural Resources (Forests)) [8.43 p.m.]: I move:
That these bills be now read a second time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
On 15 October the Government announced that natural resource management in New South Wales was to undergo a series of historic changes following the recommendations of the Native Vegetation Reform Implementation Group Chaired by Ian Sinclair.
Today I am proud to introduce three bills that cement these historic reforms in place. These bills, taken as a whole, launch a new era in natural resource management in this State.
Many community groups and individuals, some of them traditional adversaries, have worked together to develop the basis for the proposals in these bills. I thank them for their efforts, and today I am rewarding their hard work by introducing three bills that embody their proposals and deliver genuine improvements to natural resource management in New South Wales.
I record here, my thanks to:
And, in particular, the Right Honourable Ian Sinclair, for his wisdom and stewardship in these matters. All of these people have worked with commitment and common sense. They have produced a good result. We can deliver what they have asked for.
• create an independent Natural Resources Commission to make recommendations on natural resource management standards and targets, audit the performance of the Catchment Management Authorities, report on the achievement of targets and carry out inquiries;
• create 13 locally-driven Catchment Management Authorities (CMAs) to deliver natural resource management programs at the catchment level; and
• introduce the changes to native vegetation management that are at the heart of the Sinclair Plan to end broadscale land clearing and give greater certainty to farmers and industry in their various and numerous activities.
The Natural Resources Commission Bill provides the foundations for a move away from the conflict that historically goes with the natural resource debate, to a professional, outcomes-based approach to natural resource management.
Under this new approach, for the first time, we will have clear targets for the condition of our natural resources. This means we can track our progress and know when we have achieved our goals.
To begin this new approach, the Bill establishes the Commission as a statutory, independent body, along the lines of the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, and provides that the NRC may conduct inquiries and provide advice on specific issues as directed by the Government.
The NRC will help the Government to establish targets and standards for natural resource management based on the best available scientific, economic and social information, and to monitor progress towards those targets.
The Premier will oversee the NRC but delegate its day to day operations to the Minister for Natural Resources.
The CMA Bill establishes 13 new regional authorities to replace 72 existing natural resource management committees. This will allow local communities a more direct say in key decisions on how their natural resources are managed.
By removing a lot of process and bureaucracy, we can a better focus on results and performance.
These new authorities will be key landscape managers in their local areas, doing day to day administration and delivery of natural resource management programs.
The CMAs will develop comprehensive catchment action plans that consolidate and build on the existing native vegetation plans and catchment blueprints and incorporate other issues over time. They will also provide me with an annual implementation program that lists the activities that will be undertaken each year and how much they will cost.
The Bill provides that CMAs will be governed by a skills-based Board and a General Manager. They are expected to employ 10 to 15 staff.
The role of CMAs is to set targets for their region and ensure the funds available to them are delivered to projects that achieve those targets.
The intention of these new arrangements for catchment management is to:
ensure smoother and faster delivery of natural resources funding to regional communities, particularly those funds from the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality and the Natural Heritage Trust;
provide CMAs with block funding of the plans they have prepared so they can get on with delivering those funds to the community; and streamline the current complex committee structure.
The Native Vegetation Bill replaces the Native Vegetation Conservation Act 1997. It:
has objects that reflect the Government's commitment to end broadscale clearing and maintain productive landscapes;
delivers the Sinclair Report's standard definitions for native vegetation, regrowth and protected regrowth that will end broadscale clearing;
provides the practicality and flexibility for continuation of routine agricultural management activities; and
establishes a new consent process for native vegetation management based on property vegetation plans.
The Bill provides for agreed definitions for terms that that have been a constant source of contention for years, such as:
• Remnant native vegetation;
• Protected regrowth; and
• Broadscale clearing.
The Bill provides for a new system to support landholders to voluntarily develop individual or group Property Vegetation Plans or PVPs. The primary benefits of the new system include:
• giving to farmers the opportunity and flexibility to take the initiative to develop a plan for the whole property;
• the opportunity to link plans at the property level to the catchment action plans developed by regional communities.
• new development consent rules that end broadscale clearing but allow flexibility for farmers to continue routine agricultural management practices.
Together these three bills create a new system based on statewide targets, regional plans to achieve those targets and new rules for the management of native vegetation.
This system will move us away from the 'argy bargy style conflict' that has historically accompanied the natural resource debate, to a professional, outcomes-based approach to natural resource management.
This new system seeks to clarify and separate the complementary, but separate, roles of Government, its agencies, Catchment Management Authorities, the independent Natural Resources Commission and the non-government stakeholders who will be represented through a new Natural Resource Advisory Council.
The new model is driven by the recognition that there must be a clear separation of responsibilities and roles. In the past, these lines of separation were blurred. In their simplest form, under the new structure:
• Government remains the key source of policy and direction;
• the NRC independently advises on standards and targets and reports on progress towards targets;
• the Advisory Council clearly articulates the positions of key stakeholders to the Government; and
• CMAs deliver programs and outcomes on the ground either in their own right or potentially in partnership with other local organisation such as local councils and land care groups.
By identifying and separating these linked and complementary roles we have created accountability. We will now know what we are trying to achieve, whose job it is to achieve it and if we are on track to get there.
I now turn to each of the bills.
NATURAL RESOURCES COMMISSION BILL
This Bill, concerns the establishment of the Natural Resources Commission.
One thing is clear about natural resource management, there will always be argument and debate. Debate about the size of problems, the cause of problems and solutions to problems. This debate is healthy but we must also take action, otherwise the problems will simply continue to grow and fester.
That is why the vital thing about the new Commission, is its independence. The importance of this cannot be overstated: the Commission's capacity as an independent body to make recommendations to Government, based on an impartial assessment of all the issues, is absolutely integral to the success of our new model of integrated natural resource management.
It is imperative that the Commission is recognised and acknowledged for its independence, and that it can be relied upon by all the stakeholders in the natural resources debate to consider the facts, and weigh them fairly. The NRC will be able to seek all the advice it requires, it will be able to call on data and information from inside and outside Government, it will be able to integrate this information and then deliver its recommendations to the Government.
Another means for ensuring the independence of the Commission is the requirement that its reports will be made public. They will be in the public domain, and it will be incumbent on Government to respond to them.
A core responsibility of the Commission is to recommend to the Government natural resource targets and standards based on the best available scientific, economic and social information. The Catchment Management Authorities will translate these statewide targets into regional targets, and the CMAs and other organisations will design and implement programs to achieve those regional targets. The Commission will then audit those programs, report on their effectiveness and report on progress towards the statewide targets adopted by the Government.
In addition to recommending standards and targets the Bill provides that the NRC may conduct inquiries and provide advice on specific issues as directed by the Government.
Prior to this Bill, the Government was advised and assisted on natural resource management issues by a number of committees made up of government and non-government stakeholders. These committees were:
• Resource and Conservation Assessment Council
• Coastal Council
• Healthy Rivers Commission
• State Catchment Management Coordinating Committee
• Native Vegetation Advisory Council
• Water Advisory Council
• State Wetlands Advisory Council
• State Weir Review Committee
• Advisory Council on Fisheries Conservation
• Fisheries Resource Conservation and Assessment Council
For the most part, these committees focused on a particular aspect of natural resource management, and advised the Government on those aspects. Some committees had particular statutory functions under acts and other instruments.
Where necessary and appropriate, these functions will be subsumed by the Natural Resources Commission. Otherwise, their functions are taken over by the Natural Resources Advisory Council, which I will discuss shortly.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the members and chairs of these bodies and the staff that assisted them. All these bodies have assisted the Government for many years and the Natural Resources Commission will now be able to build on their work.
In addition, the following bodies will be transferred to the NRC:
• New South Wales Scientific Committee
• Fisheries Scientific Committee
• Biological Diversity Advisory Council
They will retain their existing legislative responsibilities pending a review of the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995.
The Coastal Council, made up of government and non-government representatives and chaired by Professor Bruce Thom, is good example of the work done by these organisations. It has been ably advising the Government on coastal management issues for a number of years. The Natural Resources Commission will not in any way diminish our focus on the coast, rather we recognise the fundamental links between coastal issues and the myriad of other natural resource issues.
By taking a more integrated approach to natural resource management we will be able to respond far more effectively to coastal protection and the issues addressed by the other advisory bodies.
We recognise that there are particular problems associated with particular issues. In the case of coastal development, problems which arise from the rapidly increasing urbanisation of our coastal regions. These problems will continue to receive our attention.
What the Commission can add to coastal management, and the other natural resource issues, is its distinctive powers, resources and independence. In every instance I see the Commission adding focus to each of these issues not reducing it.
That is the whole purpose of integrated natural resource management—not to diminish the importance of individual elements, but to realise and act on their importance in their interrelated and integrated contexts.
The non-government advisory functions of these committees will now be delivered through a new high level stakeholder group known as the Natural Resources Advisory Council.
The Minister is establishing the Natural Resources Advisory Council to replace many of the disparate advisory bodies which have previously advised Government on a wide range of natural resource issues. Bringing these under one high level Advisory Council represents another element in our consistent efforts to integrate natural resource management, to focus Government on the central issues affecting natural resource management and to be a powerful single source of stakeholder advice to Government.
The specific functions of the Advisory Council will be to:
• provide a high level forum for stakeholders to advise the Government on natural resource management issues; and
• to broker agreements between the representative stakeholder groups on contentious natural resource management issues.
The Advisory Council is to consist of a maximum of twenty representatives of natural resource stakeholders and an independent Chairperson.
The Members will include representatives of:
• NSW Farmers Association
• NSW Irrigators Council
• the scientific community
• the Total Environment Centre
• the Nature Conservation Council
• the Aboriginal community
• catchment management authorities
• the Local Government Association and the Shires Association
• the Labour Council of New South Wales
• fisheries resource management expertise
• NSW Minerals Council
• Forest Products Association
• the Landcare community
• the Rural Lands Protection Boards and
any other stakeholders appointed by the Minister.
The CEOs of the Natural Resources agencies will be ex-officio members of the Advisory Council.
The Natural Resource Advisory Council is a big step forward in stakeholder relations with Government. There will be a single stakeholder advisory council with the responsibility of delivering to Government the views of stakeholders within the realm of natural resource management.
It is an onerous responsibility, but it is critical to deliver the integration and co-ordination that is vital to good natural resource management.
The new Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources, along with the newly created Department of Environment and Conservation, will continue to provide integrated policy and technical expertise in natural resources management. They will work closely with other land management and natural resource management agencies to be a primary source of data and information as well as initiating and implementing the policies of Government in natural resource management.
If I can turn to the Bill itself, it establishes the Commission as a statutory, independent body, along the lines of the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal.
The Bill provides that the NRC will report to and receive directions from 'the Minister'. It is intended that 'the Minister' with responsibility for administration of the Act will be the Premier.
The Bill provides that the Premier may delegate any of his functions under the Bill to another Minister. This will allow the Premier to oversee the NRC but allow him to delegate its day to day operations to the Minister for Natural Resources.
The Bill also outlines a range of administrative matters relating to the appointment of Commissioners, and the organisations to be replaced by the NRC.
The Bill is divided into three parts, which I shall outline to the House.
The first part is the preliminary section which, among other things, provides for the application of the Bill to matters related to the management of natural resources including water, native vegetation, salinity, soil, biodiversity and coastal protection and other matters concerning natural resources prescribed by the regulations, such as forestry.
It is important to point out that these issues are to be considered in both rural and urban contexts. In particular, it is impossible for coastal protection to be achieved without consideration of the urban pressures along our coastal shores. However, it is not intended that the responsibilities of the Commission will extend to the more local details of urban development, such as the height or arrangement of buildings or deal with sustainability issues like waste management or energy efficient building design.
Part 2 of the Bill deals with the establishment of the Natural Resources Commission. The Commission will be made up of a full-time or part-time Commissioner who may be assisted by Assistant Commissioners, full time or part time, or on a temporary basis as required.
For example, if the Government instructs the Commission to undertake an inquiry into a particular matter, the Commissioner may appoint an Assistant Commissioner to either assist, or deputise for, him or her in that inquiry. Schedule 1 of the Bill details provisions relating to the Commissioner and Assistant Commissioners.
Part 3 of the Bill deals with the functions of the Natural Resources Commission. The general function of the Commission is to provide the Government with independent advice on natural resource management. Its specific functions are to make recommendations to the Government on statewide standards and targets. Standards and targets for individual catchments will be developed by the catchment management authorities themselves, taking into account specific regional conditions as well as the Statewide standards and targets adopted by the Government.
In developing its recommendations, the Commission will need to take into account the best available scientific, social and economic information. The standards and targets will need to be fair and practicable as there is no point setting unachievable goals.
In recommending standards and targets the Commission will consider factors such as regional variation, the impact on communities directly affected, indigenous knowledge, the impact on future generations and consistency with other government decisions relevant to natural resource management.
Standards developed by the Commission will be used to underpin absolute requirements across the state, such as the prohibition of clearing native vegetation on steep slopes.
Targets, such as reducing surface water salinity levels by a certain amount by a certain time, will be used to direct investment in natural resource management to projects that contribute to the adopted targets.
The second core responsibility of the Commission is to recommend to Government the approval of catchment action plans, developed by the CMAs.
The catchment action plans will set regional targets and standards and the NRC will advise me as to whether these regional targets and standards are consistent with the Statewide standards and targets adopted by the Government.
Where the Commission is concerned about particular aspects of a draft catchment action plan, the Catchment Management Authorities Bill provides for the Minister to request that further explanation or analysis be undertaken by an Authority before their draft plan is approved.
The Commission will also be asked to undertake audits of catchment action plans.
These audits will occur on a regular basis and will show how our reforms are working on the ground and in the community, where it counts. They will show whether the catchment action plans need adjustment or refinement, where they are successful and how they might be improved.
In addition to these core tasks the Commission may also take on a range of other tasks as directed. It may undertake inquiries or help resolve particularly complex natural resource issues. To assist it in these tasks, the Commission may involve stakeholders. It may also hold public hearings if it considers them necessary to obtain the right information and spread of community views.
The Bill provides that the Commission will report to Government on all of its findings through the preparation of an annual report. Most importantly the annual report will record our progress towards achieving the Statewide standards and targets we adopt. The annual reports will also contain the findings of audits and inquiries undertaken by the Commission during the reporting period. The Commission will also provide an assessment of the success of catchment action plans in complying with statewide standards, and achieving the statewide targets, adopted by the Government.
Essential to the effective functioning of the Commission is that it have at its disposal the best resources and information available. Part 3 therefore provides for the Commission to engage Government agencies and consultants to provide assistance.
In addition, the Commission is empowered to seek information or data that agencies may hold and it is expected that agencies will comply with such requests. Of course, if any dispute about the provision of such information arises then the Commission may refer it to the Premier for resolution.
Part 4 of the bill deals with miscellaneous matters including the amendments of other acts and instruments as set out in the schedules. Part 4 also provides for a review of the proposed Act as soon as possible after the period five years from the assent date of the Act.
I shall now turn to the Schedules in this Bill. Schedule 1 deals with provisions relating to the Commissioner and Assistant Commissioners and details their appointments, whether they be appointed on a full-time or part-time basis and the terms of their office. In general, the terms of appointment are for a period not exceeding five years, but Commissioners and Assistant Commissioners are eligible for re-appointment. However, the schedule provides sufficient flexibility to allow Assistant Commissioners with specific expertise to be appointed on a short-term basis to undertake inquiries relevant to their specific expertise.
This schedule also deals with remuneration of the Commissioners and Assistant Commissioners and contains provisions for vacancies and the filling of vacancies.
Schedule 2 deals with the consequential amendment of Acts and instruments necessary for the NRC to perform the functions of the many bodies it is replacing.
The Coastal Protection Act 1979 is amended to omit the Coastal Council, with provision in the NRC Bill for incorporation of the various functions and responsibilities of the Coastal Council.
The Forestry and National Park Estate Act 1998 is amended to give the NRC responsibility for undertaking a forest assessment, prior to a Forest Agreement being made.
The Public Finance and Audit Regulation 2000 is amended to omit the Coastal Council as an authority under that Act.
State Environmental Planning Policy No 71—Coastal Protection, is amended to give the NRC a consultation role with regard to draft master plans.
The Statutory and Other Offices Remuneration Act 1975 is amended to insert the NRC.
The Water Management Act 2000 is also amended to omit the Water Advisory Council from that Act.
Schedule 3 deals with the savings and transitional provisions relating to regulations and the replacement of existing advisory bodies. In particular it provides for the NRC to subsume the following bodies:
• Resource and Conservation Assessment Council,
• Healthy Rivers Commission,
• Coastal Council,
• Native Vegetation Advisory Council,
• Water Advisory Council,
• State Catchment Management Coordinating Committee,
• State Wetlands Advisory Committee,
• State Weir Review Committee,
• Fisheries Resource Conservation and Assessment Council; and
• Advisory Council on Fisheries Conservation.
I can affirm that the Government wishes to press ahead with its important new reforms.
As previously announced, the Minister has appointed Dr Tom Parry as Interim Commissioner of the Natural Resources Commission to assist with the early establishment of the Commission and to proceed with its first urgent tasks to set the standards and targets for four priority regions in New South Wales—namely, North Coast, Gwydir/Border, Central West and Murray-Murrumbidgee. It will be a challenging role and the Government is grateful to him for taking it on.
Catchment Management Authorities Bill
I now turn to the Catchment Management Authorities Bill.
Part 1 of the Bill sets out the objects of the Act and Part 2 establishes the 13 new catchment management authorities. These 13 new bodies will replace 72 existing regional committees.
The CMAs established by the Bill are:
• Border Rivers-Gwydir
• Central West
• Hunter-Central Rivers
• Lower Murray-Darling
• Northern Rivers
• Southern Rivers
• Sydney Metropolitan
The Bill provides that these CMAs will be formally constituted as statutory authorities with a responsible and accountable board. Appointments to the boards will be based on certain skills and knowledge. The skills will required on the Board include:
• primary production, for example expertise in landcare or sustainable farming;
• environmental, social and economic analysis, for example understanding the likely impacts of plans on the local community or local biodiversity;
• facilitation and negotiation skills;
• business management;
• understanding of state and local government; and
• community leadership.
Let me be clear on the Board's membership. These are the skills the Government wants the Board to have collectively. This is not a list where each member is ticked off against a single category. These Boards will be people of standing in the catchment. When either a farmer or an environmentalist reads their names in the local paper announcing the CMA, I hope they will think to themselves "I may not agree with everything they person says, but I respect their knowledge and expertise."
In the process of selecting Board members it will be important to ensure that collectively each Board has the capacity to access the knowledge and understand the concerns of all sectors of the community.
The Minister also intends, as far as is possible, to appoint people that live in the area of operations of the authority.
The CMA boards will report directly to the Minister for Natural Resources.
The CMAs will have a Chair, a General Manager, and the power to employ staff. It is expected that the CMAs will initially have a team of about 10 to 15 staff.
Part 3 of the Bill sets out the functions of the CMAs. The role of the CMAs is to work with local communities to deliver real natural resource improvements. To do this they need a clear expression of where they are going—a catchment action plan—and how they are going to get there—an annual implementation program.
The catchment action plan will consolidate and build on the existing native vegetation plans, catchment blueprints and other existing natural resource plans as well as provide the long term direction for investment in natural resources. The annual implementation program will set out how the funds will be spent on the ground.
Of course, the catchment action plan will be developed in consultation with the regions communities.
In addition to preparing catchment action plans and implementation programs, the other functions of CMAs will include:
• consultation with local government and catchment communities;
• recommending and managing incentive programs to implement catchment action plans and achieve environmental improvements;
• issuing consents under the Native Vegetation Management Bill; and
• providing education and training on natural resource management, especially native vegetation management.
Part 3 also requires CMAs to prepare annual reports. These reports are an important part of our new system. They will tell us what the CMAs have achieved each year and allow us to judge whether they have made progress towards their regional targets, complied with statewide standards and overall whether we are making progress towards our state targets.
Part 3 of the Bill describes the role of catchment action plans and the process for preparing and approving them.
It is intended that catchment action plans fulfil the crucial role set out for them in the Native Vegetation Reform Implementation Group Report. They will contain:
• regional standards and measurable and achievable short-term and long-term regional targets;
• priorities for investment in practical on-ground action to achieve these regional targets;
• identify areas of protected regrowth;
• practical guidance for preparing property vegetation plans so they are consistent with regional standards and targets; and
• monitoring and reporting arrangements.
The Bill provides that CMAs must consult widely in the process of preparing draft catchment action plans including with any bodies that are to carry out an activity under the plan. The Minister will expect CMAs to demonstrate that they have used best practice consultation techniques, and in particular to demonstrate that they have engaged communities and other relevant stakeholders in their planning process.
Final approval of draft plans will rest with the Minister but prior to approval the Minister must seek the advice of the NRC. This is the key to our new system. It is this step that will ensure a good marriage between the local skills and knowledge of the CMAs and the statewide independent overview of the NRC. The NRC will tell the Minister whether each draft Catchment Action Plan is adequately addressing the relevant statewide targets and standards.
The Bill provides that the Minister may not approve a draft catchment action plan unless the Minister is satisfied that the plan complies with relevant statewide standards and promotes the achievement of the relevant statewide targets.
Once they are approved the effectiveness of the catchment action plans will be reviewed regularly. The NRC will review the plans to see if the CMAs are implementing their actions, achieving their regional targets, contributing to statewide targets and complying with statewide standards.
We have included this in the Bill because we want to know if we are getting value for money. If these plans are making our State better, we want to know so we can support and encourage the CMAs that are working well. If a plan is not working we want to identify the problems early and fix them.
Part 5 of the Bill requires CMAs to prepare annual implementation programs that set out their proposed activities for the coming year and how much they will cost. This program needs to be approved by the Minister before it is undertaken by the CMA.
Part 6 of the Bill deals with the financial arrangements of the CMAs. It enables them to enter into contracts, distribute funds and charge fees for services. In addition, the existing powers of catchment management trusts are transferred.
These financial arrangements for catchment management will result in:
smoother and faster delivery of funds to communities from the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality and the Natural Heritage Trust;
block funding of the plans prepared by CMAs rather than project-by-project assessment of funding applications;
transfer of the consent functions for native vegetation clearing to CMAs; and
CMAs entering into contracts with landholders wishing to conserve high conservation value native vegetation.
Part 7 contains necessary amendments to other acts including the repeal of the Catchment Management Act 1989, the Catchment Management Regulation 1999 and the Hunter Catchment Management Trust Regulation 1997.
Native Vegetation Bill
I now turn to the Native Vegetation Bill.
The purpose of this Bill is to fulfil the Government's commitment to end broadscale clearing by reforming native vegetation management in NSW.
The Native Vegetation Bill is about managing vegetation in a new way. We recognise that native vegetation is an important part of agricultural and forestry systems and it needs to be managed. We want to work with farmers and foresters to manage this resource sustainably and this Bill gives us the tools to do that.
Through this Bill the Government is implementing our response to the Native Vegetation Reform Implementation Group's recommendations. The Bill will:
• include objects that reflect the Government's commitment to end broadscale clearing and maintain productive landscapes;
• deliver the Sinclair Report's standard definitions for native vegetation, regrowth and protected regrowth that will end broadscale clearing;
• provide the practicality and flexibility for continuation of routine agricultural management activities; and
• establish a new consent process for native vegetation management based on property vegetation plans.
Part 1 of the Bill establishes objects of the Bill that reflect the Government's intent to end the broadscale clearing of native vegetation and to maintain productive landscapes. The objects are:
• to provide for, encourage and promote the management and conservation of native vegetation on a regional basis in the social, economic and environmental interests of the State, and
• to prevent the clearing of remnant native vegetation and protected regrowth unless it leads to better environmental outcomes, and
• to protect native vegetation of high conservation value having regard to its contribution to such matters as water quality, biodiversity, or the prevention of salinity or land degradation, and
• to improve the condition of existing native vegetation, particularly where it has high conservation value, and
• to encourage the revegetation of land, and the rehabilitation of land, with appropriate native vegetation.
Part 2 of the Bill establishes definitions for the key concepts on which our new system of native vegetation management is based.
Remnant native vegetation is defined as all native vegetation except regrowth.
The definition of regrowth is a very important concept in this Bill, so I want to spend some time talking about it. The principle embodied in the Sinclair report is that farmers should be free to carry on their existing activities and, where regrowth arises, clearing it should not require consent. Regrowth is defined as native vegetation that has grown after 1 January 1983 in the case of the Western Division and 1 January 1990 in the case of other land. However, a PVP may also provide for an earlier date for regrowth where it can be demonstrated by the landowner. This is not an open door to simply allow any area of remnant vegetation to be declared regrowth and so be cleared. It is intended to cover those very rare situations where regrowth has arisen as part of a planned and legitimate cropping or grazing rotation that commenced before the standard cut-off date for defining regrowth. I would expect that a high standard of evidence would be required to establish that such a long term rotation had been planned at the time it was initiated. This will be further defined in the regulations.
These rules will cover the vast majority of applications, but there will be cases where one size does not fit all. For example, in the case of the Central Division the Government will regulate to allow thinning of native vegetation that has grown between 1983 to 1990 and the landholder provides evidence of such regrowth and the Catchment Management Authority:
(a) undertakes a site inspection to ascertain the evidence of the regrowth;
(b) will accept the application if the evidence relating to regrowth age is substantiated; and
(c) the Catchment Management Authority has the ability to place conditions on the approved Property Vegetation Plan to ensure it is consistent with the catchment plan. This process will involve the Catchment Management Authority and the landholder considering the economic and social impacts and may agree on reasonable conditions with the landholder to implement the environmental outcomes (including the public good conservation outcomes) sought by the catchment plan.
Protected regrowth is defined as regrowth identified as worthy of protection in a property vegetation plan, environmental planning instrument or natural resource management plan such as a catchment action plan.
Broadscale clearing is clearing of remnant native vegetation or protected regrowth other than for routine agricultural management practices. I would like to emphasise that this term does not refer to the size or area of a clearing activity, merely the nature of the vegetation cleared, that is remnant native vegetation or protected regrowth.
Routine agricultural management activities are also defined in this Part. Practices included in the definition are:
• sustainable grazing of groundcover that is not likely to result in long-term decline in the structure or composition of native vegetation;
• the construction, operation and maintenance of rural infrastructure such as dams, stockyards and fences;
• the harvesting or other clearing of native vegetation planted for commercial purposes;
• lopping of native vegetation for stock fodder (including uprooting mulga in times of declared drought);
• traditional Aboriginal cultural activities;
• maintenance of public utilities (such as those associated with the transmission of electricity, the supply of water, the supply of gas and electronic communication); and
• any other activity prescribed by the regulations.
There has been some concern that the reference in this list to sustainable grazing of groundcover is narrower than the rotational use of groundcover referred to in the Sinclair report. This is because other provisions of the Bill cover the rotational use of groundcover for practices other than grazing. If it is regrowth younger than the specified date, then it does not require consent at all. If it is older than the specified dates, then a landholder could establish, through a PVP accredited by a CMA, that it was part of a legitimate rotation. I have already mentioned that this process be carefully managed to avoid any misuse of this system.
Part 3 of the Bill contains the new development consent process for native vegetation management.
Under the new system approval to clear remnant vegetation and protected regrowth will not be granted unless the Minister is convinced that the clearing concerned will improve or maintain environmental outcomes.
For example in the Western Division of the state some native shrubs, such as Narrowleaf Hopbush, grow so thickly that they overwhelm other native species. At times landholders wish to control these species to encourage native groundcover and this provision of the Bill would allow a PVP that included such a control program and clearing to be undertaken.
This Part also creates flexibility for farmers and other land managers by allowing clearing for routine agricultural management activities or activities authorised under other legislation such as the Rural Fires Act to be undertaken without consent. By making very clear the classes of clearing that do not require consent, the Minister believes that this is a vast improvement on the uncertain situation under the Native Vegetation Conservation Act 1997.
The Bill indicates that groundcover that comprises less than 50% of indigenous species of vegetation can be cleared without permit. This is intended to allow farmers the freedom to use areas of their farm that are mainly non-native groundcover—primarily improved pastures—unfettered. There will be regulations made to further clarify how this percentage is to be calculated, as this is a matter of detail that is inappropriate within the legislation.
The consent procedures created under Part 3 of the Bill will not apply to urban areas, as stringent consent procedures administered by local councils already apply to those areas. As you are aware the Minister is no fan of red tape and he does not intend to oversee any duplication of consent processes. Part 3 of the Bill will apply to rural residential areas. This means rural residential development involving clearing of remnant vegetation or protected regrowth will require consent under this Bill.
In line with my commitment to cut red tape the new consent system creates specific and targeted matters to be considered when issuing a consent. Some of the matters currently listed in section 79C of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 may not be relevant to clearing. The intention of Part 3 of the Bill is to ensure that only those matters relevant to native vegetation clearing and its potential effects are considered during the consent process.
Consistent with the previous Act there is no provision for 3rd parties to challenge the merits of a decision to grant a consent. However, 3rd parties may challenge the legality of a consent decision on procedural grounds, that is if there is a concern that the proper procedures have not been followed.
The Bill does not repeal the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995. The eight part test to assess whether there are likely to be impacts on threatened species will still be undertaken as part of the new consent process. My colleague, the Minister for the Environment is initiating a review of the Threatened Species Conservation Act to examine whether any changes are necessary in light of the extensive changes to natural resource management arrangements embodied in these bills and the Sinclair Report.
Part 4 of the Bill deals with property vegetation plans. It details the contents of PVPs and processes for submission and approval of PVPs.
The Bill provides for the three categories of PVP outlined in the Sinclair Report. PVPs can be used to:
• accredit existing native vegetation management practices as in accordance with current laws;
• provide access to incentives for on-farm conservation of native vegetation; or
• give approval for landholders seeking to change their land management in a way that involves clearing remnant vegetation or protected regrowth, if the proposed change will maintain or improve environmental outcomes.
A PVP can have effect for any period specified in the plan. However the maximum period for the provisions that allow clearing is 15 years.
There has been some concern expressed that the private native forestry will no longer be exempt, as it was under the Native Vegetation Conservation Act 1997. A sustainable forestry operation should, by definition, maintain or improve the long-term condition of the forest through sound silvicultural practices.
Under this Bill, private native forestry will require a property vegetation plan. In most cases this will be undertaken through an "existing use PVP". A "land use change PVP" may be required for significant operations.
This is in line with the recommendations of the Private Native Forestry Reference Group that advised the previous Minister. The Group recommended that both a forest management and harvest management plan be developed for private native forestry operations. Consultancies to develop more detailed guidelines for private native forestry were also undertaken, based on the recommendation of the Reference Group. It is anticipated that these will be used as the basis for a specific regulation to clarify the provisions for private native forestry that maintains or improves environmental outcomes. PVPs that were consistent with these guidelines would be processed very quickly and would lead to security for the landholder in the form of a 15-year PVP.
Part 4 of the Bill includes provisions that require approved PVPs to be registered on the title of the relevant land. This means successors to the title will be parties to the provisions of a PVP applying to their land.
Part 5 of the Bill covers enforcement provisions such as appointment of authorised officers, powers of entry, stop work and remedial work orders, powers to obtain information and penalty provisions.
These provisions tighten up our enforcement procedures.
Part 6 of the Bill contains provisions to cover issues such as the making of regulations, servicing of notices and delegation of functions.
It is through the provisions related to delegations that catchment management authorities will be empowered to undertake the certification of property vegetation plans and other activities as identified by the Minister.
It is through the provisions for making regulations that we will continue to refine and develop the system as we learn from experience. For example, regulations may be made to further define routine agricultural management practices.
Regulations such as these can be disallowed in the Parliament. This means there is a high level of accountability to ensure any regulations adopted are fair and in the public interest.
In addition to this Bill the Government will also implement the Native Vegetation Reform Implementation Group's recommendation to strengthen the compliance framework.
The vast majority of farmers are doing the right thing by managing native vegetation on their properties legally and sensibly. They understand the environmental problems caused by land clearing, such as salinity and erosion, and that they can make their land more productive through sustainable management of native vegetation.
However, there are still those few who will continue to clear illegally. These are the cowboys who get their D9s out, put the chains on and flatten trees indiscriminately. Fortunately, they are a minority.
This is unfair to the rest of the farming community. They give farmers who do the right thing a bad name, and this Government will not tolerate their behaviour. On this we have the support of the NSW Farmers' Association.
The Government has made a commitment to the NSW community to police breaches of the law strongly and swiftly. We intend to fulfil that commitment through an enhanced compliance effort. The new approach is based on:
• a risk management approach to prioritising investigation of alleged breaches;
• encouraging voluntary compliance through education and incentive programs;
• providing adequate resources to ensure effective compliance and enforcement; and
• systematic monitoring of changes in native vegetation cover rather than ad-hoc investigations.
NSW covers a big area and finding out where illegal broadscale clearing is taking place is not easy. The current situation relies on reports from the community or departmental officers detecting cases of illegal clearing. This is neither an effective nor efficient means of ensuring compliance with the law.
However, as a result of satellite mapping technology we can now better detect illegal clearing across NSW.
The use of satellite technology is strategic and cost effective compared to other monitoring options and can be integrated with other Government programs that generate information on native vegetation, salinity, soils and water assessment.
The Minister will be monitoring the implementation of this new legislation very closely, not just in terms of its enforcement. I will want to be sure that it is delivering the objectives that the Government and catchment management authorities have set out. It must be workable and effective for landholders on whose land the native vegetation occurs. It must be effective for the community who get the benefit of good native vegetation management, or who would be disadvantaged by salinity and poor water quality if native vegetation was poorly managed. If the Minister finds that it is not achieving the objectives set out, the Minister will be using the flexibility provided by the Act's regulation-making powers to make sure that it is effective. This issue is too important to all concerned to allow it to drift off course.
Both farming and environmental interests have played a key role in developing all three of the bills I have introduced today. The Government is committed to continue working with all stakeholders to ensure each of the bills and the new approach they embody is successfully implemented.
I am delighted at what has been accomplished to resolve these complex issues and get these bills before the House today. I am soberly aware that a lot remains to be achieved, but to get to this point, is a great step forward and a great tribute to the goodwill of the stakeholders involved. With that behind us the Minister is confident that we can go on to fulfil the great promise of these bills and deliver what the community wants:
• real environmental improvements that are recognisable and measurable, and above all acknowledged by the communities that did the work to make them happen; and
• greater involvement of the people of regional New South Wales in the management of their landscapes.
I commend all three bills to the House.
The Hon. RICK COLLESS [8.44 p.m.]: I lead for the Opposition on the Natural Resources Commission Bill and the cognate bills, the Native Vegetation Bill and the Catchment Management Authorities Bill. Before I discuss the legislation in detail, I first place on record that the Government has handled this second reading debate in an absolutely disgraceful way. It is disgraceful that the Minister Assisting the Minister for Natural Resources (Forests) chose to incorporate into the record the speech delivered by Minister Knowles in the other place. That speech was shown to be flawed, and it was obvious that Minister Knowles had not read it before he delivered it, and he certainly had not read the Natural Resources Commission Bill. I was expecting something a little more from Minister Costa in this House. I was expecting that he would have made a substantive speech, to put on the record the changes that are about to happen to the bill. But he simply incorporated the speech delivered by Minister Knowles in the other place.
We have heard from the Premier and Minister Knowles about the Government's commitment to creating a new approach to end broadscale land clearing and to protect the financial viability of farming families. The cornerstone of the plan is a partnership with farmers, based on simpler rules and payments for conserving and restoring native vegetation. They are the Premier's own words. The native vegetation reform implementation group, chaired by the Rt Hon. Ian Sinclair, AC, published its report in October 2003, after much consultation with various involved groups. The report is known as the Sinclair report, and will be referred to as such in future. The disappointing aspect of all of this is that the new South Wales Farmers Association believed the bills reflected the spirit of the Sinclair report. Association members were on the road during the week prior to the introduction of the bills in another place promoting the bills as reflecting the contents of the Sinclair report.
Imagine their dismay, disappointment and embarrassment at the end of the week when they had an opportunity to read the bills that Minister Knowles presented to the other place at 10.47 p.m. on Wednesday 12 November and said that the Native Vegetation Bill delivers the Sinclair report's standard definitions for native vegetation, regrowth and protected regrowth. In my reading of the bill those definitions differ substantially from the Sinclair report, and I will discuss that matter in detail later. The Premier's commitment to payments for conserving and restoring native vegetation has been deliberately left out of the Native Vegetation Bill. There is no provision in the bill for any property rights payments, or for any compensation for farmers who have their right to farm on their freehold land removed. That is despite the pending report of the Productivity Commission, of which I obtained a draft copy today, and which is due to be presented in its final form before Parliament resumes next year. The report deals with property rights and compensation to farmers for removal of those property rights. The recommendations in their draft report make interesting reading. The report states:
Scope of inquiry
3. The Commission is to report on:
(a) the impacts on farming practices, productivity, sustainability, property values and returns, landholders' investment patterns and the attitude of finance providers, and on other economic activities such as infrastructure development and mineral exploration, and flow on effects to regional communities, arising from the regulation of native vegetation clearance and/or biodiversity conservation, including:
(i) both positive and negative impacts;
(ii) the level of understanding of the relevant legislative and regulatory regimes among stakeholders;
(iii) the likely duration of such impacts and the factors influencing their duration, and
(iv) the extent to which existing government measures are mitigating any negative impacts;
The report's recommendations refer to preparing regulation impact statements for implementing native vegetation and biodiversity policy. One should have been prepared in relation to this bill. The report states that all policy should be subject to ongoing monitoring and regular reviews. It refers to ongoing efforts to improve the quality of data and science. That has not been a feature of the Government's approach to the native vegetation debate. The report states that current regulatory approaches should be amended to minimise duplication and inconsistency by amalgamating and simplifying regulations and permit requirements.
The Hon. Tony Kelly: I thought you were a greenie.
The Hon. RICK COLLESS: The Minister should know better. The report also states that greater use should be made of the extensive knowledge of land-holders and local communities. Some across-the-board rules, particularly those currently applying to native vegetation regrowth, should be relaxed. They are the recommendations of the Productivity Commission. Another important recommendation was that land-holders should bear the cost of actions that largely benefit them individually or as a group. Land-holders do not have a problem paying for things that they get a benefit from. Finally, the report recommends that conservation demanded by the wider community should be bought from land-holders where intervention is deemed necessary and cost-effective. Mechanisms may include voluntary agreements, options or even compensating regulations targeted to the particular problem. That certainly is not a component of this bill.
We have to wonder why the Premier suddenly decided on the morning of Friday 14 November to guillotine debate in another place on these three bills and 10 others at 9.00 p.m. on Tuesday 18 November. The other place began sitting at 2.15 p.m. After deducting question time and the dinner break, each of the 13 bills was allocated about 20 minutes—including these bills—barely enough time for the shadow Minister to reply to the Minister, with no time for the Minister to reply to the second reading debate and no time for members to put the concerns of their electorates on the record. Is this the Carr-Knowles model of parliamentary democracy? Is this process giving oxygen to debate to get full and responsible political feedback on important legislation? Are the positions of the various stakeholders—in particular the landowners and managers of agricultural land and forests, and their political advisory body, the New South Wales Farmers Association—being properly reflected? I think not.
The Hon. Amanda Fazio: You were bagging New South Wales Farmers about a month ago. You are a hypocrite!
The Hon. RICK COLLESS: Was I? The Hon. Amanda Fazio should listen to the debate as it progresses. The Government should be censured for the disgraceful way in which it has attempted to force this legislation through the Parliament. It is an insult to the so-called intelligence of the Premier. It is an insult to the intelligence of the Minister, but, more importantly, it is a serious insult to the intelligence of the people of New South Wales to force the legislation through the Parliament without full and proper debate. The Leader of the House in another place attempted to blame the Opposition in this House for any problems. The Legislative Council sessional order required that full debate on bills be completed in another place by 12 noon on 20 November 2003 or that they be held over until the first sitting day of 2004. The spirit of the sessional order is to encourage the Government to present legislation early in the session to allow full debate to occur, so that bills are not crammed into the end of the session, as is happening tonight. The Government often uses such tactics at the end of sessions.
The Leader of the House in the other place said that Opposition members supported a motion in the upper House that trampled the rights of the Legislative Assembly to engage in proper debate. What utter rubbish! It is the Government that has trampled debate by deliberately not presenting the legislation until the last minute before the cut-off date. Now it has had the hide to present amendments to us tonight about 15 minutes before the debate commenced. The Government has known since May that the deadline was looming. The delay in presenting the legislation can be for one of two reasons. First, it did it deliberately to trample debate, to stifle debate, to railroad the legislation through Parliament without allowing proper debate. The second possible reason is that the Government is so hopelessly incompetent that it forgot about this requirement. The incompetence lies fairly and squarely with the Leader of the House in the other place. Is he stupid or is he dishonest? Perhaps it is a combination of both. Whichever is the case, it is an indictment of the Government that it has allowed it to occur. The Minister and the Leader of the House should have planned their legislative strategy a little better.
Before turning to each of the bills in detail I point out to the House that the Coalition supports the concept of integrated resource management. Our policy before the last election was to have a high level of integration in natural resource management. The former shadow Minister for land and water worked extensively on developing a comprehensive suite of integrated natural resource management policies that projected forward. They would have resolved much of the conflict that the Government is now involved in. The Water Management Bill 2000 was one of the first bills I debated in this place. The shadow Minister worked extensively with the Minister over a long period before the bill was presented to the House. Many of the initial problems were worked out through proper consultation. That has not happened in this case. There has been no consultation with the Opposition. Not a word has been said to the Opposition about this legislation.
We did not see the amendments until 8.15 tonight. I note that the time and date on the Catchment Management Authorities Bill amendments from the Government are 8.44 p.m. on 3 December. The amendments have been available for 24 hours. We saw them at 8.15 tonight, despite the fact that I asked the Government about 3 o'clock this afternoon when we could see them. The Government promised that it would get them to us as soon as it could. Yet they arrived at 8.15 p.m. That is not good enough. That is not what proper legislative procedure is about. It is not a recipe for creating good legislation. Unfortunately, the bills that have been presented to the House do not achieve the stated aim of the Minister, and it will only be by extensive amendment that they will achieve anything like the aims of the Sinclair report.
I turn now to the Natural Resources Commission Bill. The bill creates an independent Natural Resources Commission [NRC] to make recommendations on natural resource management standards and targets, to order the performance of catchment management authorities, to report on the achievement of targets and to carry out inquiries. I have a few concerns about the functions as outlined in the bill in that they have been oversimplified when compared with the first recommendation in the Sinclair report, that is, that the NRC make recommendations on statewide environmental standards based on transparent, scientific, economic and social analyses that set desirable environmental outcomes for the State. Clause 12 of the bill gives the commission the power to recommend statewide standards and targets for natural resource management issues. Clause 13 allows for regard to be given to the social and economic implications of exercising these functions, but not the analysis as recommended in the Sinclair report.
It also provides for auditing the implementation, an important function that has not been done to date. While it is not appropriate to include in the bill the protocols for monitoring and auditing natural resources across the State, there is an opportunity to discuss the general principles that this auditing should follow. It is probably worth looking at the natural resource monitoring that occurs in the United States of America. Parameters such as soil, organic matter, soil nutrient balance, groundcover, biodiversity, land use and other parameters should be monitored across a grid pattern in the State every couple of years.
Such a monitoring program would provide baseline data giving us a clear indication of whether resource management policies were working in the practical sense. Auditing should not be monitoring compliance with a view to imposing some sort of penalty, for example, the pie-in-the-sky model that the bill allows for; it should be looking towards changes in the condition of our natural resources. The commission will be established along the lines of the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal. The NRC will recommend to the Government the approval of catchment action plans developed by catchment management authorities [CMAs]. The bill applies to the management of natural resources, including water, native vegetation, salinity, soil, biodiversity, coastal protection and many other matters, for example, forestry.
Prior to this bill the Government was advised and assisted on natural resource management issues by a number of committees comprising government and non-government stakeholders, including the Resource and Conservation Assessment Council, the Coastal Council, the Healthy Rivers Commission, the State Catchment Management Co-ordinating Committee, the Native Vegetation Advisory Council, the Water Advisory Council, the State Wetlands Advisory Council, the State Weir Review Committee, the Advisory Council on Fisheries Conservation, and the Fisheries Resource Conservation and Assessment Council. Where necessary and appropriate, those functions will be subsumed by the NRC otherwise they will be taken over by the Natural Resources Advisory Council, on which I will expand later.
The New South Wales Scientific Committee, the Fisheries Scientific Committee and the Biological Diversity Advisory Council will be transferred to the NRC. They will retain their existing legislative responsibilities, pending a review of the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995. The Forestry and National Park Estate Act 1998 is amended to give the NRC responsibility for undertaking a forest assessment prior to the forest agreement being made. The Public Finance and Audit Regulation 2000 is amended to omit the Coastal Council as an authority under that Act. State environmental planning policy 71, coastal protection, is amended to give the NRC a consultation role with regard to draft master plans.
The Water Management Act 2000 is also amended to omit the Water Advisory Council from that Act. The Government is establishing a high-level stakeholder group known as the Natural Resources Advisory Council to replace the many advisory bodies that have previously advised the Government on natural resource issues and also to broker agreements between representative stakeholder groups on contentious natural resource management issues. I refer to part 3, clause 12 (b) of the Natural Resources Commission Bill. It is important that the NRC, when considering catchment management plans, takes into consideration the individual characteristics of each area and ensures that statewide standards do not compete with these areas to their detriment.
There are a few concerns with some other parts of the bill. I refer to part 3, clause 15 (2) which states that the commission can set up an advisory committee and then take advice from it, which seems a roundabout way of doing things. A further concern is the reporting hierarchy, with the NRC reporting directly to the Premier and the Minister having the day-to-day operational responsibility of bills. That raises the question of the Premier's personal green agenda overriding his responsibility to be doing the right thing by the people of rural and regional New South Wales, thus overriding the Minister's authority to manage the department as he sees fit. Turning to the Catchment Management Authorities Bill 2003, this bill creates 13 local catchment management authorities, or CMAs, to deliver natural resource management programs at the catchment level, replacing some 72 existing natural resource management committees.
It repeals the Catchment Management Act 1989 which, interestingly, allowed for, from memory, 19 catchment management committees at that time. That bill was introduced by the Coalition in 1989. It is very much a case of back to the future by this Government. CMAs will develop catchment action plans that consolidate and build on the existing native vegetation plans and catchment blueprints, and final approval of draft plans will rest with the Minister. CMAs will be governed by a skills-based board and a general manager with a staff of 10 to 15, and be formally constituted as statutory authorities. CMAs will set the targets for their region and ensure that the funds available to them are delivered to projects that achieve those targets. The intention of these new arrangements for catchment management is to ensure the smoother delivery of natural resources funding to regional communities, particularly funds from the national action plan for salinity and water quality and the Natural Heritage Trust.
The NRC will review the plans to see whether CMAs are implementing their actions, achieving their original targets, contributing to statewide targets and complying with statewide standards. Other functions of CMAs will include consultation with local government and catchment communities, recommending and managing incentive programs to implement catchment action plans, achieving environmental improvements and issuing consents under the Native Vegetation Bill. CMAs established by the bill are: Border Rivers, Gwydir, Central West, Hawkesbury-Nepean, Hunter, Central Rivers, Lachlan, lower Murray-Darling, Murrumbidgee, Murray, Namoi, Northern Rivers, Southern Rivers, Sydney metropolitan, and western.
The Coalition has many concerns with some areas of this bill, and in particular the following. The bill provides no guarantee that CMAs will assess property vegetation plans. Consent rests with the Minister and he has the ability to delegate that to another government official. The Minister has discretion over appointments to CMA boards, leaving open the possibility of stacked boards delivering the outcomes dictated by their political masters. That has certainly happened in the past, particularly in relation to other boards that this Government has put in place, such as area health service boards. The composition and size of the CMAs is at the Minister's discretion. The CMAs are huge and take in areas with vastly different topographies and communities of interest, such as the Murrumbidgee CMA, which stretches from Balranald in the west to Cooma in the east. The Northern Rivers CMA is also a large and diverse area.
As the Northern Tablelands is such a unique area there has been a request for a separate Northern Tablelands catchment management authority in its own right. I would like to refer to an email that I received from Mr Brian Tomalin who is involved with vegetation management on the Northern Tablelands. He said:
We are still trying to get the eastern fall of the Northern Tablelands out of the Northern Rivers CMA. There are indications that Knowles may be prepared to consider including the Northern Tablelands, Nundle and Tenterfield Native Vegetation Regions in western CMAs...
Will the Minister give an undertaking to include the Northern Tablelands and the Tenterfield Native Vegetation Regions that they be included in the Gwydir/Border Rivers CMA and the Nundle Native Vegetation Region included in the Namoi CMA?
That is what Brian Tomalin has been negotiating. We would like to see the Minister put something on the record along those lines. The Minister may alter local catchment action plans as he sees fit. There is no requirement for such ministerial alterations to have the approval of CMAs. CMAs have been given the power to compulsorily acquire land. They have also been given the power to levy landowners to fund shortfalls. This is also an area of concern, in particular, for local government which I will expand on shortly. Some questions arise with respect to the implementation of these bills. I would like to put those concerns on the record. Are members of staff from the Department of Land and Water Conservation being transferred to the CMAs? Is the general manager's position, along with the chairperson, being advertised?
Where will the general managers be located? What is to happen to the current plans and will they be open to review? Will local environment plans have to be taken into consideration under the new legislation? Paragraph (a) of clause 36 (6) provides that compensation will not be applicable if a written claim is not submitted within six months. In many instances, on large, remote properties, environmental damage may not be noticed within six months, due to the sheer distances involved. This time period needs to be stretched to at least 12 months. We have had contact with the Local Government and Shires Associations. They have expressed concern about being left out of the processes of the bill. I would like to read from their letter to me. They say:
The Associations welcome improvements to the management of natural resources in NSW and a move towards a more strategic approach. Local government has been extensively involved in the previous natural resource committees and structures and has also been working hard at delivering better natural resource management … outcomes in their local area. However, the CMA Bill currently being considered by Parliament raises a number of concerns for local government and we write to seek your support for amendments to it.
Local government is committed to ensuring that reforms to Catchment Management In NSW are a success. As such, we highlight the deficiencies with the current draft legislation which includes the lack of recognition of local government as a sphere of government and a major investor in NRM.
The Local Government and Shires Associations have suggested that we should look at ensuring that local government expertise be identified as a separate criterion rather than be included as part of State and local administration. They would like to seek clarification on the type of developments where the CMA will be the consent authority. They would like to develop a memorandum of understanding to provide for proper interaction between the CMA and local government, and they would also like to establish a catchment forum to provide strategic investment advice to assist investment decision making by the CMA.
The associations have also expressed concern that local government will be required to collect levies based on land valuations, stretching the responsibility of local government and becoming yet another unfunded mandate on local government. They are further concerned about the expectation to collect these levies while having no formal role in the CMA and the reinvestment of these funds back into the community. The associations are also concerned about the establishment of the Natural Resources Advisory Council and the lack of detail in the Catchment Management Authorities Bill and the Natural Resources Commission Bill on the establishment of a council and its functions. It is the view of the associations that the legislation should refer specifically to the establishment of the advisory council, its terms of reference and its membership. I understand the shadow Minister for Local Government has approached the Minister with a view to clarifying these issues, and on behalf of the Local Government and Shires Associations I ask the Minister to advise the House of these deliberations.
I turn now to the Native Vegetation Bill. This is certainly the biggest part of these three cognate bills and the one that has the most serious impact on the people of rural and regional New South Wales. The problems and inconsistencies with the bill are obvious from the moment one first reads the objects in part 1of the bill. Object (a) reads well but unfortunately there is no commitment to this object by the Government. It notes that native vegetation should be managed in the social, economic and environmental interests of the State, but there is no further mention of the social and economic interests in the remaining objects. It is obvious from this that object (a) has been included as a motherhood statement so the Government can say, "Of course we have considered the social and economic aspects. It is in the objects." It is nothing more than tokenism. It is disappointing that the Minister who has the carriage of the bill in this place has left the Chamber. He is the Minister responsible for forests, and there will be a lot of discussion on forest issues shortly, yet he has decided to leave the Chamber.
Mr IAN COHEN: He does not have the faintest idea about them.
The Hon. RICK COLLESS: He does not have the faintest idea about the issues, the honourable member is absolutely right, and he does not care. The Sinclair report got it right. On page 7 The Sinclair report states:
The real debate about land clearing is not about trees, but about better management of native vegetation so that farms can protect our rivers which produce fresh water and manage our land so they can continue to produce the food we eat and the clothes we wear.
That is the crux of the issue. Why is it not an object of the bill? This statement encompasses the social and economic aspects, the quality of life aspects, the practical aspects of being able to produce food, fibre and building material while maintaining our environment in a healthy condition, and improving the productive capacity of the land to continue to produce those products for generations to come. To do this we must all share a vision of what the environment will look like by the year 2203, to pull a date out of a hat. If the bill is passed in its current form and remains in existence for the next 200 years, what will the landscape look like in the year 2203? This is how proper policy development should work: put policies in place that will have a positive long-term effect on the people and on the productive capacity of their resources, and that will have a positive long-term impact on the environment, which provides those resources to them. That is the true meaning of thinking about social, economic and environmental interests rather than striving for short-term political gain, which is the focus of the bill.
The objects of the bill focus on protecting remnants and regrowth, improving the condition of native vegetation and encouraging revegetation with native vegetation. The State could end up more densely vegetated than it was when Captain Cook first arrived, but that will have no regard at all for the people of Australia and the productive capacity of the land. It may not necessarily mean that the landscape is in better shape environmentally. The infatuation some people have with the environmental benefits of native vegetation never ceases to amaze me. Many species of exotic vegetation are far more useful for land rehabilitation works than the native species. For example, lucerne has a much greater capacity to lower water tables in salinity-susceptible areas than native grasses. One only has to research the literature in New South Wales and in South Australia to confirm that—particularly in South Australia, where a lot of work has been done.
Radiata pine plantations will also reduce the groundwater levels much more effectively than native eucalypt forests. There are plenty of documented instances that I am sure Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources [DIPNR] staff are familiar with. In the Batlow district the removal of eucalypt forests and planting with radiata pine forests has dried the stream and groundwater supplies to such an extent that water supplied to irrigated horticulture fruit crops has been compromised. In the south-east of South Australia many radiata pine plantations were over a karst system and as the pine trees grew the limestone caves dried up. The Ash Wednesday fires in 1983 destroyed much of the pine forests, and the caves system quickly began to function again once the pine trees were removed.
In a crop and pasture situation, groundcover and the rooting depth of the plants are the key issues affecting land health. Research done by DIPNR staff—in their former lives as Soil Conservation Service research officers, when they were helping farmers rather than hindering them as they do now—has shown that soil erosion is almost completely eliminated when groundcover reaches 70 per cent. Within native grass pastures groundcover can be depleted through grazing, but it can be enhanced through appropriate fertiliser application, appropriate grazing management techniques and the introduction of exotic leguminous species such as subterranean clover, white clover, woolly pot vetch and serradella. These species do not displace native grasses; they enhance productivity and the seeding capacity of native grasses when used in conjunction with proper fertiliser and grazing management programs.
It is under these conditions—using proper fertiliser programs and appropriate grazing management techniques—that ground cover is more likely to exceed the 70 per cent minimum, with lower percentage ground cover being more common in native grass pastures that have not been fertilised, irrespective of grazing management. Once ground cover exceeds the 70 per cent minimum, soil erosion in grazing areas is eliminated almost completely by the application of fertiliser and the introduction of exotic leguminous species.
Unfortunately, to my knowledge DIPNR has not conducted proper research on root depth other than some work that was done in the Buronga district of New South Wales, which showed that planting lucerne adjacent to saline areas lowered the water table by a number of metres in the salt scald. Similar research was also conducted in South Australia over a long period. So it is a furphy to focus on native vegetation in order to control salinity. One must focus on ground cover and the rooting depth for effective salinity management and soil erosion control, and these two factors are key indicators in determining whether an area of land is degraded. Accordingly, the most appropriate tool in rehabilitating land may not be simply planting native vegetation, but may include the application of fertiliser, the introduction of exotic species and changing grazing management techniques together with strategic planting of native species. Keep in mind that in most areas we are talking about freehold agricultural land, not national parks.
This bill applies to the management of vegetation on agricultural land, the vast majority of which is freehold land in the eastern and central divisions, and western lands lease in the Western Division. Part 2 of the bill attempts to define the concept upon which the bill is predicated. It is in this part that the architects of the bill have led the Minister up the garden path. In fact, the Minister in his second reading speech attempted to rewrite the Pocket Oxford Australian Dictionary. The definition of "native vegetation" is consistent with that in the Sinclair report, with the exception of one very important point: the definition of ground cover. The Sinclair report defines "ground cover" as:
… any type of herbaceous vegetation, but is only to be regarded as native vegetation … if it occurs in an area where not less than 50% … comprises indigenous species. In determining that percentage, not less than 10% of the area concerned must be covered with herbaceous vegetation.
That sounds a little complicated, but when we work it out we find it is very simple. In other words, for a grass paddock to be regarded as native vegetation 50 per cent of the species must be native species and there must be at least 10 per cent ground cover. It is significant that the New South Wales Farmers Association wanted to increase the percentage of native species to 60 per cent in order to remove any doubt and avoid any waste in the assessment process. The bill in its current form removes that very important percentage, so that the definition reads "any type of herbaceous vegetation." Does that include non-indigenous vegetation? When does grassland become non-native? What are the threshold levels? The 50 per cent limit has been included in part 3 of the bill and the percentage is to be determined by the regulations. I would have thought it was a black-and-white issue: There is either 50 per cent indigenous species or there is not. The Minister's suggestion in his speech that this is a matter of detail that it is not appropriate to include in the legislation is a clear indication that he has not given his bureaucrats any understanding of what is needed in this bill.
The bill's definition of "clearing" is consistent with the definition in the Sinclair report, with the exception of the deletion of the recommendation excluding clearing for routine agricultural management activities. I will discuss that point in further detail shortly. The bill includes a further section that was not recommended in the Sinclair report, which reads:
… any other act that is intended or reasonably likely to kill native vegetation.
This is a potential minefield for farmers who are attempting to bring their livestock through a drought when many native species will perish and grazing pressure may increase the likelihood of plant death. Another potential scenario is that farmers will move stock to high ground during a flood and overstock that high ground for the duration of the flood. Land in western New South Wales can remain flooded and wet for many weeks and any high ground on a property will have stock on it for a long time. That could lead to serious land degradation issues and the death of native vegetation. Will graziers who are constantly battling the elements in an attempt to keep valuable breeding stock alive through fire, flood and drought be caught by that clause? The Minister noted in his second reading speech that the term "broadscale clearing" did:
not refer to the size or area of a clearing activity, merely the nature of the vegetation cleared, remnant vegetation or protected regrowth.
This is where I believe the Minister has attempted to rewrite the Pocket Oxford Australian Dictionary. The dictionary defines "broad" as "large in extent from one side to the other, extensive", which clearly refers to size or area. It defines "scale" as "relative dimensions or degree". Therefore, it is obvious that broadscale clearing means the clearing of a large or extensive area. However, the Minister is taking it to mean the clearing of individual trees if they are old remaining trees—or, as the definition in the bill reads, "the clearing of any remnant native vegetation or protected regrowth". The definition of broadscale clearing that was developed by the New South Wales Farmers Association is far more appropriate. It reads:
… clearing of remnant native vegetation and protected regrowth to change landuse that is on a scale large enough to cause an adverse environmental impact at a regional level as determined by the CMA.
That is a far more pragmatic approach to this issue. However, the bill does not even use the Sinclair report's recommendation, which states:
Broadscale clearing of native vegetation is the clearing of remnant native vegetation and protected regrowth that fails to maintain or improve environmental outcomes but excludes clearing for routine agricultural activities …
Broadscale clearing should be taken to mean clearing that is done in the development of previously undeveloped areas. There is a very good case for having much clearer categories of clearing in this bill, and I would like to see in it a much more pragmatic approach to the definitions. For example, "development clearing" could mean "significantly changing the land use by removing the majority of the existing regionally indigenous native vegetation and replacing it with other types of vegetation." Perhaps "vegetation management" could mean "the removal of any native vegetation to improve the productivity of previously cleared land". "Conservation vegetation management" should be taken to mean "the management of regionally indigenous native vegetation to improve biodiversity, aesthetic, soil, water, scientific, recreational and cultural values" "Infrastructure clearing" should be taken to mean "the removal of indigenous native vegetation necessary for the establishment and maintenance of agricultural, emergency services and public infrastructure". Of course, managing native vegetation for the purposes of routine agricultural activities should be unrestricted.
The definitions of "remnant native vegetation" and "regrowth" are equally confusing, with "remnant" described as "any native vegetation other than regrowth" and "regrowth" defined as "any native vegetation that has regrown since 1983 in the Western Division and 1990 in the rest of New South Wales". That does not make sense. Perhaps some other date will be applicable if a farmer can produce a rotation plan that was prepared before then. The Minister should be advised that there were very few property vegetation plans or similar schemes prior to 1990. Long-term rotations that focused on managing native vegetation would have been almost non-existent. They occurred in practice, but there was no record of them on a formal planning basis. Some approvals would exist under the protected lands legislation, which was a land protection instrument not a vegetation protection instrument administered by the Soil Conservation Service. However, these approvals did not continue under State environmental planning policy 46 or the Native Vegetation Conservation Act.
The Minister stated in his speech in the other place that this is not an open door simply to allow an area of remnant vegetation to be declared regrowth and therefore available to be cleared. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is my view and the view of many others following this debate that all native vegetation that grew prior to 1990 cannot be justified as remnant because there is no scientific basis for that proposition. The word "remnant" means remaining part. Vegetation that has regrown between 1980 and 1990 is not remnant vegetation. This is nothing more than emotional grandstanding of the highest order.
The first section of the Sinclair report states that fundamental to the success of a new method for landscape management is simplifying the overwhelmingly complex structures that exist to empower the farming community to take control of the problem, to back it with first-class science and to provide adequate public funds to deliver on-the-ground solutions on the farm. Of course, there is no science in stipulating 1990 or 1983 for the Western Division. Clause 9 of the Native Vegetation Bill is definitely not first-class science. The final words of the clause are designed to prevent a remnant area converting to regrowth following a bushfire, flood or drought. In effect, it should allow the vegetation to be returned to the same classification it enjoyed prior to the event.
It is worth noting that most regrowth events occur after a bushfire, flood or drought. Trees do not grow all the time—they grow after events. Following a wet period many trees and native grasses will germinate and grow. These regrowth events occur because growth has been stimulated by a bushfire, flood or drought. It would be logical to define remnant native vegetation as vegetation in an area that has never been subject to clearing and to define regrowth as new growth of a species indigenous to the area following modification of the environment. In other words, the native species that regrow after an area has been cleared constitute regrowth. The definition of "protected regrowth" appears to be designed to capture all of the habitat and endangered population classifications that fall under the Threatened Species Conservation Act.
Because there is a predetermined schedule to ensure that all areas of the State eventually fall within one of these categories, it is only a matter of time before all regrowth will be classified as protected regrowth. I have no doubt that that is the agenda of certain people behind this bill. These classifications have not always reflected the situations on the ground and threatened species need not be present for an area to be declared. Protected regrowth will also be caught up in this situation because the Minister has the power to declare an area to be protected regrowth and the regulations also allow for such a declaration. That hardly constitutes empowering the farming community to take control, as the Premier suggested in his press release.
Clause 11 of the Native Vegetation Bill is a major concern to the Coalition because it attempts to define routine agricultural management activities. The fundamental concern is that the activities listed in the bill will become legal and any other activities will become illegal. The bill mentions sustainable grazing but does not mention pasture improvement by broadcast application of fertiliser and seed, direct drilling of fertiliser and seed or cultivation and sowing improved pasture species. Can the Minister confirm whether these activities are routine agricultural management activities? The bill does not mention any form of cropping by drilling crops directly into native species or full cultivation.
Can the Minister confirm whether those activities are routine agricultural management activities? Dams are listed as rural infrastructure and construction, and operation and maintenance are listed as routine agricultural management activities, but contour banks for erosion control are not. Can the Minister confirm whether the construction of contour banks for erosion control is a routine agricultural management activity? Clearing of fence lines to 10 metres each side and 20 metres in the Western Division is yet another case of a total lack of science. It is obvious that the logical distance to clear each side of a fence line is the height of the trees adjacent to the fence to prevent trees falling across the fence during a storm or bushfire.
This issue should also be consistent with the Rural Fires Act. The clearing should be wide enough for two fire tenders to pass at speed and in the low visibility conditions one would expect in an emergency situation. I acknowledge that clearing under the Rural Fires Act is exempt under part 3, but it would still be sensible to have the provisions of this bill consistent with the Rural Fires Act. Airstrips in the Western Division can have a clear buffer to meet aviation industry requirements, but in the rest of the State that is not considered to be a routine agricultural management activity. Can the Minister confirm that clearing airstrips to meet aviation industry standards in the Central and Eastern Divisions of the State is a routine agricultural management activity?
The Government probably does not realise that there are many airstrips in rural and regional New South Wales. Many property owners have their own airstrip to allow easy access for crop dusters. Thousands of farmers with airstrips will not be covered by this provision. Providing that windmills must have a cleared buffer of three metres is yet again impractical nonsense. A 20-metre windmill might be three metres away from a 20-metre tree. In a strong breeze, the branches of the tree could foul the mechanism of the windmill. Of course, in the worst scenario, the tree could fall across the windmill and destroy it. The distance should be the height of the tree to prevent damage to the infrastructure in the event of the tree falling.
The same argument applies to stockyards. A three-metre buffer would mean a farmer would not only be continually clearing his stockyards of fallen timber but he would also be unable to manage his stock in the yards. The distance should be the height of the surrounding timber or an area determined by the local catchment management authority. Private native forestry has been removed from the legislation. That cannot be an oversight on the part of the architects of the bill. It is a deliberate omission and one that has caused a great deal of concern throughout the State. The Sinclair report stated that private native forestry should be reinstated in clause 11. Sustainable on-farm forestry should be taken to mean the removal of millable logs from stands of existing native vegetation for on-farm use and for sale at a harvest rate that does not exceed the rate of forest growth.
The exemptions in State environmental planning policy [SEPP] 46 and the current Act allow for the removal of seven trees a hectare for on-farm use and a maximum clearing of two hectares a year. Although that is restrictive, at least it provides the land manager with the facility to cut timber for fencing and yard building. This bill removes that facility and goes to the extreme by defining the removal of a single tree as broadscale clearing. Acceptance of the sustainable farm forestry clause would correct that anomaly.
Clause 11 (2) then makes the extraordinary provision that the regulations may extend, limit or vary these activities. What is the point of subclause (1) if the regulations can change it? I ask how a regulation can in fact vary the enabling legislation for that regulation. It seems to be a very convoluted process. The preferred option for the whole of clause 11 is to have the routine agricultural management activities determined by the catchment management authority [CMA]. They are the people with expert local knowledge, and to have some city-based Minister determining what is an agricultural management activity is totally inappropriate and fraught with danger for the farmer, as I have just outlined.
Part 3 of the bill deals with the development consent process for clearing applications. The major concern is that all native vegetation management, except for vegetation that grew since 1990 or 1983 in the Western Division, requires either CMA or Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources [DIPNR] approval. The issue of vegetation that germinated prior to those dates having been suddenly thrust into the classification of remnant vegetation, without any scientific basis, is again relevant to this section of the bill, as I said earlier. This part of the bill also very briefly outlines the penalty that will be imposed should any person commit an offence—an offence which may be as innocent as cutting a tree down for a strainer post, a routine agricultural management activity that farmers will have to do more often as trees fall over their fence lines, windmills and stockyards because of the ridiculous definitions in this bill.
Development consent for broadscale clearing cannot be granted unless the Minister is satisfied that environmental outcomes will be improved or maintained. As broadscale clearing now includes the removal of single trees, will farmers who want to cut down a tree to repair a fence have to seek ministerial approval? How can the environmental consequences of the removal of one tree be determined? It is nonsense. The regulations will apparently make provisions for describing that issue, but, given the provisions of this bill, how can we trust the Minister and his bureaucrats to make the regulations any more workable than the provisions of the bill? If the Minister was serious about the intent of this bill he would have also made his Crown authorities subject to the provisions of the bill, but he has made the Crown exempt from requiring any such clearing consent. All local government authorities within the metropolitan areas of New South Wales are similarly exempt from the provisions of this bill.
Division 2 of part 3 deals with the types of clearing that are permitted by authority of a development consent or property vegetation plan. It must be remembered that the definition of routine agricultural management practices is substantially different from the definition of routine agricultural activities under the Threatened Species Conservation Act. The definitions are similar, yet there are small but significant differences, which makes interpretation of the legislation very confusing for farmers. The statement that clearing native vegetation for routine agricultural management practices to the minimum extent necessary has the potential to be disastrous for the grazing industry, as it paves the way for regulations to be imposed on stocking rates and grazing management intensity.
While it is my view that there are many advances to be made in all facets of agriculture, including grazing management, it is absolutely imperative that any advances are made by education and incentive of the rural industry rather than by using the big-stick approach, which is what this bill represents. It is also apparent that approval for clearing for infrastructure will be built into the development consent at the local government level. While this may not be a problem for structures requiring local government approval, such as houses, sheds and farm buildings, it is a problem for infrastructure that does not require local government approval, as is the case with many farm infrastructure improvements.
Part 4 deals with property vegetation plans that are compulsory documents requiring consent before they can be implemented. Any broadscale clearing, including the removal of one tree that had germinated prior to 1990 or 1983 in the Western Division for the repair of a fence where a tree had fallen across it because of the ridiculously narrow buffer zones permitted under this bill, will need to be assessed to ensure that the removal of the tree will improve or maintain environmental outcomes. Property vegetation plans will require property inspections by DIPNR or CMA staff. Since this Government commenced its regulatory focused program of vegetation controls, unfortunately these staff have come to be despised by the farming communities of New South Wales. They are despised because of this Government's legacy of eight years of mistrust and hatred, which has created a barrier to accepting any new system involving changed rules for vegetation management. The farming and timber communities of New South Wales simply do not trust this Minister and this Government.
The bill provides for plans having a maximum period of 15 years with a review after 10 years. This effectively reduces the security for land-holders when negotiating finance and banking facilities, in addition to the inherent management insecurity associated with such a short time stipulation. Further uncertainty is built into the bill by a provision which allows the Minister to terminate the plan, as allowed by the regulations. There is no mention of guidelines for termination. This is concerning to the rural community, as termination must be an option only if there has been a breach of the plan.
Part 5 deals with this Government's favourite subjects—compliance, enforcement and penalties. Powers of entry are granted to authorised officers, who may be any member of staff of a government agency, to enter any land, without any permission, to check if the land manager is contravening the Act. At the very least, the land manager should be advised of the entry of the officer. The preferred position of the people of rural and regional New South Wales is that permission should be granted only by the land manager. We simply cannot have unknown people tramping all over our properties without our knowledge, doing as they please, in an attempt to make a prosecution stick. If the land manager accompanies the officer while he is performing these functions, the officer has the right to tell the land manager to go away if he does not feel comfortable with that person being there.
If the land manager appoints a person to accompany the officer—and that person may be the consultant who actually prepared the plan—and if the officer is convinced that the landowner is guilty of an offence and that person will put the landowner's case, the officer can claim that the person is not capable of providing assistance and can tell him to be on his way. That is hardly natural justice. Such authorised officers should be able to enter land only for the purpose of determining whether a person is contravening or has contravened the Act, not simply for the purposes of carrying out a function with no evidence or intent to determine non-compliance. That is exactly what was agreed to in the Sinclair report. The powers to obtain information under this bill are suspect as there is no requirement for the authorised officer to produce any formal identification. A similar provision was in the Soil Conservation Act and is in the current Native Vegetation Conservation Act. If this is an oversight, it is yet another oversight in this bill. If it is deliberate, then it is much more sinister for the people of rural New South Wales who are attempting to manage rural agricultural properties.
There are extensive provisions in the bill prescribing penalties under stop-work orders and directions to implement remedial works, but the Sinclair report refers specifically to improved compliance and enforcement capacity focusing on areas of non-compliance. The final issue I wish to address in relation to the Native Vegetation Bill is a very contentious issue and one that is outside normal common law practice. Under this bill, the onus of proof that an offence has not occurred rests with the person charged with the offence. It is a tenet of natural justice in this land that a person is innocent until proven guilty, yet this bill provides for a person to be considered guilty until he or she can prove his or her innocence. This is absolutely unacceptable in Australia. Any government that attempts to change this tenet must be challenged by all in the community to set the record straight. The Legislation Review Committee has raised a number of matters of concern. I remind honourable members that the functions of the Legislative Review Committee are:
... to report to both Houses of Parliament as to whether any such Bill, by express words or otherwise:
(i) trespasses unduly on personal rights and liberties, or
(ii) makes rights, liberties or obligations unduly dependent upon insufficiently defined administrative powers, or
(iii) makes rights, liberties or obligations unduly dependent upon non-reviewable decisions, or
(iv) inappropriately delegates legislative powers, or
(v) insufficiently subjects the exercise of legislative power to parliamentary scrutiny.
When the Legislation Review Committee examined the Catchment Management Authorities Bill, the Native Vegetation Bill and the Natural Resources Commission Bill, their provisions scored four out of five or 80 per cent—which is a pretty high score—in trespassing unduly on personal rights and liberties of people, making rights, liberties or obligations unduly dependent upon insufficiently defined administrative powers, inappropriately delegating legislative powers, and insufficiently subjecting the exercise of legislative power to parliamentary scrutiny. The Legislation Review Committee made some 20 recommendations with respect to the three bills, and I will refer to a few of them to demonstrate their importance. One recommendation reads:
The Committee notes that the right against self-incrimination (or "right to silence") is a fundamental right …
A further recommendation reads:
The Committee refers to Parliament the question whether compelling a person to make self-incriminating statements that … may inform criminal investigations or be admitted in civil proceedings, unduly trespasses on personal rights.
The bills well and truly fail that test. I will not refer to further recommendations; I am sure honourable members can read the report for themselves. I now turn briefly to my duty electorates of Northern Tablelands and Murray-Darling, and I will provide the House with an insight into the impact of the legislation on farmers in those electorates. It is an indictment on the honourable member for Northern Tablelands in another place that he failed to properly represent the concerns of the people in his electorate by deliberately not speaking to this bill in the other place. It is not the first time that he has not spoken on natural resource management issues. He also failed to contribute to the second reading debate on the Threatened Species Amendment Bill 2002, when the people of Northern Tablelands expected him to do so.
I will use a case study to demonstrate the impact of the bill on landowners in the Northern Tablelands. The example I will use relates to a property at Armidale, comprising 688 hectares of freehold land (Minister's consent), 627 hectares of which was purchased in August 1995, prior to the introduction of SEPP 46, for $155,000, or $231 per hectare. The remaining 61 hectares was purchased in 1997 for $50,000, or $820 per hectare. The average price overall was $310 per hectare. The land was purchased profit profunda, meaning that the purchase included the timber rights on the land. That is a very important point. In other words, when the land-holder bought that property he bought the timber rights as well.
Approximately 30 per cent of the property, or 200 hectares, is red basaltic soil, which is highly sought after in New England as agricultural soil, and the remainder is traprock country of reasonable to good quality. The country is all undulating to steep with the red basaltic soil on a high undulating plateau rising to over 1,400 metres above sea level. There are small areas of land over 18 degrees which remain under natural native vegetation and will not be further developed. At purchase, approximately 50 hectares only was clear of tree cover, 400 hectares had been treated with Tordon in 1988 and was not subsequently cleaned up and pasture improved. The country is now overgrown with blackberries, bracken fern, regrowth eucalypts and some wattles, which are all overgrowing the fallen timber previously treated with Tordon. The area is infested with rabbits and foxes, and it is almost impossible to control these pests with the land in its current condition.
The Tordon treatment was completed under the protected lands provisions of the Soil Conservation Act 1938. The landowners at the time received advice on the clearing program from the Soil Conservation Service, and they complied with the Act at that time and the advice offered by the Soil Conservation Service personnel. The remaining 238 hectares, or 34.5 per cent of the total property, is natural native vegetation, mainly comprised of rocky outcrops, drainage lines and land over 18 degrees. This vegetation is generally in good condition. It is free of blackberries and feral animals, and it supports a wide diversity of plant and animal life.
The land-holders undertook a program of sustainable logging, as currently permitted by the Native Vegetation Conservation Act, on 55 hectares during 1997 and 1998, until they were warned by the Department of Land and Water Conservation [DLWC] not to continue this work as they would be in breach of the Act. The landowners advised me of many derogatory comments passed by DLWC inspectors at the time, such as, "If you want your place to look like an Elders catalogue, forget it," and, "You people have to realise that you do not really own this land". This is freehold agricultural land; it is not part of a national park! What about landowners' rights?
Comments such as these obviously create a great deal of anger in the minds of the rural community, and raise the issue of the removal of sovereign rights of landowners of freehold land. As I said earlier, DLWC staff are now despised by many people in rural communities. I inspected the work completed in 1998, and in my opinion it is an excellent example of achieving the correct balance between conservation and production goals. The area is far from clearfelled, with many clumps of trees and pastured areas producing an adequate quantity of good quality feed for livestock while maintaining habitat for native flora and fauna. Many different species of animals and birds were observed in this area.
During 2000 Transgrid constructed a major powerline known as Eastlink from Armidale to Goondiwindi, and the powerline traversed this property. The land was valued at this time for the purpose of paying compensation to the land-holders for the establishment of the powerline. The State Valuation Office placed a value of $550,000, or $800 per hectare, on the property in its current state. However, it is questionable as to whether this value could have been achieved in 2001 given the restrictions on vegetation management. A neighbouring property in a similar condition was for sale, and that property has not yet been sold.
The value of adjoining land that is cleared to a condition similar to that which the land-holders hope to achieve was selling for approximately $2,000 to $2,500 per hectare in 2001. This represented a loss in future capital value to the owners of this property of up to $1.2 million. The property is currently carrying 1,800 16 to 18 micron sheep and 65 cows and calves, which is equivalent to 2,400 to 2,500 dry sheep equivalents [DSEs], year round. The land-holders estimate that the traprock country is capable of carrying 5 to 6 DSEs per hectare, and that the red basalt soil is capable of carrying 12 to 14 DSEs per hectare year round, inclusive of all the timbered and naturally vegetated areas on the property. This equates to a total potential carrying capacity of between 4,800 DSEs and 5,700 DSEs.
These figures are consistent with carrying capacities achieved throughout the New England region on freehold agricultural land that has been developed and improved for agriculture. While this property was in the very early stages of development in 1996, the same figures were used for each year to provide the comparison. The average return per DSE in 1996 was $12, as wool prices were very low. At that rate, 2,500 DSEs yielding $12 per DSE provides an income on the property of $30,000; 5,700 DSEs yielding $12 per DSE provide an income on the property of $68,400. The loss of income on that property in 1996 from the implementation of the Native Vegetation Conservation Act was $38,400.
In 2000, when wool prices improved, the loss increased to $135,000. Currently, as wool prices have stabilised at a much higher level, the income on the property from the 2,500 DSEs is $150,000. If the land-holder was able to carry 5,700 DSEs he would now be making $342,000 a year. The restriction on vegetation management is costing the land-holder $192,000 every year.
Considering the accepted multiplier effect of money coming into a community is that it will "go around" in that community about five times before it goes out of the community, this represents an annual loss of economic activity to the Armidale district of $1 million as a result of the implementation of vegetation restrictions—on just one property! Multiply that figure by the number of properties whose owners can tell a similar story, and it can be seen that the cost to the people of the Northern Tablelands is millions of dollars a year. Many other people from the Northern Tablelands have contacted me, such as Bronwyn Petrie, Keith Cleland, Brian Tomalin and Robert Barwell, to talk about their individual concerns.
The people of Murray-Darling are equally upset about this bill. They are probably even more upset now, given their local member's cavalier approach to this bill when he confidently supported the Australian Labor Party Minister. Besides his normal diatribe of name-calling directed to members of The Nationals and anybody else who happens to hold a view slightly different from his, the member for Murray-Darling referred to Joe and Gabby Hayes as landholders in the Bogan Shire in the Fiveways Landcare Group. Unfortunately, the member apparently does not really know these people, because they are Joe and Gabby Holmes.
Much of the land within the Fiveways Landcare Group area was cleared many years ago—sometime in the 1950s and 1960s. Since that time, some of this area has regrown, but the bimble box, also known as poplar box, has regrown in a multi-stemmed mallee form, rather than in its more normal single stem form. This shallow-rooted multi-stem form has destroyed the natural groundcover of native grasses and shrubs and has caused some of the worst cases of soil erosion I have seen in western New South Wales. As honourable members know, I spent 25 years as an officer of the Soil Conservation Service, so this is a matter that I do know something about. These were some of the worst cases of soil erosion I have seen on any land—cropping, grassland or vegetated land—anywhere in New South Wales. That is despite the complete canopy of native vegetation. This is a good example of how native vegetation regrowth—uncontrolled and unmanaged—is causing land degradation.
The second specific concern in Murray-Darling is the red gum forest industries of the riverland along the Murray River. There is a huge industry around the red gum forests worth many millions of dollars annually, and it produces some of the finest furniture and veneer timbers in the world—value adding at its very best.
Mr Ian Cohen: Timber sleepers.
The Hon. RICK COLLESS: Not just timber sleepers. The honourable member should go down there and have a look at some of the high-quality furniture that is being made, not just timber sleepers.
Mr Ian Cohen: There are a lot of timber sleepers.
The Hon. RICK COLLESS: There are a lot of timber sleepers. Not all timber is suitable for furniture, and not all timber is suitable for sleepers. So they use the timber for a suitable purpose. Now they have developed a process to veneer red gum, and they are selling it overseas for hundreds of thousands of dollars per cubic metre—value adding at its very best. In behind the red gum timber industry is the firewood industry. This industry plays a very important role in the process. It cleans up the litter left on the forest floor following the sustainable logging process. We are not talking about clear felling here. As Mr Ian Cohen appreciates, I hope, here we are talking about long-rotation: planned sustainable forestry management that is worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year to that region.
Foresters down there talk about logging the area every 20 to 30 years. But they are not cutting down trees that are 20 to 30 years old. This area has been logged four times in a 30-year rotation—that is, it has been logged four times in the past 120 years—so they are actually cutting down trees that are 80 to 120 years old. This logging is sustainable. Walk into the forest and you cannot tell it was recently logged. It is full of trees. If the firewood industry is shut down—and it will be under this bill—all this forest litter will remain on the floor until the next major flood, when the vast majority of it will be washed away and deposited against bridges and other infrastructure. The potential for damage to infrastructure from floating timber is enormous. The cost will be twofold: first, the loss of the more than $100 million firewood industry itself, as well as the multiplier effect in the community that I spoke about earlier and, second, the cost of damage to infrastructure after every flood.
In conclusion, the Minister's flowery speeches, as he has wandered about the bush, about getting it right indicates that the Government will be moving amendments. As I said earlier, at 8.15 tonight we finally saw some of the amendments, though I have not yet had the chance to read them. The Coalition wanted to see the amendments, but not at the death knell, not at 8.15 tonight. We would have liked to see them a week or a fortnight ago so that we had sufficient time to go back to our communities and our constituents and examine the amendments in detail and get some feedback on them. Our main concern is to ensure that the bill will improve matters for constituents in rural and regional New South Wales. That has not happened. We did not see these amendments until 8.15 tonight. How can Opposition members be expected to properly scrutinise them and consult with our constituents?
The Hon. Duncan Gay: But there are more to come.
The Hon. RICK COLLESS: That is right: there are more to come that we have not yet seen. From day one we warned that the devil would be in the detail of this natural resources legislation. Sadly, that has proven to be the case. Labor promised that the Sinclair group recommendations would be translated into this legislation. Labor has broken that promise.
The Hon. Henry Tsang: It is a good translation.
The Hon. RICK COLLESS: It broke its promise. The Sinclair report is a compromise document that was negotiated between the Government, the Greens and New South Wales Farmers. Labor is now asking the farmers to compromise on that compromise! Labor wants to welsh on a deal it signed off on. We will not be part of that. Craig Knowles and Labor have been exposed for having played games with the livelihoods of thousands of hardworking families across this State—families like the case study family in the Northern Tablelands. Labor has tried to put this botched legislation through the Parliament with indecent haste; it has failed to consult with farmers and other stakeholders about their so-called changes. This reform is too important for tawdry Labor backroom deals at the last minute amidst Christmas parties and all night drafting sessions.
The Nationals will not support legislation that chokes the farming capacity of New South Wales by severely curtailing farmers' day-to-day activities, puts a brake on regional development and costs thousands of jobs. Through its legislation, Labor has given alleged rapists and murderers more rights before the law than farmers by reversing the onus of proof and abolishing their right to silence. Labor has allowed any person to start legal action against a farmer for perceived breaches of the Act, leaving farmers at the mercy of vexatious litigants. It has ignored the issue of compensation to farmers whose productive capacity is impaired by this legislation. Labor has signalled a tougher compliance and enforcement regime through the use of its "spy in the sky" technology. It has centralised power in the hands of the Sydney-centric Minister and Premier, breaking a promise to devolve power. And it has defined "broadscale clearing" as the removal or damage of one tree.
Labor has created massive Catchment Management Authority areas with vastly different topographies and communities of interest to be administered by five people, only two of whom will be land-holders. It has dictated that farmers will have to publicly list on their title deeds confidential information about their property management. It has empowered Catchment Management Authorities to levy land-holders. It has failed to spell out whether threatened species legislation and local environment plans will overrule property vegetation plans, which were meant to be a one-stop approval shop. And Labor has ignored coastal-specific issues.
I need to emphasise that our interest in these matters run deep, and that they are fundamental to land-holders' rights, opportunity, and free enterprise. Upon these three principles the prosperity of this State and the origins of The Nationals were built. SEPP 46 was a compromise, and it destroyed farmers' rights. The Native Vegetation Conservation Act was a compromise, and it destroyed farmers' opportunities. We will not accept further compromise, because that will simply destroy farmers' hopes. Only by a few more weeks, rather than too few hours, of negotiations between us can these bills be made positive for rural communities. As they stand, they are positively destructive. This is not good legislation. It will not improve the lot of land managers and primary producers in New South Wales. The Coalition opposes these bills.
Mr IAN COHEN [10.09 p.m.]: On behalf of the Greens I speak to the Natural Resources Commission Bill, the Native Vegetation Bill and the Catchment Management Authorities Bill. These bills are a response to the ongoing practice of land clearing that is happening in many guises across New South Wales. Land clearing, the removal and destruction of native vegetation, is the single greatest threat to the environment in New South Wales. Although obviously the Greens come from a very different perspective to the Hon. Rick Colless on this matter, we have significant concerns about the process that has led to these bills.
Permitted land clearing is occurring in New South Wales at a shocking rate, with over 80,000 hectares cleared each year. That is the equivalent of over 90 suburban blocks cleared every hour. Much of this occurs west of the Great Dividing Range in the agricultural areas of central and western New South Wales, and most of it is for expansion of cropping activity. In the north of the State land clearing rates equal those in Queensland.
The Hon. Rick Colless: I don't believe that.
Mr IAN COHEN: The honourable member says, "I don't believe it," but it is provable. I listened to his very different point of view and I say to him—and I will stand by this—I will prove it if he wants to take time out with my staff to look at the rates of land clearing. I will say it again: In the north of the State land clearing rates equal those in Queensland. What an indictment! Land clearing poses the greatest threat to wildlife, native vegetation and sustainable agriculture in New South Wales. It kills native animals and plants, it causes massive land degradation and dry land salinity, and it releases high levels of greenhouse gas emissions.
Land clearing has a devastating impact on wildlife as it destroys habitat, shelter and food sources. For every hectare of woodland cleared, 10 to 20 birds, 200 reptiles and an unknown number of mammals are killed. This adds up to 5 million to 10 million dead birds, 100 million dead reptiles, and more than 500,000 dead mammals every year across Australia. In New South Wales alone, more than 240 native species and 30 ecological communities—or types of bushland—are known to be at risk of extinction because of land clearing. Over 56 birds, 22 mammals, 12 reptiles, 4 frogs and 140 plants are at risk as a direct result of land clearing.
In the central woodland belt of New South Wales alone, 20 bird species including the barking owl and regent honeyeater, are threatened with extinction. The beautiful but threatened red-tailed black cockatoo is hanging on in the north-west of New South Wales, but if its bushland habitat continues to be cleared it will soon be gone, just like many other woodland bird species that are at risk of distinction. The adorable squirrel glider is also threatened with extinction in New South Wales. Like other arboreal mammals, it uses tree hollows for nesting and it is extremely vulnerable to land clearing.
Land clearing is the major cause of recent dryland salinity, which degrades vast areas of productive agricultural land, poisons rivers and water supplies, damages infrastructure such as roads, and threatens remaining native vegetation. Dryland salinity is devastating large areas of New South Wales. More than 180,000 hectares of productive farmland in New South Wales are already affected by dryland salinity and this area is expected to increase eightfold in the next 50 years. In some towns west of the divide, roads and houses are starting to crumble as the rising salt eats away their foundations. This is a huge problem and it undermines our ability to farm and maintain healthy and viable rural communities in the long term.
The economic and social wellbeing of rural communities is clearly linked to access to a clean environment, clean water, and a range of public community services which are only available in viable communities. The environmental degradation caused by land clearing threatens to endanger many rural communities in New South Wales in this respect. Controlling salinity and rehabilitating salt-affected land is also extremely costly to society in general. The repair bill for salinity nationally, assuming we start to pay for it sometime soon, is already estimated at about $6 billion a year for at least 10 years, and lost production due to land degradation costs $1.2 billion every year. So far the promises made to deal with the problem still remain bandaid solutions, and neither the Federal Government nor the State Government has come anywhere close to committing the funds needed to reverse the ongoing decline in our degrading natural environment, which, as everyone is aware, is our national life support system.
Land clearing is also contributing to our greenhouse gas emissions. Significant amounts of carbon are released from the soil as the roots of vegetation are ripped out. A further release of carbon dioxide occurs with the rotting or burning of bushland following clearing. The Minister for Transport Services, who I know does not accept greenhouse as a concept, might be interested to hear that land clearing contributes 13 per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions nationally. This is similar to the total emissions from the transport sector. The increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now changing global weather patterns. Only recently has it been discovered that the circumpolar vortex has been strengthened due to a combination of the Antarctic ozone hole and the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. This is drawing our rain-producing weather systems further south, so significantly less rain is falling on the southern part of the Australian continent.
Combined with rising temperatures, increased frequency of droughts, floods and wild weather events such as intense storm activity, it becomes increasingly clear that there is no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to how we treat the land. Sooner or later we have to pay. The changing climate patterns have serious implications for rural industries and communities in New South Wales. Previous commitments by the Government to end clearing have not borne fruit. The Government promised there would be no net loss of native vegetation by mid-2001, yet in that year there was an 18 per cent increase in approvals to clear bushland compared with 2000.
The Government also made commitments that by 2002 no vegetation community that had been reduced to less than 30 per cent of its original extent would be cleared. Yet we are still witnessing the broadscale daily clearing, with approval from the Government, of threatened bushland types such as Coolibah woodlands in the north of the State. The Coolibah woodlands are vital for catchment health and provide essential habitat for many threatened species such as grey crowned babblers—and I am not referring to the Treasurer.
The Hon. Michael Egan: What was it?
Mr IAN COHEN: The grey crowned babbler, a threatened species in the Coolibah woodlands.
The Hon. Michael Egan: Is it nice?
Mr IAN COHEN: A beautiful bird. A rare bird, one might say. But I am not referring to the Treasurer, although there could be some confusion in the context of this particular wilderness environment. There are also hooded robins, red-tailed black cockatoos and many other species, including native mice, possums, gliders, reptiles, and bats. Yet the Coolibah woodlands are being rapidly cleared to make ring tanks for cotton fields; hundreds of hectares of woodlands are surrounded by low earth walls and then filled with water for use on cotton fields. The trees slowly drown, eventually leaving a desolate forest of dead trees.
Despite the Government's previous commitments to solve this ongoing environmental threat, land clearing continues to push hundreds of native species towards extinction and cause massive land degradation problems in New South Wales. The New South Wales Auditor-General's report entitled "Regulating the Clearing of Native Vegetation", which was released in August 2002, highlighted the poor past performance of this Government to control land clearing and protect bushland. The report looked at the regulation of land clearing by the then Department of Land and Water Conservation [DLWC]. Despite land clearing being the single biggest threat to the environment, this independent report found that the New South Wales Government has not delivered on many of the basics required to manage native vegetation so as to avoid further land degradation, increasing salinity levels, and the extinction of species.
The report found that there is a lack of comprehensive information about the status of native vegetation in New South Wales and changes to it over time. Not only is the baseline information inadequate, but objectives and targets against which we can measure progress in conserving native vegetation are also missing. Of most concern is that the DLWC did not appear to have the information systems, resources, and capacity to regulate the clearing of native vegetation in New South Wales. The Auditor-General's report confirmed the fears of conservationists campaigning on this issue. It was nothing new. We have known that the New South Wales Government has been handing out approvals at an ever-increasing rate without considering the damage being created through land clearing.
The central woodland belt of New South Wales is one of the areas of most concern. Woodlands occur on the more fertile soils; they are generally cleared first and the most comprehensively. There are still some reasonably intact woodlands left in the landscape in the north-west part of New South Wales but they are being targeted by the bulldozers today. This is despite the fact that many catchments further south, which have already had much of their vegetation cleared, are facing massive land degradation and extinction crises. Only two weeks ago my office received footage of land clearing at Five Ways, near Nyngan, where paddock trees had been pushed over, bulldozed into windrows, and burned.
Land clearing is not only a scourge west of the divide. In the eastern division of the State land clearing is most often driven by land speculation and subdivision. Developers and wannabe's are pushing over trees as fast as they can. The exemption under the current Act that allows a land-holder to clear two hectares per year has seen thousands of land-holders clearing their two hectares, and frequently more, every year. To date no-one has been prosecuted for this activity. Up and down the coast, koala corridors and brush-tailed phascogale and squirrel glider habitat are being pushed out to make way for houses on streets given names like Grey Gum Road and Bushland Drive—the only reminder of what has been lost.
In this way vital links and corridors that connected nature reserves, national parks or State forests have been eroded. Threatened species and biodiversity in general cannot survive in a network of isolated and fragmented parks. Vegetation connectivity must be built into the landscape as a vital component. It is the only way to ensure that our biodiversity is resilient to changing climatic conditions. Otherwise, we might as well concrete the lot, because it will not be too many years before many species now thought of as common join the endangered species list. That is, of course, if the State still maintains such a list in 20 years time! We all know that one way of hiding the decline in our biodiversity is to stop the independent Scientific Committee from doing its work. The recent attacks on the Scientific Committee by the New South Wales Farmers Association have not been appreciated.
By the end of 2002 it was clear that previous efforts to halt land clearing in New South Wales had comprehensively failed. The Native Vegetation Conservation Act was riddled with loopholes and exemptions that rendered it both ineffective and unenforceable. Illegal and exempt clearing has been carrying on apace, as recent material obtained under freedom of information legislation demonstrates. The Department of Land and Water Conservation has also approved the clearing of massive areas. Since 1998 the department, on behalf of the New South Wales Government, has approved the destruction of vegetation over some 4,000 square kilometres of land.
If departmental staff thought a clearing application should be rejected, they had to spend several weeks gathering detailed evidence to put forward a case for refusal, whereas only little time and work were required if they chose to approve clearing. Approval was the status quo—refusals were problematic, time consuming and, therefore, infrequent. Also, the ability to prosecute breaches was made even more difficult by the standard of proof required. Barristers defending land clearers made ludicrous demands; for instance, that the prosecution must prove that the land was not covered by schedule 1 but was covered under the Act. The inability to prosecute has allowed recidivist land clearers to get away with this action, and only a handful of cases have been successfully prosecuted
The new land-clearing regime will fail if the Government retains DLWC staff and allows the old culture to remain. Regional directors and lazy compliance officers must be moved on and staff who are in tune with the new system must be employed or promoted to prevent these practices continuing. It was a breath of fresh air when the Wentworth group arrived on the scene. Scientists seem to be timid and reluctant to speak out unless they are absolutely sure. However, the suggestion by the parrot and others that the solution for Australia's drought is to turn our rivers inland has been too much for some.
The Hon. Michael Egan: Who is the parrot?
Mr IAN COHEN: Your friend on the radio, Alan Jones.
The Hon. Michael Egan: You should not say that.
Mr IAN COHEN: Alan Jones suggested that rivers should be turned inland. What a wonderful solution to the problem!
The Hon. Michael Costa: That is quite a good idea.
Mr IAN COHEN: I thought you might agree.
The Hon. Michael Egan: It doesn't sound like a good idea to me.
Mr IAN COHEN: It would cost a lot of money and wreck a lot of areas, but that does not worry the Minister for Transport Services.
The Hon. Michael Egan: He is wrong and I am right.
Mr IAN COHEN: The Minister for Transport Services should not comment on matters he knows nothing about.
The Hon. Michael Costa: An ecomyth!
The Hon. Duncan Gay: If he annoys you, don't give him your preferences.
Mr IAN COHEN: We will see. That ecomyth is backed by the Wentworth group of scientists and science across the State, yet the Minister, who comes from a cloistered environment and has been a bullyboy in the union movement for years with no sustainable opposition, thinks he can talks about ecomyths. I am trying to comprehend how the Minister has got so far with so little understanding of issues. Obviously, he has spent little time looking constructively and objectively at issues over which he has purview. That certainly says something about the Government.
Scientists, including CSIRO chief Dr John Williams and freshwater ecologist Professor Peter Cullen—I suppose the Hon. Michael Costa would call him the high priest of some ecomyth—came together in the Wentworth Hotel and resolved to speak out about the real state of our natural environment. More than that, interest was expressed in finding practical solutions. The social and economic difficulties involved with turning around Titanic Australis were also acknowledged. Towards the end of 2002 the New South Wales Government invited the Wentworth group to convene meetings of farmers and environmentalists in an attempt to find a way to halt land clearing. The report was released in February, and in March the Government gave a commitment to implement the report and provide at least $120 million to this end.
The report proposed a new model of landscape conservation for New South Wales. The focus was on strengthening and simplifying land clearing laws, as well as providing more financial security and funding support for farmers. An unusual level of trust was generated between farmers and environmentalists through the experience of trying to reach solutions. Both sides of the difficult land clearing debate recognised that this urgent problem must be addressed, and they both worked hard to find ways to protect the land, farmers, and the long-term viability of the rural sector. The key element of the Wentworth report that persuaded many environmentalists to get behind the approach was the call for an end to broad-scale land clearing of remnant vegetation and vegetation defined as protected regrowth.
The report also recommended the abolition of all except two minor exemptions. It focused strongly on eliminating loopholes to create sound, legally enforceable laws. Unfortunately, since then the committee convened by Ian Sinclair watered down these suggestions. There are grave concerns, especially among regional conservationists, that the intent of the Wentworth report has not been adequately carried through. The creation of new loopholes and the continuation of exemptions identified as having been used previously to clear significant areas of land are matters of the greatest concern.
This legislation acknowledges, and is an attempt to deal with, the deficiencies of the previous system, but it carries forward some of the big problems, such as the exemptions. For the Greens, the jury will be out until we see the detail of the myriad of regulations proposed and the land-clearing statistics and satellite images that come in over the next couple of years. Only then will we know whether this approach is working. Only then will we know whether the New South Wales Government intends to deliver on its land-clearing promise this time. I turn now to the specifics of the legislation. The Native Vegetation Bill has unfortunately lost "conservation" from its name. We hope the Parliament will support our amendment to insert the word "conservation" as well as "management" of native vegetation. Unless the aim of this exercise is to conserve native vegetation, the people of New South Wales will have been deceived.
Rather than banning broad-scale land clearing, this bill stops it unless it "maintains or improves environmental outcomes". Therefore, instead of a ban, this bill delivers yet another consent process for clearing native vegetation—and in the past the department has always handed out consents like lollies. Furthermore, these environmental outcomes are not defined in the bill, so there is no security whatsoever that the definition will be sound or the process rigorous. The lack of clarity around this point is a major concern for the Greens. Given that the scientific evidence is that clearing almost invariably harms the environment, and rarely if ever maintains or improves environmental outcomes, this environmental test may become just another avenue to clear, perhaps to be used by consent authorities to approve significant destruction of native vegetation. This concern was accentuated by Minister Knowles in his second reading speech when he suggested that sustainable logging improves forest condition and therefore would have no difficulty passing this test. According to the Minister, logging improves environmental outcomes.
The Hon. Michael Costa: It's true. Go into a State forest.
Mr IAN COHEN: I do regularly. This is clearly an absurd proposition, and I suggest the Minister needs to spend more time in our forests and woodlands. Some types of logging may improve the timber-producing capacity of the forests, but few would argue that logging actually improves their ecological condition. Over 200 years logging has systematically degraded our landscapes, particularly the hinterlands where the bulk of our mature vegetation remains. I also refer the Minister to the long list of scientific papers that have addressed this issue over the past 30 years. The implication by the Minister that logging improves environmental outcomes sets a very low bar for assessing environmental outcomes. If this flawed logic is carried through to the environmental test, it means that there will be minimal protection for remnant vegetation as a result of this legislation. It could be exactly what we fear—another rubber stamp consent process.
Then come a number of exemptions from the legislation. This list runs directly contrary to the recommendations of the Wentworth report, which the Government committed to implement in February 2003. It seems that the Government has succumbed to pressure from the New South Wales Farmers Association and will not specify the maximum clearing buffers around rural infrastructure. The Independent Scientific Committee and the Community Reference Panel, which investigated the use of exemptions under the previous Act, found that they were a major mechanism for subverting the intention of the Act. The fact that similar exemptions appear in this legislation is little cause for optimism. This is especially the case with the new two-hectare curtilage clearing. Given the abuse of the two-hectare per year clearing exemption under the previous Act, this seems set to continue the abuse. Many conservationists and farmers have grappled with these and other questions for the past five years on regional vegetation management committees.
That shows how little the Minister knows. Some of these people have contacted my office with concerns that the new legislated exemptions will lead to less protection than the ones they had hammered out as compromises in their committees. Another concern is that these exemptions can be carried out anywhere on the property. Many draft regional vegetation management plans had actually excluded exempt activities from vegetation that had been agreed by the committee to be of high conservation value. Rainforests, old-growth forests and wetlands are some examples of high conservation value vegetation that could be severely compromised if it can be attacked under exemption. Surely there are some places that should be left alone. Under the new definitions proposed in this bill is a provision for the identification of the regrowth that is ecologically important, in addition to remnant vegetation that will be protected. Both the Wentworth report and the Sinclair report recognised this, and we hope that it will be protected, but it seems that there is no real protection for this "protected regrowth" in the foreseeable future.
Only when the Natural Resources Commission has defined some statewide standards for protected regrowth and then these have been applied in a regional context by a catchment management authority [CMA], and only when a land-holder either makes application for a property vegetation plan or a development or clearing application, will the option of protecting regrowth possibly be put on the table. This is why the hue and cry raised last week by some farmers and their mates in The Nationals in the other place were so extraordinary. The suggestion that farmers would suffer from not being able to clear regrowth is laughable. Despite the screaming need to stop clearing along the edges of our streams or in high-risk acid-sulphate country or in areas prone to salinity, there appears to be no requirement in this legislation to afford immediate or even medium-term protection to those areas. There has been some discussion about the onus of proof provision. Indeed, the Government has succumbed to pressure from the farmers on this issue yet again.
Pollution legislation in this State will have taken a massive step backwards today with the winding back of a common requirement that when a defendant wishes to rely on a permit or exemption they need to prove that such reliance was lawful. Similar provisions occur in a wide variety of legislation. Some examples are the Crown Land Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Food Production Safety Act. The office of Parliamentary Counsel says that such clauses are not unusual. A leading environmental barrister in this State has told me that they form part of common law. Only the defendant can know why they took a particular course of action. It is fundamental to their defence that they should tell society why they thought they were allowed to do what they did. This is what this section means.
The watering down of this provision severely compromises the intent of the bill. It will render this bill as unenforceable as the last. In two years time we can expect that the Auditor General will write yet another report declaring that this legislation, too, has failed to stop land clearing. The New South Wales Government is now on its third attempt to stop land clearing; it is on its third promise to the community and the electorate to address this issue. The Government can be certain that it will have a major credibility issue if it fails again. The changes the Government has made to the onus of proof provision signal disaster for this bill, the Government's credibility and the natural environment of this State.
I refer to the Catchment Management Authorities Bill. Again, the Greens appreciate that this concept has come from the Wentworth report. Unfortunately, the thinking about how the CMAs will work in practice does not seem to have progressed very far in the time between the release of that report and now. The Local Government and Shires Association has rightly raised a number of questions about how the CMAs will work with local government. Their questions remain unanswered. For this reason, the Greens will be moving an amendment that requires CMAs to develop a memorandum of understanding with their corresponding local governments. There needs to be a provision in this legislation that recognises that partnership. CMAs are meant to develop catchment action plans to guide investment in priority areas of land rehabilitation. Unfortunately, experience of land restoration is not a skill required by CMA board members. We are incredulous that millions of dollars are to be spent annually by a board that may have no practical experience of large restoration projects.
After a decade of Landcare, this approach is not good enough. While the Landcare movement has played an important role in building awareness and community involvement, there has not been a strategic use of funds. Millions of dollars have been spent for little environmental gain. The danger of the current approach is that this will see more of the same: land-holders getting thousands of dollars for fencing which may have little environmental benefit, or trees being planted without appropriate follow-up care which then fail to survive. One bush regenerator friend has described the futility felt by his green corps team as they weeded and planted in a degraded landscape and watched as the bulldozers and trucks cleared and removed mature, relatively weed-free vegetation from the neighbouring block. It will be decades, even centuries, before their work will be of comparable condition with that removed. What sort of insanity that has us fiddling at the edges while opportunities for genuine conservation of existing remnant vegetation disappear by the day?
The Greens seek that the Government addresses the issue of fencing materials in the regulations. How incongruous would it be if in order to fence areas for conservation management thousands of mature hardwood trees were cut down to provide fence posts? CMAs will be given the task of accrediting property vegetation plans. However, some of these plans, called development PVPs, could have a duration of 15 years and allow significant clearing to occur. But there is no provision in the bill for transparency. Where is the requirement for public exhibition of a development application? In what other part of the planning and development sphere can someone get an approval for 15 years worth of development activity without their neighbours having an opportunity to view the proposal and comment? This bill sets an unhealthy precedent in that respect and the Greens will be moving amendments to attempt to redress this. We will also be seeking to ensure Aboriginal representation on the CMAs and for the establishment of regional Aboriginal natural resource committees to provide a genuine forum for consultation with Aboriginal people about land management issues.
I now turn to the Natural Resources Commission Bill. To the Natural Resources Commission [NRC] falls the task of stepping outside the politics and providing government and the community with independent credible scientific advice. While the NRC is to consider also economic and social factors, it will have to ensure that CMAs have to meet scientifically robust standards. It is an onerous role. Whether the natural environment of New South Wales continues to degrade will really be the responsibility of the NRC. If it fails to provide clear direction and is ambivalent or vacillates about what needs to be done, it will have done all future generations of New South Welsh a great disservice. The form that the NRC is to take, like so much else in this package, still seems to be under discussion. Different people in government are telling us different things.
Will the NRC have responsibility for carrying forward regional forest assessments? Will it complete the work of the Coastal Council, which it replaces, and oversee the comprehensive coastal assessment? One section of our society that has been ignored by this legislation but which will be affected by it is the Aboriginal community. The wealth of knowledge and unique expertise in environmental management of the Aboriginal people, their capacity as custodians of all lands and waters regardless of tenure, and their role as significant land-holders in New South Wales is recognised by the present membership of a number of State committees. Many of these bodies are to be subsumed into a single Natural Resources Commission and the associated Advisory Council, neither of which have a legislated requirement for Aboriginal involvement, nor to consult with the Aboriginal community. The expertise and knowledge that has been gained through these processes may well be lost.
The proposed model does not appear to acknowledge Aboriginal input and provides no benefits to Aboriginal people in relation to their spiritual, customary and economic use of land and water. The bill fails to recognise the ongoing role and obligations that Aboriginal people have to country. It fails to provide for their rights of access for hunting and gathering, to their living cultural heritage or to the intellectual ownership of their knowledge. It also fails to abide by the protocols of the Services Delivery Partnership Agreement, made between the Premier, the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, signed only last October. The proposed protection of some regrowth on account of its importance to life, water, soil and salt must be extended to recognise and protect that vegetation where the carrying out of cultural activities is dependent upon the existence of the vegetation.
The proposed CMAs must be required to develop cultural heritage management plans, with which the catchment management plans and property vegetation plans must be consistent. International best practice dictates that decisions in relation to the use and management of natural resources ought to be accompanied by the prior informed consent of the traditional owners and custodians of the lands and waters. Let us not forget that Aboriginal people have sustainably maintained this country for at least 40,000 years! It is only through specific provision that the interests of Aboriginal people can be guaranteed in the volatile climate of politics. Aboriginal people can only rely on unambiguous, express legislative pronouncement. We will be proposing a number of amendments to these bills to provide this needed certainty.
I now turn to the concerns of another neglected but very significant stakeholder in the management of natural resources: our local governments. In a single year Australian local governments spend $4.3 billion on environmental protection and natural resource management. This amounts to $130 per person per year. The $406 million over four years promised under these bills pales against this. Certainly the distribution of funds between city and country is very different, but the arithmetic comes out at only $13.50 per person under this new proposal. This bill seems to relegate local government to the status of just another stakeholder, of equal or less weight than the many vested minority interests to be given seats on the Advisory Council.
The bill requires that the CMA is to have regard to environmental planning instruments, but fails to provide an appropriate mechanism for this interaction. It rides roughshod over local government by any future environmental planning instruments such as local environment plans will not be able to stop clearing of significant vegetation if a land-holder has a 15-year property vegetation plan in place. An amendment to require that CMAs enter into a memorandum of understanding with local councils will be proposed to remedy this oversight. The CMAs may be appointed as the consent authority, a role now carried out by local government. There is potential for this power to undermine the democratic planning of local communities that is not adequately specified in the bill.
I will now address another dimension of this debate and refer to an even more complex set of circumstances: the potential impacts of this natural resources reforms process and this suite of cognate bills on the coast of New South Wales. As members both here and in another place have noted, the genesis of these natural resources reforms and the source of the intention for these bills has been the work of the Wentworth group of concerned scientists and the New South Wales implementation committee chaired by the Rt Hon. Ian Sinclair. The work of these groups and the recommendations they made in their reports have been really centred on dealing with broad-scale land clearing and disputes over access to water allocations from our rivers and creeks. It has been appropriate that these issues receive significant consideration by the New South Wales Government.
The geographic focus of this flurry of policy activity has been western New South Wales. There has been no mention in all this time in these written reports of the groups, that the 72 water and vegetation advisory committees proposed to be abolished in the Minister's own press release, dated 15 October, would be expanded to include another 10 bodies including the Resource and Conservation Assessment Council [RACAC], the Healthy Rivers Commission, the Coastal Council of New South Wales, the State Catchment Management Co-ordinating Committee, the Native Vegetation Advisory Council, the Water Advisory Council, the State Wetland Advisory Committee, the State Weir Review Committee, the Advisory Council on Fisheries Resource and Conservation, and the Fisheries Resource and Conservation Assessment Council.
All these bodies are listed in part 2 of schedule 3 to the Natural Resource Commission Bill and will all be abolished on the commencement of this legislation. The proposal to abolish the New South Wales Coastal Council has come without warning or consultation, and appears at first take to be a major mismatch—the obvious mistake in this reform process—because coastal management is about far more than water and vegetation. In coastal New South Wales these issues of natural resource management, particularly water and vegetation, are prominent and need addressing. Coastal areas have different ecological complexions than inland environments. The coast also has a substantially different set of social and economic interests and pressures affecting natural resource management that need to be considered and integrated into decisions that affect it. Hence, one size or policy solution in natural resources management reform does not necessarily fit all locations or situations. I will return to this point in due course.
The sudden news that the Coastal Council is gone was a shock to many in the community concerned about the conservation of the coast and, according to the New South Wales Nature Conservation Council, it has shaken community confidence in the Government's continued protection of the New South Wales coast from rampant development. More than a few in the wider coastal management community see it as a nasty surprise and a serious loss. Indeed, it is seen as kind of sneaky and underhand by some who perceive the media and policy focus on the long overdue resolution of water and vegetation issues as a smokescreen for a more significant power play that may have profound adverse effects on coastal New South Wales, a policy diversion, if you like, to provide cover for the main game: winding back controls on coastal development while simultaneously abolishing all advisory committees on which the community was represented.
Honourable members opposite may scoff at such a suggestions. "Labor would not sell out the coast," you might say. But where is the substance of any reassurance by the Minister that this will not happen? The Minister has given no reassurance and there is no substantial mechanism for community consultation other than an advisory council on natural resources that the Minister will create administratively, not through legislation, at a time yet to be determined. Did the Minister formally announce the demise of the Coastal Council? Did he issue a public statement or media release? No, he did not. The news leaked out in early November, but it was not confirmed until the Minister introduced the bill and delivered his second reading speech at 10.48 p.m. on Wednesday 12 November—two weeks ago!
The Minister declined to attend the twelfth annual New South Wales Coastal Conference in Port Macquarie in the first week in November and he did not announce the imminent demise of the Coastal Council. His representative at the conference, the honourable member for Newcastle, Mr Bryce Gaudry, did not announce it; nor did the Deputy Director-General of the new super agency, the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources, Andrew Cappie Woods, who advised the conference that discussions were still continuing. The Minister should have announced publicly that the Coastal Council would be abolished. He should have ensured that the Coastal Conference was properly briefed on the Government's intentions and its co-operation sought. It would have been good policy reform process to communicate with and involve those with interests likely to be affected. But the Minister chose not to, or could not, take the community of coastal management professionals into his confidence.
The Minister did not explain the Government's purpose or aims, answer questions or address concerns. He did not offer written assurances or public commitments. He stayed silent and then made a 40-minute speech late one Wednesday night in early November introducing three far-reaching bills as cognate legislation. This has been change management at its worst. The Minister is presenting the smallest possible target, hiding the policy implications for coastal New South Wales behind a gaggle of cranky farmers from the Western Division. As a result of the Minister's approach to this matter, no-one knew then, or knows even now, what these reforms mean for coastal New South Wales or how the new institutions created by these bills will deliver better coastal management outcomes. The Minister has not explained these crucial aspects of the Government's policy reforms in his second reading speech nor in his speech in reply.
Who would have thought that the added consequences of another attempt at fixing water and vegetation policies in western New South Wales would be the roll back of coastal protection? It is ironic that the demise of the Coastal Council comes at a time of substantially increasing population growth—up to 50 per cent growth over the next 20 to 25 years—when land prices are at a premium and development pressure on the New South Wales coast is at a new high? Is it accidental that right when development pressure is growing again and the need for a specialist coastal policy advisory body is again great, the one independent coastal watchdog body is abolished, creating a significant loss in the Government's capacity to address this pressure right when it is needed most? Conspiracy theories aside, the loss of the Coastal Council creates another level of destabilising effects during a time of significant change and upheaval. It is a recipe for losing the plot.
The Greens and many others are worried that the Government focus on the coast will be lost and coastal protection will be stalled behind major changes to water and native vegetation management. Our legitimate fear is that while the commission is setting up and the catchment management authorities are inventing themselves, coastal development will go boom, unchecked, creating another wave of coastal planning mistakes to be visited on future generations. All it will take is a little gap of six months or so to open up in the oversight of coastal management and coastal development approvals for real harm to be down. Dodgy, inappropriate coastal development rushed through a compliant, sympathetic local council for approval can change the face of our coast for the foreseeable future, making it uglier, more crowded and lacking in style, damaging important coastal vegetation and habitat for threatened species, diminishing water quality and scenic values, undermining the very values that first attracted us to the coast.
If these outcomes were not consciously intended, who thought through the likely consequences and ramifications? Has the Minister not answered the raft of questions about the future of coastal management in New South Wales raised by the abolition of the Coastal Council because the Minister has no idea of what the reforms will mean to coastal New South Wales? Does the Minister really have no idea of the ramifications of the reforms on coastal management in New South Wales because he has hardly thought about them? It certainly seems as though the Minister is making up the reforms as he goes along, but he is conveniently forgetting to communicate them to others. Worse than making policy on the run, this is institutional reform on the run with minimal communication strategy and on a hurried timetable.
This is not the stuff that inspires public confidence and builds community support. It is a policy disaster in slow motion. The Minister still has not issued a news release or public statement justifying abolishing the Coastal Council, or addressing legitimate community concerns about what the loss of the New South Wales Coastal Council will mean in the fight against inappropriate coastal development. It is odd, because in his second reading speech the Minister spoke highly of the Coastal Council and in particular of its chairman, Professor Bruce Thom. The Minister is right to speak highly of Professor Thom and the Coastal Council because they have made very positive contributions to protecting the New South Wales coast. This is no advisory council created administratively by the Minister. The Coastal Council is an independent statutory council created under the Coastal Protection Act 1979 as amended. It advises the Minister on coastal policy.
Very importantly, the council provides its independent report to Parliament annually on the implementation of the coastal policy. It is an honest report direct to the New South Wales Parliament on how well State agencies and local government are complying with the coastal policy and delivering ecologically sustainable coastal management. The report has been prepared to be critical of State and local government bodies that have not performed to an adequate standard in protecting and managing their areas of the State's coast. The report pointed with some concern to the trend of hollowing out technical expertise from State government departments and outsourcing requests for expertise to the private sector. This annual independent report to the New South Wales Parliament has been studiously ignored by successive Ministers who have not acknowledged, let alone welcomed, the Coastal Council's report and its critical observations. How will Parliament obtain an independent report on the effectiveness of coastal protection policies when the Coastal Council is gone? Is it really an unintended consequence that no independent and potentially critical voices be heard in this Parliament?
But the Coastal Council did more than write reports to Parliament: it went to the people. Many community groups respected the Coastal Council's willingness to conduct field inspections and hold community access meetings in regional centres, since these meetings provided up-to-date information and allowed direct feedback to the Coastal Council on local coastal management issues, free of departmental filters. People in the community liked the fact that the local council's officers and the staff of State Government agencies could be put on the spot and queried on their actions, or alternatively could seek their advice and intervention. People liked the way that Coastal Council members made themselves accessible and made community consultation a priority. Once the Coastal Council is abolished how will that kind of communication and consultation with the community on coastal management issues be delivered?
The Natural Resources Commission and the Catchment Management Authority should deliver at least this level of accessibility and consultation, or public participation will go backwards. While I acknowledge the council's willingness to meet the community, it would not be inappropriate to overlook the Coastal Council's preparedness, particularly that of its Chair, Professor Bruce Thom, and its Executive Officer, Julie Conlon, to meet with those from the development industry. At these meetings the coastal policy and its requirements were laid down in unmistakeable terms to private land developers and the many developers were told "It is not consistent with the coastal policy so it won't get up", before any detailed work or major expense had been incurred or development application submitted. We do not know how many inappropriate coastal developments were dropped cold when the developers came to realise that their crazy dreams were not going to happen on the New South Wales coast.
Who is going to apply the reality test to coastal developers when the Coastal Council is gone? Who will say, "It's a crazy development proposal, it's against the coastal policy, and it won't get up, so don't waste your time and money."? More than likely the local council will not say such things, and we know why. The Land and Environment Court might say such things but it will not do so until very much later in the development approval process, when lots of money has already been spent trying to make an inappropriate development fit where it will not fit. But the court has been at its best in refusing development consent for inappropriate coastal developments where the Minister has become involved as a party to the proceedings and has appointed the Chair of the Coastal Council to attend court and provide expert evidence to the court on the application, intent and effect of the coastal policy.
On several occasions appeals by disgruntled developers against council or ministerial refusals have been defeated in part through the advocacy of the coastal policy before the court. Who will undertake such expert advocacy now? How will the Land and Environment Court now apply the policy and ensure consistent standards to protect the coast's many assets and values? The Coastal Council, through its expert planning staff, critically reviewed hundreds of proposed amendments to local environment plans and many scores of development applications. It considered many submissions made by community groups or concerned individuals and provided written advice to the Director-General of the Department of Planning, to the department's regional planning co-ordinators and to many local councils. Who will play this watchdog role on coastal developments when the Coastal Council is gone? I think it will be no-one.
Someone must, and that is why the Greens will move at the appropriate time to amend the bill to ensure that the position of a dedicated coastal commissioner is included in the Natural Resources Commission. It was the New South Wales Coastal Council that instigated the idea of an annual conference of the coastal management community and it was the Coastal Council that developed a set of criteria for excellence in coastal management across a range of sectors. It also adjudicated upon and announced the annual Coastal Management Awards. How will these awards now be conferred? Who will convene the Coastal Conference next year? The Minister has not explained how the two major projects being undertaken by the Coastal Council will now be carried out. The Coastal Council was overseeing the $8 million Comprehensive Coastal Assessment [CCA] through its steering committee, and I am told the CCA has substantially commenced with the letting of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of assessment projects.
The next phase of the CCA, once Government approval for the CCA roll-out is obtained, is to begin the assessment of coastal New South Wales on a region-by-region basis. As part of this roll out, the CCA must frame several scenarios for the modelling of the conservation, social and economic data, and those scenarios must be properly calibrated against community sensibilities and expectations. But who will oversee these assessments, develop and adopt appropriate scenarios and formulate adroit recommendations if there is no longer a Coastal Council? Judging by the legislation, the inquiry and assessment processes may well be transferred to the new Natural Resources Commission. But when? Before the ink is dry, already there are arguments that, despite the provisions of the bill, the coastal assessment project will remain with the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources. So much for independence from agency bias! And, of course, any further delays in the coastal assessment roll out means that we will be that much further from having an independent strategic level assessment of the coast, using up-to-date information, that could feed into the new catchment management authorities.
So who will drive this coastal assessment now that these reforms have cast a doubt over the project's future? Will a community reference panel be set up specifically to assist with setting scenarios or will the bureaucrats capture the assessment and ensure that nothing too challenging or expensive is recommended from it? The second major project also announced in June 2001 as part of the Government's coastal protection package and also to be carried out by the Coastal Council is the review of the coastal policy, which was released in 1997. The policy is seven years old and is just about worn out.
Almost all the agencies with duties listed in the policy have had their names changed at least once, and any actions that were to be implemented have now been implemented or will never be implemented. Many new coastal management issues have recently emerged but the policy is silent on these and will remain silent without a proper review. The coastal policy lacked teeth and many in the community were hoping that the coastal policy review would provide an opportunity for some genuinely effective policies to be put in place and made to stick. The future of this review, and indeed the coastal policy itself, has been thrown into doubt by the abolition of the Coastal Council. No doubt many in the development industry or in the shonkiest local councils would be pleased to see the old policy remain ineffectually in place or fall from view entirely. They would not want a new updated and smarter coastal policy with effective teeth; they would prefer no holds barred on coastal development.
So how will the coastal policy review now be carried out? Who will be responsible for the implementation of any revised coastal policy and report on progress when the Coastal Council is gone? All these questions of what happens to the coastal policy now that the Coastal Council is gone are presently moot and will remain unanswered because the Minster has not addressed them. He has not given any details of what these natural resources reforms mean for the future of coastal management in New South Wales. He has completely failed in his duty of spelling out to the community what the implications of these far-reaching reforms might be, and in failing to do that the Minister has created uncertainty and anxiety where there was no need for such uncertainty and anxiety. The questions I have posed here tonight, and which have been articulated by many in the community, stand as testament to a hurried and poorly managed process of reform.
To say that the political management of the introduction of these reforms has been lousy is no understatement, but such a statement must not be misconstrued as meaning that the reforms themselves lack merit. Generally speaking the Greens support the integration of State Government agencies and we believe the Government is on the right track in overcoming the departmental demarcation, duplication and cost shifting that has gone on for years. The State Government agencies needed to get out of their departmental silos and address natural resources at the whole catchment and bio-regional level. Maybe these reforms will actually achieve these outcomes.
These could be good reforms if the following outcomes are achieved. First, if the agencies co-operate and integrate, leaving behind old tribalism and the mental silos; second, if the Natural Resources Commissioners are genuinely committed to public consultation, prepared to get out their offices in Sydney into regional New South Wales and if they adopt an open approach to communications generally; third, if the commissioners are prepared to use their powers to ensure compliance and a consistent standard of coastal management; fourth; if the catchment management authorities actually supervise local government and require best practice in coastal management and do not simply pander to small town sensitivities; and, fifth, if adequate financial and human resources are applied to addressing these complex problems.
The new year starts with the agencies engaged in delivery of programs once more. Inaction on land clearing has undermined the efforts of the growing number of farmers and land-holders who are working hard trying to maintain bushland on their farms. They are among those who recognise that long-term productivity on the land depends on healthily functioning ecosystems. In many parts of the State we are still going backwards. The information provided by the National Land and Water Audit provides a clear and startling picture: 80 per cent of the profit comes from just 1 per cent of the agricultural land. Over much of New South Wales, agriculture operates at a net loss for years at a time. This comes at the cost of ongoing land and water degradation that makes such agriculture progressively marginal and unprofitable. This in turn seems to drive some graziers to clear and stock more marginal areas, attempting to recover past losses. And so the cycle goes on. Until we can break the economic imperative that makes land clearing profitable we will be fighting a losing battle. While this legislation has the potential to move us in that direction, it is fraught with pitfalls.
I have set down the serious concerns that the Greens have with the bills. On several fundamental points they represent a major wind-back from the Wentworth report and the strong promise that the Government made to implement it in February this year. So much of the implementation of these bills is to be left to regulation that the full extent to which the final implementation differs from the Wentworth vision remains to be seen, although these bills have set alarm bells ringing. The Greens will be following every step of the implementation process. We will be watching each and every regulation, each and every development. The balance on this issue has swung a long way back from the natural environment over the last six months since the Wentworth report was presented. If the Government does not make up for this with regulation and implementation, it can expect the community and the Greens to cry foul. And remember: land clearing is an enduring issue for the population of this State. It will not go away or be forgotten. It is fundamental to the health and future wellbeing of every individual in New South Wales, and it will surely come back to haunt the Government if it cannot get it right this time.
The Greens will carefully watch the debate in Committee. We are not yet convinced that the bills deliver the long-promised end to broadscale land clearing as we have been promised time and again. Staff in my office and many other people have given a great deal of time to research these matters. They have prepared this response on behalf of the Greens. These people have a great deal of interest, experience and expertise in these areas. I warn the Government that we will continue oversight of these so-called reforms. I ask the Government to honour its fulsome promises, particularly in regard to an end to broadscale land clearing. We certainly are not going away. As I have said, the issue is basic to success in the farming community and our natural vegetation areas for future generations.
The Hon. JON JENKINS [11.13 p.m.]: Before getting to the main thrust of my speech I will deal with some of the issues raised by Mr Ian Cohen about greenhouse gases. I refer him to the latest issue of Science and a major study done by the Brazilian and United States governments. The study is reported under the heading "Trees may not reduce greenhouse gas", and it deals with how rainforests and forests in general contribute to the carbon dioxide balance in the atmosphere. I suggest the honourable member read it. Basically, the result of the study is that the effect on the carbon dioxide—
Mr Ian Cohen: If you have a mature forest or a rainforest it can be carbon neutral. It is just one part of it. It does not answer the whole question. You are just compartmentalising one tiny area.
The Hon. JON JENKINS: Read the article. The concept of tying carbon dioxide up in the biomass, in the ground or in the trees, is well understood but the actual carbon dioxide part of the forest versus a field of grass is debatable. In terms of animal loss, reptile loss and small mammal loss, any land clearing pales into insignificance compared with the numbers of animals lost per annum to feral cats. So if we want to preserve our natural environment—and land clearing is a very important part of it—it is far more important to do something about feral cats and foxes. Those are significant actions that we can take.
I will try to be brief because I know that it is late. I say at the outset that I support the thrust of the bills. The protection and preservation of our wonderful natural heritage is at the very core of why I am in this place. However, it continues to amaze me that the reason for this effort is never stated in legislation. Why do we want to preserve our environment? We could have a European-style environment almost devoid of native animals and native vegetation. People survive quite well in Europe: they live, they breathe, they eat and do all the things that we do. The reason that we want to preserve our natural environment is so that we can embrace it and enjoy it. That should be stated as an objective of the legislation. Why is it so hard for the Government to State this and implement it in legislation? We do not want our landscapes scarred, our fields rendered sterile by salinity or our precious forests desertified. Nor do we want a European landscape. The main objective of legislation to preserve our natural environment so that we can enjoy it, our children can enjoy it and future generations can enjoy it.
Farmers and people on rural residential blocks can live intertwined with the natural processes as far as possible while maintaining a reasonable lifestyle. This is entirely realisable without returning to the caves, as some would have us do. When dealing with any bills that seriously affect land-holders who produce our very sustenance we have to be extraordinarily careful. Farmers have endured and are still enduring some of the worst droughts in living history. The spectre of some government instrument able to determine how to manage one's property in these times is very frightening for land-holders. In fact, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics figures show that farm income has dropped to an all-time low. The average cash income is $14,000 per farm and the average farm loss is $78,000 per annum. Ask a farmer how he wants to contribute to sustaining the local environment at the moment and he will probably look dumbfounded and reply that he does not know how he is going to sustain his family next week, let alone the environment for the next generation.
This brings me to my four major criticisms of the bills. First, there is no mention of the overall goal of the bills. What is the point of having biodiversity of our native populations? What is the point of maintaining large native vegetation corridors? The aim is to preserve our environment for all members of this State, present and future, to enjoy. This should be stated in the objectives of the bills. Second, they contain only threats of penalty and control and do not give any real incentive, pecuniary or otherwise, to actively participate in this activity. Compensation for any lost productivity as a result of the bills is missing. Why would any farmer willingly declare in a vegetation plan areas to be classified as remnant or regrowth? Farmers will be penalised only if they are perceived to have mismanaged these areas. Third, the bills, although very well intentioned, have been implemented in haste.
Their drafting contains many serious flaws and problems. In view of the fact that the bills are among the most far reaching and important bills in the Parliament's history it would have been better had the Government adjourned debate until next year so that we could have proper time to analyse the consequences of the bills and consult properly with all stakeholders. Instead, the Government has attempted to rush these very important bills through at the last minute. Fourth, the bills are supposed to reflect the intention of the Sinclair report. In this aspect it fails miserably. I cannot believe that this level of incompetence exists within the department. The alternative has been that the Greens or the extreme environmentalists have had their hands all over the bills.
For those and many other reasons, which I will go into in detail about now, I find it difficult to support this bill in its current form. I accept that I might not be aware of some of the processes and procedures of government and the Executive, so I will graciously accept guidance from the Minister in that area if I need it. Part of the problem lies in the fact that this bill was introduced at the last minute with no proper opportunity for discussion with the Minister or his minders. The Natural Resources Commission Bill sets up the commission that will oversee the management of our natural resources on both private and public land for the whole of New South Wales. Clause 4 (g) states:
For the purposes of this Act, natural resource management extends to the following matters relating to the management of natural resources...
(g) any other matter concerning resources prescribed by the regulations.
So, effectively, anything can be any included in that provision. That is far too wide a description, and it could include many other activities not intended either by the Sinclair or the Wentworth reports. That clause needs to be amended, removed or clarified. With regard to clause 6, the positions of commissioner and assistant commissioners are not insignificant positions. Those people will hold positions of extraordinary power in this State and they will be able to determine the right of entry, the onus of proof, impose penalties, and control many people's livelihoods. There should at least be some specification of the requirements for these positions. Clause 10 (1) states:
The Commission is not subject to Ministerial control in respect of the preparation and contents of any advice or recommendation of the Commission, but in other respects is subject to the control and direction of the Minister.
The clause does not state that the Minister has to listen to the advice; it just states that he cannot control what is in it. There is nothing in that provision that states that the Minister has to take note of the advice. It is a technical point and, as was stated earlier, the devil of these things is often in the detail. Clause 13 contains no mention of the guiding principles but its intention is for the benefit of the people—to ensure that the environment, at least in some small way, is retained in its natural state so that people can enjoy it. Why is it that we do not want another Europe, which is almost devoid of native forests and animals? Let us state that in the guiding principles of the bill. I might require the Minister's assistance in relation to clause 18 (2), which states:
For the purposes of this section, a certificate of the head of The Cabinet Office that any information relates or question relates to confidential proceedings of Cabinet or that a document is a Cabinet document is conclusive of the matter certified.
That provision worries me a little. I will refer later in this debate to the fact that there are many places in which reports and advice can be hidden. However, that might be standard practice. I will accept it as being standard practice, but it concerns me. The schedule referred to in clause 22 abolishes the fisheries and coastal management authorities. However, as Mr Ian Cohen pointed out at some length, the rest of the bill is completely silent on how these complex areas will be represented in the new scheme of management. I have received numerous representations about the special nature of the coastal environment and, in particular, the highly complex issues surrounding the interplay between coastal wetlands, and intertidal and reef areas. Yet again the legislation is silent on these issues.
What about the Natural Resources Advisory Council [NRAC]? Although the Minister made much of this body in his second reading speech I can see no mention of it in the legislation. How is that body to be constructed and under what rules will it operate? In the Minister's speech he made much of the make-up of the NRAC. However, when one considers the number of recreational activities that take place in or near waterways and along the coast, and one takes into account the fact that there is no tourism or recreational representation on the NRAC, it is at best an oversight and at worst a deliberate attempt to remove the fundamental right of people to enjoy the bounty of nature's gifts, which this bill seeks to preserve.
The Catchment Management Authorities Bill establishes the base level authorities to act at a community level. The boards do not have a single representative from three important parts of our communities. First, the tourism and recreational activities carried out on our waterways, both coastal and inland, are phenomenal—everything from a picnic beside the river to water skiing, sea and fly fishing and surfing. To not have any concern for people's recreational use of our waterways is reprehensible. Second, indigenous people have unique insights into the management of our natural resources and their views should also be represented on this authority. Third, local councils also require some input into these areas. I refer the attention of honourable members to clause 8 of the bill. Why can the board not appoint its own chair? Why is the Minister appointing a chair of a community level board? So much for independence!
The chairman of the board will obviously control the agendas. Clause 12 deals with the efficiency and effectiveness review. The Minister can simply replace the authority without referral to any other body or committee. It is the same scenario in this bill. The Minister can arbitrarily replace any of the persons involved in this process. Similarly, under clause 20 (1) (c) the Minister may direct the inclusion of any other matter into the catchment plans. What is the point of having advisory, scientific, technical and community consultation if the Minister can include any other matter into the plans? Surely such matters should be limited to matters of technical, scientific or cultural heritage value or merit. Under clause 21 again the plan can be displayed only with the Minister's approval. If the Minister wants to hide the plan, there is no problem about that.
Clause 22 provides that the draft plan should go only to the Minister and the Natural Resources Commission [NRC]. The Minister can restrict the time that the NRC has to deal with submissions. The problem with clause 24 is that the catchment management plan is published only after it is a fait accompli. It states that the Minister may seek and take into account the advice of others but the problem is that the plan may be published only to the Minister and the NRC. Again, the plan is not available for viewing outside that small group. Subclauses (2) and (3) of clause 25 are interesting. The Minister may simply arbitrarily modify the plan or even totally revoke it without referral to anyone. What is the point of having scientific advisory content if the Minister can simply revoke the plan? We would not have seen the plan at that point in time; it would still be hidden within the processes of government.
At every level throughout this legislation there is ample opportunity for ministerial interference, completely legitimate interference. The theme of ministerial interference is threaded throughout the bill. The claims of independence are really quite lame in view of the rampant opportunity for the Government to intervene arbitrarily in the process. If it does not like the referee's decision, it can change the referee. Part 5 of the bill deals with annual implementation plans. Clause 28 (1) refers to the fact that the plans may be subjected to arbitrary modification by the Minister, with no review. What is the point of having this process if there is arbitrary modification? The next provision in the legislation deals with fees. How much will it cost to submit a property vegetation plan [PVP] and have it approved?
Clause 2 of schedule 4 provides that the Government can also levy a fee on "any" land within its catchment contribution area. It is up to the Minister to declare which land is within the catchment contribution area. Again, there is ministerial control at every level; there is no independent control. There is no provision relating to a person's ability to pay, and there is no reference to any degree of benefit. There is no requirement for scientific support for or inclusion of properties into the catchment contribution area. There are no appeal processes; there is no independent umpire. There is provision for the waiving of fees in cases of hardship. If the Government is serious about that provision it should spell it out clearly so farmers will know exactly what remedy they may have if some environmentally loaded catchment management authority [CMA] decides it does not like a particular landowner's attitude. Who makes the decision about hardship? It is the CMA again.
I return to the main part of the bill, and to one of what I call the nasties in it. Clause 36 (2) gives the authority a complete right of unrestrained entry to private land. It also gives that right to "other persons". The authority is also given the right to carry out work on the land. The provision with relation to compensation is draconian. What happens if the damage is not evident until after six months have elapsed? Often that is the case with vegetation issues. Clause 37 (d) does not require proof of a quorum. Why not? The catchment management authority will impose penalties. Any decision made to levy fees, to allow someone to enter land arbitrarily and to impose penalties should surely, at the very least, be a decision of the majority of the board. Clause 38 is the all-care-but-no- responsibility clause: if we mess up your livelihood, we are not responsible and there is no compensation.
Finally, I turn to the Native Vegetation Bill. I note the emotive language that has been used by the Government in the media. It conjures up visions of huge tractors towing a drag chain between them. Clearly, the bill is not targeted at that sort of broad-scale land clearing. It seems to be targeted at the other end of the spectrum. Clause 3 (e) of the Native Vegetation Bill provides that one of the purposes of the bill is to encourage the revegetation of land, a noble cause. The last thing any of these bills does is encourage the planting of native vegetation, or even allowing it to grow. The bill will not achieve its aim. According to clause 5 and schedule 1, all land now classed as rural residential is covered by the bill. Hundreds of thousands of people across the State are living on small acreages that will come within the purview of this bill. Mom and Pop sitting on an acre of land with a garden would now have to submit a property vegetation plan.
I used to own a small acreage. We had several acres of wonderful gardens. According to this bill not only would we have to submit a property vegetation plan for it, we would not be able to cut down a single tree in our garden, because it would come within the purview of the bill. These are finetuning points which can be dealt with by amendment, but they should not be in the first draft of the bill. In clause 6 the definition of "indigenous" is a failure. What is indigenous to one area may be a pest in another area. The bill has to be careful how it defines indigenous vegetation. Not all native plants are good; some can be considered as weeds. What is the meaning of "clearing" in clause 8? Does the cutting down of one tree constitute clearing? If so, how much—10 per cent, five per cent? Again, there is no definition in the bill. Clause 9 has serious problems. The dates are totally irrelevant and should be set out on an area-to-area basis. On the North Coast where I live, two years after one moonscapes an area it cannot be penetrated. I have seen fire trials that had been used for 100 years disappear in three years with native vegetation growing over them. Again, this concept of dates needs to be more flexible and done on an area-to-area basis.
As I said before, why would anyone willingly declare a property vegetation plan? Why would one willingly declare some area to be remnant growth in a property vegetation plan? What is the effect of clause 13 on the considerations of the Land and Environment Court? Is the Minister now the one and only consent authority for anything under this bill? That again points to a level of ministerial control. According to clauses 22 and 23 the property vegetation plans are submitted to and approved by the Minister, not by the relevant authority. Clause 24 describes the property vegetation plan requirements. However, that is not binding on the Government or its instrumentalities. Only the land-holder is bound by the property vegetation plan. Clause 26 again involves the intervention of the Minister, who may arbitrarily cancel a property vegetation plan without referral to either the commission or the catchment management authority, again defeating the purpose of having this hierarchical structure and receiving input from the community and technical and consultative committees. Why not pass it back to the catchment management authority for review or, if necessary, to the Natural Resources Commission for an opinion?
I now come to some of the most serious and invidious parts of the bill. Under clause 31 an authorised person may enter the property to inspect the property as required. However, clause 31 (3) also enables "a person" to enter. There is no requirement as to who the person is and what his qualifications are. There is also no provision to protect confidential or commercial information that the officer or person may come across while on the property. Clause 32 compels a person to reveal incriminating information. That is in complete contravention of our most basic right as members of a modern democracy. My comments about confidential information also apply to this clause as well. There is no definition in clause 34 as to the end of work or satisfactory completion of any remedial work or how any dispute in that regard is to be handled. Again according to clause 31 (5), any person may be authorised to enter land with no restraint whatsoever. These are drafting errors that should have been picked up. Does clause 31 (7) include dams or man-made watercourses?
I now come to the second most invidious part of the bill. Any person may instigate proceedings under this Act. That provision has to go; there can be no discussion on this point. Only the catchment management authority board or the Natural Resources Commission should be able to instigate proceedings. There should also be a provision in relation to harassment by overly zealous officers. It would be an absolute disaster to allow anyone at all to instigate proceedings under this Act against any land-holder. Finally, there is the erosion of one's basic rights: guilty until proved innocent. That provision also has to go. Clause 43 allows unqualified delegation of the Minister's powers. Again, there is no qualification on persons, or limits on who may be delegated. How can councils and those who own private gardens deal with the constant maintenance of their parks and gardens in accordance with schedule 1? In summary, obviously this bill has been prepared in haste or to deliberately massage the extreme environmentalists, and the House should refuse to support it.
The Hon. Dr PETER WONG [11.37 p.m.]: I support the principles of the bills, but at this stage I have great difficulty in convincing myself to support them, especially as amendments from the Government are still coming through. We have just seen five proposed amendments to the Natural Resources Commission Bill, another five to the Catchment Management Authorities Bill and 47 to the Native Vegetation Bill. I believe these bills were drafted in haste, without much consultation with anyone, and they are confusing. I would be reluctant to vote for them unless almost all the stakeholders agreed.
The bills look fairly good in the Government's briefing to crossbench members. On 15 October the Government announced that natural resource management in New South Wales was to undergo a series of historic changes following the recommendations of the native vegetation reform implementation group, chaired by Ian Sinclair. The three bills have been drafted to implement those recommendations. The Natural Resources Commission Bill will create the Natural Resources Commission. At this stage no-one knows what its composition will be. The Catchment Management Authorities Bill will create 13 locally driven catchment management authorities, and the Native Vegetation Bill will end broadscale land clearing. The concepts of the commission and of native management are good. However, as the Hon. Jon Jenkins said, there are many problems with the three bills that have not been considered carefully.
Mr Ian Cohen pointed out—this is also mentioned in the crossbench briefing—that under the new system the Minister for Infrastructure and Planning, and Minister for Natural Resources will not approve the clearing of remnant vegetation and protected regrowth unless it will improve or maintain environmental outcomes. What does that mean? The clearing of regrowth does not require approval unless it is classified as protected regrowth and neither does clearing that is part of routine agriculture management activities. That sounds good, but the debate has highlighted some confusing points. The Legislation Review Committee has considered the bills and identified several concerns. During the second reading debate in the other place the Leader of The Nationals, Mr Stoner, said:
It is not just stakeholders and the Liberals and The Nationals who are deeply concerned by this legislation. The Parliament's Legislation Review Committee, which includes Labor, Coalition and Independent members, has released a damning assessment of these bills. Among other functions, the Committee's role is to report to Parliament on whether legislation coming before it trespasses unduly on personal rights and liberties and inappropriately delegates the legislative power. The Legislation Review Committee Digest No 6 of 2003 dated just yesterday states on page 10:
The Committee notes that the right against self-incrimination (or "right to silence") is a fundamental right.
This right should only be eroded when overwhelmingly in the public interest.
The Committee refers to Parliament the question whether compelling a person to make self-incriminating statements that (although not themselves admissible in criminal proceedings) may inform criminal investigations or be admitted in civil proceedings, unduly trespasses on personal rights.
Mr Stoner also expressed many other concerns. During a briefing tonight we were advised that some of those concerns will be addressed in Committee by more amendments. The New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council and the New South Wales Native Title Services have issued a paper entitled "Joint Position on the Natural Resources Reform Package" that highlights six critical issues in respect of the bills. These are: first, the lack of engagement with Aboriginal communities and representative organisations leading up to the reform proposals and legislation; second, the abolition of formal structures for Aboriginal involvement in natural resources management; third, the failure to replace these structures with bodies that have Aboriginal representation, or to provide any formal basis for Aboriginal involvement in natural resource management; fourth, the failure to address cultural heritage implications; fifth, the failure to include reference to cultural heritage in the Native Vegetation Bill; and, six, levies. If, as the Premier and his Ministers often proclaim, the Government wishes to have Aboriginal reconciliation and it respects the rights of the Aboriginal community, these issues must be addressed urgently. If they are not, I will have great difficulty supporting the bills.
Many previous speakers commented on the excellent work of Ian Sinclair. It seems that a compromise has been reached, and amendments to the legislation—I think there are 40—are expected to reflect the true feeling of, and the recommendations in, Ian Sinclair's report. If they do not, we should not pass these bills, and perhaps we should consider these issues at another time.
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER [11.46 p.m.]: Many of us have been waiting for the much-mooted Government amendments to these three bills for more than a week. I place on record the fact that the Government got around to producing amendments to the Native Vegetation Bill, the Catchment Management Authorities Bill and the Natural Resources Commission Bill at 11.30 p.m. on 4 December 2003. That reveals the Government's contempt for this House and for the stakeholders in this debate, who have been waiting for weeks to discover the Government's true intentions after the bills went down like a lead balloon throughout country New South Wales.
The Nationals strongly support integrated natural resource management but we have problems with the bills in their current form and we definitely do not embrace several of their key aspects. It is interesting to note that the Labor Government always makes natural resources bills the last items for debate in the final hours of parliamentary sessions. That seems to happen Parliament after Parliament.
Mr Ian Cohen: Craig Knowles's late-night party; it's a tradition.
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER: It is not only Mr Knowles. Other natural resources Ministers have done the same thing with forest bills and similar legislation. At this late stage it is scandalous that many details remain unclear in bills of such great importance to our country constituents, in particular. For example, on my recent visit to Walcha with the Leader of The Nationals, Mr Andrew Stoner, the bills were the talk of the town and the district. Graziers were greatly concerned about the Government's direction in these matters. Mr Stoner showed the bills to local graziers, who were dismayed to find that the provisions were as concerning as they had feared. The same thing happened last week when the Leader of the Opposition, Mr John Brogden, and I met farmers from the Gilgandra district. Their number one concern was this package of legislation. Our concerns include fears about the discretion that the Minister will be able to exercise over the catchment management authorities under this legislation.
Giving the Minister discretion with regard to the composition and geographic area of the catchment management authorities is a concern. The geographic area of the catchment management authorities is also a worry. The boundaries seem to emulate the unsatisfactory boundaries of the Carr Government's area health services, which in many parts of the State have been an absolute disaster. The Greater Murray Area Health Service covers about six State electorates across southern New South Wales. Under this proposal the catchment management authority in the south of the State will stretch from the Riverina town of Balranald across to Cooma in the Snowy Mountains, which strikes many people as absurd. The same applies in the north of the State, which will also apparently have inappropriate boundaries. It is disappointing that the honourable member for Tamworth has remained silent about this legislation despite the fact that the bill is very important to the farmers and graziers in his electorate. The proposals for the Walcha, Nundle and Gunnedah districts are prime examples of inappropriate boundaries.
During his comprehensive speech on these three bills my colleague the Hon. Rick Colless raised many concerns expressed by the local government fraternity. They point to the need for a memorandum of understanding and a proper relationship between local government areas and the new catchment management authority boundaries. The lack of detail in the bill about the establishment of these bodies is a concern not only to councils and the Local Government Association but also to The Nationals. The well-established pattern of natural resources legislation drafted by the Carr Labor Government is that the objectives include standard lines that pay lip-service to economic and social impacts. However, as I have found in another natural resource area, when push comes to shove, the economic and social impacts are put to one side. The Nationals do not believe that serious regard has been paid to the social and economic impact of this legislation on country communities.
Like all my colleagues, I have had a considerable number of representations from various constituents about these bills. Given the lateness of the hour I will not mention all of them. Barry and Susan Ramke from the Kempsey district have asked the House to note the protected regrowth issue referred by the Hon. Rick Colless. Mr James Flanagan expressed concerns that have been mentioned in many communications. He wants a number of amendments to ensure that the bills reflect the agreement in the report produced by the former member for New England and former Leader of the National Party, the Rt Hon. Ian Sinclair. He pointed to the need for practical definitions of routine agricultural management activities and protected regrowth. Like all farmers and business people, he wants security to operate his agricultural enterprises. These people need greater flexibility and security for property vegetation plans so that they cannot be cancelled or overridden by other regulations. Mr Flanagan also expressed concern about the normal presumption of innocence that should apply to anyone accused of illegal clearing. Constituents are also worried about the privacy provisions in property vegetation plans, the catchment management authorities' responsibility to authorise property vegetation plans and the management of private native forestry.
Wilf and Peggy MacBeth from the Coonabarabran district stated that if a big-stick approach were taken to the implementation of this legislation it would be doomed from the start. They are happy to co-operate and the strategies they employ on their properties verify their conservation-based approach to agriculture. However, like thousands of fellow Australians they will not respond positively to intimidation, threats or perceived injustices. Of course, that is one of the core points that the current Federal Leader of the Nationals, the Hon. John Anderson, has been making for some years. There must be a different philosophy underpinning legislation and regulations dealing with natural resources issues as they apply to farmers. Until that philosophy dominates, some aspects of the legislation are probably doomed in terms of winning the support of well-meaning primary producers. The Taylors of Owen Downs Station echo the points of contention that I have just mentioned. Mr Robert Carr of Newcastle said that—
The Hon. Christine Robertson: That is my brother.
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER: There are not many Labor Party people in the bush, but some of them share these concerns. As Mr Carr stated:
The Sinclair report reached agreement between parties on recommendations for inclusion in the Native Vegetation Act revision. This was much heralded in the media by the Government, the Greens and farmers as a historic agreement. Unfortunately the recommendations appear to me to have been hijacked somewhere between the Sinclair report and the drafting of the Native Title Legislation, potentially resulting in a return to a situation of conflict between important elements of the community … the abuse or manipulation of the public consultation process demonstrated in this sequence of events erodes confidence in government and participation in such processes.
In a specific sense the farmers and the regional communities are set to bear the brunt of the de-railment of the Sinclair recommendations.
The Native Vegetation legislation tabled in NSW State Parliament last week requires major changes in order for it to be practical and acceptable to farmers.
Mr Carr echoes some specific concerns about the bill that I have already mentioned. Julene Blue shares those concerns, as does Mr David Duddy from the Pilliga area, who also calls for the bills to be amended to ensure that they reflect the agreements reached between the stakeholders within the context of the Sinclair report. It is unlikely that these concerns will be satisfied by the Government's position, even at this late stage of the debate.
Another representation was received from Mr Robert Dyason of the Australian Forest Growers association. He points out that that organisation wants private forestry to be promoted and encouraged, not regulated in a top-down punitive and onerous system of consent and policing by a government department with little experience and no culture of forestry. The organisation also believes that a culture of forestry should be developed by promoting forestry as a routine agricultural management practice, in accordance with the recommendations of the Sinclair report, and that profitability should be ensured by allowing a reasonable expectation of the rights to harvest. There should be incentives for good management and the avoidance of perverse incentives to manage badly. There should be a regime that allows for adaptive management in the long term, and there should be provision for public good benefits through the maintenance of unproductive forested land that should be paid for by the public at large, not just forest owners. The organisation also suggests that there should be a private native forestry reference group to investigate a code of practice for private forestry to provide auditable standards and guidelines for good management.
The code should focus on outcomes, not on processes. It should provide that operational forestry should be auditable against agreed standards. Simple management plans should be prepared for medium to large scale forests that should have force with flexibility for a period of up to 25 years. Small-scale operations—for example, the production of fencing timber or on-farm yields—should be exempt from any onerous regulation. The organisation also suggests that simple harvesting plans should be prepared for all harvesting operations, other than those producing wood for on-farm use. The forested area in New South Wales should be maintained or increased, and harvested forests should be adequately regenerated. Education in forest management should be made available for farm forest managers. Those are the views of a specialist organisation and they encapsulate the type of regime that should be implemented to manage private forestry.
At this stage of the debate The Nationals still have serious concerns about the definition of broadscale clearing. The Nationals believe that the catchment management authorities will turn out to be quite problematic because they have no explicit authority. It seems at this stage that the Labor Government will not be shifting its ground in respect of these matters. Clause 6 of the Native Vegetation Bill provides a definition of native vegetation. The definition in the bill differs from the recommended definition in the Sinclair report in a number of ways. Clause 6 (2) states:
Vegetation is indigenous if it is of a species of vegetation, or if it comprises species of vegetation, that existed in the State before European settlement.
That concern is not dealt with in the bill. My colleagues will seek to move an amendment to address that issue at the Committee stage. Similarly The Nationals are concerned that the provisions of clause 7 of the bill differ from the Sinclair report by adding to the definition of clearing native vegetation. It appears that the Government may be inclined to give some ground on the catch-all provision in clause 6 (2) (c). If that is the case, The Nationals will welcome it.
The Nationals are also concerned that the definitions of remnant native vegetation and regrowth in clause 9 also do not resemble the Sinclair report recommendations. The Nationals believe that we should move to address that shortcoming. Clause 5 excludes national parks and other conservation areas—in fact State Forest land—in direct contradiction of the Sinclair report which recommended that Government agencies should be subjected to the same tests as are other managers of native vegetation. The Nationals believe that there should be increased accountability of government agencies in managing public land. The Nationals have consistently called for that type of accountability over a very long period.
The Nationals still have a number of concerns about clause 11, which relates to the interpretation of routine agricultural management activities. The latest developments seem to have ignored the Sinclair report's recommendations, which state that a routine activity should include the clearing of native vegetation for the purpose of maintaining existing cultivation, rotational or grazing areas. The Coalition will not be satisfied until a satisfactory definition of routine management is included in the bill. Clauses 21, 23 and 26 of the Native Vegetation Bill ensure that the Minister is still able to sign off on property vegetation plans. The Nationals would like catchment management authorities to carry out this role to ensure that property vegetation plans are signed off by local representatives who understand the issues that face land-holders. The Nationals also believe that the property vegetation plans should be signed off by catchment management authorities before they are authorised by the Minister.
The Nationals remain concerned about provisions relating to protected regrowth. I listened with interest to the remarks made by the Hon. Ian Cohen. Although the Coalition obviously has fundamental differences with the Greens on this legislation, I certainly agree with his observation that the bills are obviously an example of the Carr Labor Government making policy on the run. That is not good enough. It is a very poor start for a new Minister such as the Hon. Craig Knowles, who prospectively wants to be the Premier of New South Wales, to have well and truly mucked up this legislation. The disorganisation associated with the consideration of this bill by the Parliament shows just how far from the mark he is. I do not think I have seen a more pathetic disregard for Parliament in respect of major and long-awaited legislation than has been the case with this bill since I was elected to this House.
The Hon. Duncan Gay: I cannot remember as a member of the Opposition not having been briefed on amendments to a major bill, or having received the amendments at 11.30 p.m. during the debate.
The Hon. JENNIFER GARDINER: I acknowledge the comment made by the Leader of The Nationals, the Hon. Duncan Gay. I cannot recall anything that comes close to the shemozzle of this bill in my experience as a member of this Parliament. As far as I am concerned, there is absolutely no question that country communities, which are already angry, will be even more angry when they find out the process that has been adopted by the Government in this Parliament. Many country people understand the attitude of this Government because they have been following the debate very closely. They expected a late debate for this legislation, but I do not think that anybody accepts the manner of presentation of this bill as respectable. The Opposition has not been provided with proper briefings or adequate time in which to consider significant amendments at this stage in the life of this session. This legislation is an absolute disgrace.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS [12.07 a.m.]: On behalf of the New South Wales branch of the Australian Democrats, I join in debate on these three very significant cognate bills that will reform how the State will implement sustainable natural resource policies. These bills will apparently implement recommendations made by the Native Vegetation Reform Implementation Group, which is commonly known as the Sinclair group. The Wentworth group is the scientific group. The Carr Government has allocated $120 million over a period of four years to help implement new native vegetation plans. Already, $90 million has been earmarked for implementing the National Action Plan on Salinity and Water Quality, and $30 million will come from the Sustainability Trust.
I will deal first with the Natural Resources Commission Bill. The Natural Resources Commission Bill will dissolve 10 current statutory and advisory bodies and roll them all into one new commission to advise and report to the State Government on environmental issues, such as the management of water, native vegetation, salinity, soil conservation, biodiversity, coastal and other matters concerning natural resources prescribed by regulations. I hope that sustainable energy and greenhouse gas reduction will eventually be included as well.
The commission will have the power to recommend catchment action plans, statewide standards and targets for natural resource management, undertake compliance audits, undertake conservation assessments and inquiries as required by the Minister, and advise the Minister on priorities for research. The commission will have to consider matters following guiding principles such as the principles of ecologically sustainable development, and the social and economic implications of recommendations and advice. This is coming close, but not close enough, to implementing the triple bottom line principle.
The Governor will have the power to appoint a commissioner, who in turn will have the power to appoint assistant commissioners with the concurrence of the Minister. Clause 10 specifically states that the commission is not subject to ministerial control in the preparation and contents of advice or recommendations. While the commission is meant to be an advisory body to the Minister, the commission will still not be able to obtain Cabinet documents and proceedings under section 18. I am sure that the economic impact statements that are submitted to Cabinet would be very useful to the commission in ensuring it delivers the best possible advice.
Yet again, the Government is unwilling to become more transparent. In his second reading speech the Minister stated that the bill aims to "move away from the conflict that historically goes with the natural resource debate to a professional, outcomes based approach to natural resource management". As a person who knows at least three members of the Resource and Conservation Assessment Council [RACAC] I find this statement misleading. The members of the RACAC have always taken a meticulously scientific approach to developing plans on how to best manage forestry exploitation. They are passionate about their work, and they are very good at it. Just because they do not come up with the numbers that suit the forestry industry or State Forests, that does not mean they should be written off and abolished!
I am all for minimising conflict. I am in favour of developing a consensus-based approach to protecting and managing our State's finite natural resources, protecting native and old-growth forests from logging, wide-scale land clearing and inappropriate coastal development. But to simply lay all the blame on conservationists for the conflict that historically goes with the natural resource debate is way off the mark and totally unjustified. The Environmental Liaison Office raised reasonable concerns about the bill in a fax I received on 2 December. It reads:
The bill will dissolve many natural resource advisory committees; the bill must specify how the roles of these committees are to be carried out in the future. Environment groups are particularly concerned about the dissolution of the coastal council and the negative impact this will have on coastal management capacity.
The bill contains very little detail about the exact role and structure the new commission will adopt to replace bodies such as the RACAC and the Healthy Rivers Commission, who had a very comprehensive structure and produced quality data and reports. The Local Government and Shires Associations have also sought clarification on the establishment and functions of the Natural Resources Commission.
I now turn to the Native Vegetation Bill, which is perhaps the most controversial and contentious of the cognate bills. The bill will replace the Native Vegetation Conservation Act 1997. It will implement the Native Vegetation Reform Implementation Group [NVRIG] recommended standard definitions for native vegetation, broad-scale land clearing, and protected regrowth. It will establish a new consent process for native vegetation management based on property vegetation plans. The bill establishes a new system to support land-holders to voluntarily develop individual or group property vegetation plans [PVPs].
Part 4 outlines the new provisions for PVPs, which are based on recommendation 29 of the NVRIG. Under the PVPs farmers can now develop a plan for the whole property, and link plans at the property level to the catchment action plans developed by regional communities. Part 5 outlines much-needed enforcement and investigation measures whereby the Minister may appoint an authorised officer to conduct investigations into breaches of the Act and require land-holders to produce documentation relating to improper clearing of native vegetation.
A glaring omission from the bill is the provision of financial assistance to farmers to help them readjust their farming practices for sustainable agriculture. Members may recall that I successfully moved an amendment to the Threatened Species Conservation Bill 2002 to establish a Rural Stewardship Scheme so that farmers would be able to receive financial assistance when they negotiate with the scientific committee a plan for setting aside parts of their property for conservation purposes. It is unclear what will happen with that scheme under this bill. Once again the Carr Government has sold out regional New South Wales.
The Environmental Liaison Office argues that the environmental outcomes require definition. It is the critical measure by which clearing applications will be assessed. High conservation value [HCV] vegetation must be exempt from routine agricultural management activities to ensure that remaining HCV vegetation cannot be cleared under exemptions. A public register of property vegetation plans must be subject to public exhibition, and buffer zones for routine agricultural management activities must be reduced. The protection of native vegetation must be extended to dead trees, which play a role in providing protection and nesting places for birds and are vital in some ecosystems as recommended in the Sinclair report.
Another issue that has disappeared is Aboriginal cultural heritage. The property vegetation plans provision gives farmers the power to make a plan without having to prepare a cultural heritage management plan. Aborigines were consulted about the bill two days ago. They have not had input into the negotiations on the bill. The Metropolitan Aboriginal Land Council is very distressed about that. The position of Aborigines is that this country was taken from them and that that fact has never been recognised, nor has any treaty been established. For them not to be consulted when major legislation is discussed just opens old wounds and rubs salt into them.
The lack of acknowledgment of Aborigines in new legislation effectively cuts them out of the future. A coherent Aboriginal culture is perhaps the major single factor that can be used to give disillusioned and dispossessed Aboriginal youth a stake in the future and a self-belief to help them re-engage, through their own people, with the wider society. This is being cut off at the knees. Ignorance, political convenience or malice does this. The current Native Vegetation Conservation Act, which will be repealed under the bill, requires consideration of anthropological or archaeological impacts. So if the bill does not acknowledge Aborigines, the Aboriginal situation will go backwards. This is after many thousands of people walked over the Harbour Bridge to support Aboriginal land rights, and the branches of Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation were set up. The public were hopeful, but John Howard's philistine attitude set a tone that, regrettably, the New South Wales Government seems to echo.
The New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council and New South Wales Native Title Services Ltd, which is the State representative body for Aboriginal cultural heritage management, seek the establishment of a statewide Aboriginal natural resource advisory committee. Such a committee would advise the Natural Resource Commission on cultural heritage and indigenous knowledge of natural resource management. The committee would be represented by regional Aboriginal natural resource advisory committees, which would liase with catchment management authorities.
The Aboriginal land councils must also be protected from the catchment contribution process, which imposes rates on land-holders. Not surprisingly, Aborigines object to paying rates to repair land that was stolen from them and destroyed by the farming practices for which the repairs were carried out. Even if they are given land, which they see as a partial reparation for what was stolen from them, they remain cash poor. An exemption is needed. The Aboriginal Land Council and New South Wales Native Title Services Ltd have a joint position on the natural resources reform package, and they raise six critical issues.
The first is the lack of engagement with Aboriginal communities and representative organisations leading up to the reform proposals and legislation. The Sinclair group included representatives from farming, environmental and government interests. It did not have Aboriginal representation. The Minister has not responded to numerous letters concerning the proposals. This lack of consultation is inconsistent with the New South Wales Service Delivery Partnership Agreement signed in October last year by the Premier, the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission.
The second issue is the abolition of formal structures for Aboriginal involvement in natural resources management. The abolition of formal representative structures that include Aboriginal membership, such as the RACAC, the Coastal Council and the State Water Advisory Committee, means that there will be no formal structures through which Aboriginal people may be involved in natural resource management. These bodies also have specific legislative functions that impact on Aboriginal people. At a local level, committees to be abolished included vegetation committees and water sharing committees.
The third issue is the failure to replace these structures with bodies that have Aboriginal representation, or to provide any formal basis for Aboriginal involvement in natural resource management. Under the current proposal the catchment management authorities do not include Aboriginal representation, being skills-based organisations. The Natural Resources Commission also does not include Aboriginal representation. This is anomalous given that these bodies will have functions that require consideration of Aboriginal cultural heritage and related issues. For example, the Natural Resources Commission is required to exercise its functions having regard to stated guiding principles. These include "indigenous knowledge of natural resource management". It is unclear how this is to occur.
The fourth issue is the failure to address cultural heritage implications. The bills do not provide any scope for the assessment of the cultural heritage implications of property vegetation plans, catchment action plans or statewide targets. It is difficult to understand how property vegetation plans can be approved without consideration of the cultural heritage implications of clearing. It is also unclear how the legislation will impact on the Local Government Act and the Environment Planning and Assessment Act. It is noted that in the second reading speech the Minister states that part of section 79C of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act may not be relevant to land clearing.
The fifth issue is the failure to include reference to cultural heritage in the Native Vegetation Bill. The Native Vegetation Conservation Act 1997, in section 27, includes a requirement that the regional vegetation plans take into consideration archaeologically and geographically sensitive areas. There is no similar provision in the current bill. The sixth issue is levies. It is suggested that there be exemptions from levies charged by catchment management authorities. The suggested amendment was provided in the New South Wales Native Title Services' letter to the Minister dated 26 November 2003. Those organisations would like those issues addressed. I understand the Greens have some amendments that will address those issues. Obviously, I will support those amendments. It is important, as far as my support for the legislation is concerned, that the Government take those matters seriously and accept those amendments.
The Catchment Management Authorities Bill will replace the 72 existing natural resource management committees with 13 new regional authorities. This bill implements recommendation 6 of the Sinclair group report—that the catchment management authorities will produce draft catchment plans. However, the bill before us does not include the Sinclair group's recommendation that the catchment management authorities certify and recommend accreditation of property vegetation plans. The Local Government and Shires Associations of New South Wales believe that the current bill relegates local government to another stakeholder with advisory status, rather than regard it as a partner.
The bill requires that the catchment management authorities have regard to environmental planning instruments under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 in formulating draft catchment action plans under section 20 (2) (a). However, the bill fails to establish an appropriate mechanism for local government and catchment management authority interaction. The Local Government and Shires Associations are concerned that currently there is no requirement under the bill for catchment management authorities to develop a memorandum of understanding or similar agreement with local governments irrespective of regions and that this should not be left to the discretion of the individual catchment management authorities. In many cases this could be readily facilitated through existing regional groupings of councils and could be based on the model developed in consultation between the departments and the Local Government and Shires Associations.
The Local Government and Shires Associations are also concerned about the financial provisions outlined in part 6 of the bill. The associations are concerned that State grants or consolidated revenue funding for the activities of the catchment management authorities may be gradually reduced and replaced with catchment-based levies and fees. For example, some catchments would have greater revenue-raising capacity than others, regardless of their specific and complex natural resource management issues. This could result in areas with a limited capacity to pay being the regions with the largest and most urgent issues that need to be addressed. Continued commitment from the State Government to fund these catchment management authorities must be assured.
Part 6 also states that levies will be based on the valuation of land, the area of land or the degree of benefit derived by parcels of land. The Local Government and Shires Associations are concerned that fees-based levies will effectively become a new form of rate pegging. Being the "appropriate local agency" under this Act, regional and country councils will now be expected to collect those levies at their own expense. Under section 9 (3), commission payments can be made out to councils collecting the levy. However, there is no indication of the commission scale.
So the role of local government is diminishing under this bill, yet local government bodies are expected to collect the moneys that will go into the State's coffers. Once again the State Government is shifting costs and responsibilities onto local government in New South Wales. No wonder some councils are going broke. Pittwater Council has forwarded to me a letter from Premier Carr expressing concern that in its current form the bill fails to place appropriate importance on the unique issues associated with environmental planning on the coasts. These bills have fallen quite short of delivering all of the Sinclair report recommendations.
I am aware of intense backroom negotiations being conducted between the Government, NSW Farmers and representatives of the Total Environment Centre and the Nature Conservation Council. Just an hour ago my office received a whole raft of amendments to the bill. Those have been very difficult to digest in the time we have available—quite apart from the exhaustion we suffer from the fact that it is now after midnight. This is an unsatisfactory situation. However, it often happens that really important legislation is dealt with right at the end of the sitting, when we are unable to digest its content adequately. If the Government wants our support, it really has to do better. I reserve my decision on whether to support the bills until I have considered all of the proposed amendments to the best of my ability in the next hour or so.
The Hon. MELINDA PAVEY [12.26 a.m.]: I speak to the Natural Resources Commission Bill, and the cognate Catchment Management Authorities Bill and Native Vegetation Bill. Country people have been put last again by this Government. We are now sitting into Friday of the last sitting week. We did have a reserve week next week.
Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile: Technically, it is still Thursday.
The Hon. MELINDA PAVEY: It is still Thursday as far as the parliamentary record goes, but I think Greenwich Mean Time would show it is actually Friday. The draft report of the Federal Productivity Commission was released today. It said:
In many cases, inflexible rules have imposed significant costs and hardships on landholders by preventing efficient farming practices, sometimes for negligible environmental benefits … Some blanket restrictions, such as those applying to the clearing of regrowth, have disrupted normal agricultural practices and led to perverse environmental outcomes.
The Commission considers that government should seek to facilitate and remove impediments to increased private provision of environmental services. Landholders and local communities should be given greater flexibility to develop and implement regional solutions to local environmental problems.
As one farmer said to me on Saturday at Inverell:
If they want to shut my property down, they can pay me to become a zookeeper.
One of the arguments for rushing these bills through tonight is that farmers need certainty, and we need to ensure that things do not get worse over the parliamentary break. Things have become progressively worse for farmers over the past nine years of this Government—a Government that likes to pretend it is listening to farmers, instituting Country Labor to pretend that farmers' concerns were being put first. Well, if the farmers' concerns were put first, we would not be here discussing on this last sitting day the last bills of this sitting, and proposed amendments, at such a ridiculous hour and in such a disgraceful manner. But that is the way that all farming organisations have been treated.
A few months ago I visited the village of North Star, north of Moree. This is a community which, after years of drought, is starting to find its feet again. The countryside was absolutely beautiful. The rain saw paddocks filled with lush wheat that was billowing in the slight spring breezes. It was a magnificent sight. But the most magnificent thing about that day at North Star was that there is hope in those communities again, with the injection of some real local investment. Some really clever farmers have gone out there to do broadacre cropping. They are giving hope to those small villages. We want that feeling of hope to continue. We do not want a feeling of despair to come upon those farmers again.
Yes, the Government gave the farmers plenty of hope; it brought in the Rt Hon. Ian Sinclair—a former leader of the National Party. They have used him to produce a very good report that the Government could have just picked up and turned into legislation, but here we are at half past midnight trying to work out what he said in the report, what the committee said in the report, and what we are actually dealing with. It is a bit tricky and it is a bit of a shame. But we will fight here tonight for the timber communities throughout the north-west of New South Wales, throughout the western areas of New South Wales, and throughout the whole of the North Coast. In those areas there is some really exciting private forestry investment. It is an excellent initiative in terms of land use but it is still unclear at this hour of the night whether the private forestry investment is secure for people who want to make a long-term significant investment in private forestry; whether it is going to be worth their while and whether the Threatened Species Act will override their own properties because they have decided to plant native trees there to provide a source of income for them in years to come.
Earlier tonight Lexie Hurford was here from the North Coast. She has mill interests and has also invested enormous amounts of money in private forestry. Her family's company is a major employer and a major income generator on the North Coast. She was here tonight to ensure that the investments they have made are going to be worthwhile. We do not listen enough to what our communities and our farmers are doing. They are taking up the latest global positioning system [GPS] technology, and they are investing millions of dollars in the latest equipment and in proper business plans. The farmers of today and those who are successful are a lot more innovative than the farmers of yesterday, and education and opportunity have created an environment where farmers are doing an excellent job. They just want to get on and do their job and provide for their families and provide for their communities. Yet we have the promise that the Sinclair report was going to ensure that they could continue to get on with the job. As they say, the devil is in the detail.
There are people far more experienced than I at this very moment going through this legislation to pick out the problem areas and to see where the tricks are and where the treachery is. It is an absolute disgrace that such a vital piece of legislation and such a vital area of concern to our communities is being traded in this way. The Government has signalled, through this legislation, a tougher compliance and enforcement regime using satellite mapping technology. The irony is that the Government is trying to rush this legislation through tonight. I know that New South Wales Farmers are under considerable pressure. In today's Land it was stated that they are hoping to get this bill through tonight, saying they have spent "a bloody lot of time trying to get this up".
It is pretty simple. All the Government has to do is say, "Yes, we will adopt all the recommendations made in the Sinclair report" and The Nationals will support them. It is as simple as that: 18 plus 13 carries the day in this Chamber. I do not know what the problem is. If the Government wants to support farmers and Country Labor wants to stand up for the farming community, I do not understand why we cannot have a proper look at this, and decide over a period of time after proper consultation—a couple of months, until we come back in February—what is in the farmers' best interests and what is in the best interests of our country communities.
I note that earlier tonight Mr Ian Cohen was bemoaning the fact that 4,000 square kilometres of land have been cleared in New South Wales since 1998. I have seen some of the land that has been cleared and where investment has taken place and machinery bought. There is an amazing belief in the land to provide an income and an opportunity for the families who have invested in it and it is exciting to see that. I find it sad that Mr Ian Cohen sees that as a travesty. But that is the difference between us. We are a party that supports freehold property rights; we are a party that supports business; we are a party that supports investment and we are a party that supports regional communities. We want to see them strong again.
If the Government wants to see the continued rejuvenation of the bush, it is happening out there right now. It is an exciting feeling out in the bush and we want that to continue. That is why the Government can be assured that The Nationals and the Liberals will support it in its endeavours to support the farmers. Basically that is what it comes down to.
We are concerned that it is still not clear whether the bill overrides the Threatened Species Act. It is still unclear in respect to private forestry whether, if you have made an investment, you will not be limited in what you can do with your land and will be stopped from doing what you intended to do. There is still some uncertainty in respect to broadscale clearing. I suppose the biggest issue in the Sinclair report, backed up by the draft recommendations from the Federal Productivity Commission, is that there is no mention of compensation for farmers. There is no mention of the words "compensation" if land is resumed for environmental purposes. There is no express requirement for the Minister to give the decision-making power to the catchment management authorities, as promised in the Sinclair report. The catchment management authorities could come up with the best solutions and the best plans, but if the Minister of the day does not like them he will veto them. That was not one of the original intentions of the plan.
The Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans referred to the extra impost on local government, and it occurs to me that the Minister for Local Government, who is the duty Minister, has said nothing about the impost on local councils that the bill provides for. So there are certainly a lot of unanswered questions and we are very concerned about them. At this point I will read out some of the correspondence that we have received from ordinary people within our communities, and farmers, the people about whom we are talking tonight and making monumental decisions on their behalf. One letter states:
There are two things that are absolutely essential to make the Sinclair Report workable on the ground:
• A base level PVP that does not require an on ground inspection …
• Allow CMAs to have the ability to determine routine agricultural management activities on a regional basis …
The other issues that are a major barrier to general acceptances is the base date for regrowth of 1990.
Remnant vegetation pre-1990 is an issue that has caused great concern. That letter was from Brian Tomalin, who is a farmer, who writes to us to explain his concern, and we thank him for doing so. As the Hon. Rick Colless reminds me, Mr Tomalin has been actively involved in this area for many years and he is an expert on the ground. These are some of the simple principles that we should be listening to. We have had a letter from Brian and Jennifer Deaves of "Justlyn" at Krambach in the Myall Lakes electorate. We have had a letter from Mr and Mrs McIver from "Rutherglen" at Willi Willi via Willawarrin. We have had a letter from Jan Shorrock of Grafton supporting the Sinclair report and hoping that it is supported tonight.
Geoff Johnston of Bega expressed concern about the management of private native forestry and associated matters. Russell and Melanie Diffey of Doodle Cooma West, Ryan in the Albury electorate spoke about the practical definitions of routine agricultural management activities and protected regrowth. Carla Cowles of Kilparney, Condobolin, in the electorate of the Hon. Ian Armstrong, referred to greater flexibility and security for property vegetation plans so that they cannot be cancelled or overridden by other regulations. In conclusion, I shall refer to my duty electorates in Port Macquarie and Queanbeyan. Steve Whan, the member for Monaro, supported the bill proposed by the Minister, Craig Knowles. He said:
The only person that The Nationals found to protest on this issue was one of their former shadow Ministers, Peter Cochran—a good friend of mine who rings me up and gives me lots of advice every now and then.
The Hon. Tony Kelly: He is a good friend of mine.
The Hon. MELINDA PAVEY: He is a good friend of mine, too. However, I do not think Mr Whan has outlined clearly the type of advice he has received from Mr Cochran. It would be along the lines, "Steve, I think it would be a good idea if you return the calls of your constituents" or "Steve, this native vegetation legislation is pretty bad. It wouldn't be a good idea to support it." However, Steve Whan only takes advice from the Labor Party; he does not stand up for farmers in the Monaro electorate, and for that he will be remembered.
Robert Oakeshott, the Independent member for Port Macquarie, did not make a contribution in the debate, even though several farmers within his community will be affected by these changes. The only contribution he made followed a directive, I suggest, from the Premier's Office. I am sure that the king of spin, Walt Secord, drafted a press release for him. It must have been done by the Premier's Office because it was extraordinary that on the very day the member for Barwon, Ian Slack-Smith, made his contribution, his speech in Hansard was given to someone in the Premier's Office that same day. In that speech Mr Slack-Smith, quite rightly, pointed out that this was Mugabe-style legislation. The Nationals and I stand by him in that claim.
Under this legislation, as presented to the other place, farmers are guilty until proven innocent. It is a great shame that Robert Oakeshott's only contribution was to criticise Ian Slack-Smith for supporting farmers within his community. It is pretty sad that he has resorted to those lengths just to gain support from the Government, although that support does not add up because the budget papers allocated more funding to Myall Lakes and Oxley than to the Port Macquarie electorate. It is a shame that a country-based member of Parliament would be prepared to criticise another country-based member for sticking up for farmers. But that is what happens when one sells out.
I conclude by noting that the Native Vegetation Bill exempts the following local government areas: Ashfield, Auburn, Bankstown, Baulkham Hills, Blacktown, Botany Bay, Burwood, Camden, Campbelltown, Canterbury, Concord, Drummoyne, Fairfield, Hawkesbury, Holroyd, Hornsby, Hunters Hill, Hurstville, Kogarah, Ku-ring-gai, Lane Cove, Leichhardt, Liverpool, Manly, Marrickville, Mosman, Newcastle, North Sydney, Parramatta, Penrith, Pittwater, Randwick, Rockdale, Ryde, South Sydney, Strathfield, Sutherland shire, Sydney city, Warringah, Waverley, Willoughby, Wollongong and Woollahra. This is yet another bill that will hurt the bush. We eagerly await developments with respect to consultation, and I look forward to the Committee stage.
The Hon. DAVID OLDFIELD [12.45 a.m.]: I did not intend to speak at length but, having heard the shot at Mr Oakeshott, I am glad to actually say something. One reason for not speaking at length is that many members have had much to say and I do not think it is necessary to continually go over the same ground. The Nationals had a great deal to say, understandably so, because they purport to be representatives of country people. The Hon. Jennifer Gardiner said that there were not many Labor people in the country, but there seems to be enough for Country Labor to exist.
The Hon. Tony Kelly: We have as many members.
The Hon. DAVID OLDFIELD: According to the Hon. Tony Kelly, Country Labor has as many members as The Nationals. My position on this has been always to support the farmers. I am not interested at all in the green agenda. Indeed, it angers me to a degree that so much attention is given to the green agenda with respect to native vegetation. I am awaiting advice from the farmers on their approach to the bill. I understand that this evening and earlier they have been working closely with the Hon. Duncan Gay. If things go according to plan, I will certainly support any motion to defer the bill, probably to some time next February, to allow further negotiation before the matter is finalised.
What spurred me to come down here from the work I was doing upstairs in my office was the bleeding-heart posturing and dishonesty of Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans with respect to Aboriginal history and culture. I like the Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans but sometimes he speaks nonsense. I acknowledge that the Aboriginal people, as a people in the past, are an anthropological oddity and are no doubt significant and worthy of study. However, I find it abhorrent that Aboriginal land councils should be consulted on these matters or even that Aboriginal land councils should exist. It is also nonsense that they should be consulted on matters such as native vegetation.
They have nothing of any import to offer in the way of consultation. Perhaps the House should be reminded that prior to white settlement Aboriginal people, through their various practices, ignorant as they were, managed to wipe out approximately 500 species of flora and fauna—that is, make it extinct. I challenge the Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans to one day explain what it is in Aboriginal culture that is so worthy of preserving and teaching. The Aboriginal civilisation, if it could be referred to as that, is Stone Age. What aspect of the Stone Age is the Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans suggesting is noteworthy for Australians today? Apart from anthropological study and historical knowledge, there is nothing that can be offered. Aboriginal culture and its teaching helps keep Aboriginal people living progressively in the past. It does not serve Aboriginal Australians in any way to keep on pretending they are in some way special. They are no more special or less special than any other Australian. For them to waste time on their language and other teachings does not help them.
How on earth, in any practical sense, does anyone think the teaching of Aboriginal language will help an Aboriginal person? It is hard enough to appropriately teach children in our schools today the proper use of English without wasting time with Aboriginal languages, however many there are. Their history is a simple matter. The same thing happened day after day for thousands of years. The only thing unique about the Aboriginal people is that they never got out of the Stone Age, and without intervention never would have. When it comes to this nonsense of theft of land—
The Hon. IAN WEST: It's frightening, isn't it?
The Hon. DAVID OLDFIELD: Yes. I agree with the Hon. Ian West. It is absolutely frightening that this myth continues to pervade society. When it comes to this nonsense of theft of land, Aboriginal culture does not even recognise land ownership. And had white settlement not come along, what would the Aboriginal people be doing with the land today? They would be doing the same as they had always done: hunting, fishing and setting fire. Aboriginal people need us to help them make it into the twenty-first century. As Australians, this continual separation of them as a different group to the rest of us just holds them back.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE [12.50 a.m.]: I shall outline the objects of the Natural Resources Commission Bill, the Native Vegetation Bill and the Catchment Management Authorities Bill. For the record, the Natural Resources Commission Bill simply establishes an independent commission to provide the Government with advice on natural resource management. The Native Vegetation Bill is to provide for, encourage and promote the management of native vegetation on a regional basis in the social, economic and environmental interests of the State; to prevent the clearing of remnant native vegetation and protected regrowth unless it leads to better environmental outcomes; to protect native vegetation of high conservation value, having regard to its contribution to such matters as water quality, biodiversity, or the prevention of salinity or land degradation; to improve the condition of existing native vegetation, particularly where it has high conservation value; and to encourage the revegetation of land, and the rehabilitation of land, with appropriate native vegetation.
That is all to be done in accordance with the principles of ecologically sustainable development. The object of the Catchment Management Authorities Bill is to devolve to regional communities certain program delivery and other natural resource management functions. The key bill—we could say the controversial bill—is the Native Vegetation Bill. In 1997 this House dealt with the Native Vegetation Conservation Bill. Looking at Hansard of the 1997 debate, I note the remarks of the Hon. Doug Moppett, who spoke before me. In criticising the bill, he said:
The Government has resorted to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, to the requirement for a development application and to exposure to third-party objection. It will prove to be a tremendous millstone around the necks of the farming community, which is struggling to adjust in very difficult economic circumstances not only for its personal enrichment, but also to ensure the viability of industries that are still so important to our economy and on which the consumers of Australian products depend.
I spoke at 9.09 p.m. on 5 December 1997—we were not so late that night. In Committee I think I moved 44 amendments that had been prepared by the National Farmers Federation. In my opening remarks I said:
The Christian Democratic Party will oppose the bill. If the bill passes the second reading, the Christian Democratic Party will introduce a number of amendments in Committee. The Government has squandered the opportunity to break the cycle of hostility it created in the farming community over the introduction of SEPP 46 in August 1995.
I then said that as a result farmers constantly complained about the impact of that requirement. I said:
A fundamental concern about the bill relates to it coming under the auspices of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. An extra, and utterly unnecessary, layer of approval arises because clearing under a property agreement can occur only if the landholder also obtains development consent.
I made it clear that this was creating a lot of red tape—I call it green tape—which has brought us to where we are today. I concluded with these words:
That is how ridiculous it becomes when one tries to apply a suburban, metropolitan, city-type Environmental Planning and Assessment Act to rural New South Wales: farmers feel they are hogtied in their efforts to care for their property. It is as though the farmers are tenants of the Government, rather than people who own a farm, care for it and develop it with the best of intentions in the hope of making a profit from it. They will not do anything to harm the value of their property and reduce its profitability.
Over the intervening period, as a result of all the complaints from the farming community, at last the Government said it would do something. So it established the Native Vegetation Reform Implementation Group, with a number of people representing different areas of concern. I suppose one could say they were stakeholders, but it went beyond the stakeholders. The group was chaired by the Rt. Hon. Ian Sinclair, a former prominent National Party leader, and comprised Rob Anderson representing the New South Wales Farmers Association; Jeff Angel, the Total Environment Centre; Peter Cosier, the Wentworth Group; Col Gellatly, the Premier's Department; Glen Klatovsky, the Worldwide Fund for Nature; Jonathan McKeown, the New South Wales Farmers Association; John Pierce, Treasury; Jennifer Westacott, the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources; Roger Wilkins, the Cabinet Office; and Mike Young, the Wentworth Group.
That was all part of the Government's announcement of a new approach to resolve the problems in the farming community, and the report was entitled "Getting the Balance Right". The intention of the Sinclair inquiry seemed to be getting the balance right, with the objective of ending broadscale clearing of remnant vegetation and protected regrowth across New South Wales, using the definitions of "remnant regrowth" and "exemptions" as finalised by the implementation group—that is, the Sinclair group—and environmental standards as proposed by a new Natural Resources Commission.
The Government also said that it would make available $120 million over four years from existing sources to support the farming community to implement the Government's plan, with funding made available to farmers as soon as possible to ensure public support for the new scheme, and to implement interim arrangements for the delivery of funds, including simplifying delivery and local environment mechanisms. So the plan for the Sinclair inquiry and the follow-up recommendations had so much promise. As the Government had said, the plan was to get the balance right. Clearly, the plan was to cut red tape, or green tape, by allowing farmers to prepare a voluntary 10-year property management plan that avoids land-clearing regulations; fast-tracking vegetation mapping to help farmers develop property management plans; removing any confusion about what is considered native vegetation by setting clear definitions; and reducing the number of State and regional committees and government agencies responsible for land and water conservation. They are positive objectives for recommendations that could be made by a panel of experts in accordance with the Sinclair report. The Government could then put those recommendations that had been agreed by the stakeholders into legislation, with agreement on both sides of the House, and the legislation could pass.
The Native Vegetation Reform Implementation Groups' final report was, I think, published in October 2003. I gather that it was expected to be finished in July, by which time it would have had a good idea of the main content of the recommendations. The great disappointment about legislation with so much promise is that when it was produced it differed in many respects from the Sinclair recommendations. The report was so simple to implement; we recognise that sometimes a reform implementation group can come up with ideas that are difficult to put into legislation. I have thoroughly read the New South Wales Farmers Association paper entitled "Native Vegetation Bill 2003". However, many of the points made in the Sinclair report are ignored in the legislation. The stakeholders assumed that there was agreement, and that should be reflected in the legislation. When that does not occur straight away suspicion and mistrust is created, and people know that we have not got the balance right now.
Since the Sinclair report was published other people have influenced the outcome of the legislation, which has moved away from many of the recommended protective mechanisms. The NSW Farmers Association put the farmers point of view as part of getting the balance right between the farming community and the environment community. It agreed with the Sinclair report but the Government, for reasons only known to itself, seems to have missed the point in this legislation. For example, in order to have consistency across New South Wales recommendation 43 of the Sinclair report stated clearly that government agencies should be subject to the same test as other managers of native vegetation. Quite often a farmer who owns his property is cracked down on, but not national parks or someone supervising wilderness or other land who is indifferent and careless in regard to the care of native vegetation. It seems inconsistent to crack down on farmers and to be indifferent to government agencies. We know that government agencies make mistakes almost on a daily basis, are neglectful or even corrupt, as we have seen in the past 12 months.
"Native vegetation" has to be defined for the purposes of the legislation. The report was specific in order to get agreement. Recommendation 16.1 of the Sinclair report stated what "native vegetation" means, but the legislation does not include that definition. The New South Wales Farmers Association recommended that clause 6 of the Native Vegetation Bill be amended to include the definition of "native vegetation" under the current Native Vegetation Conservation Act. In others words, it supports the current definition but the new bill is not as clear. When one compares the recommendations of the Sinclair report with the bill, over and over again there are important omissions or simply different wording. Another important recommendation to the farming community was recommendation 16.2 of the Sinclair report, which states that clearing native vegetation means one or more of the following:
(a) cutting down, felling, thinning, logging or removing native vegetation,
(b) killing, destroying, poisoning, ringbarking, uprooting or burning native vegetation,
The same wording was used in the Sinclair report with the exception that it added:
but excludes clearing for routine agricultural management activities and the legislative exclusions or exemptions.
That clarified what farmers can do as part of their normal, essential farming activities, as distinct from just careless clearing of native vegetation. There are similar problems throughout the bill, which have been the subject of lengthy discussions all day between the Government, the New South Wales Farmers Association and Jeff Angel from the Total Environment Centre. That would not have been necessary if the Government's legislation had reflected the Sinclair recommendations. We are in a position of trust. The Government has just given us 47 amendments. I assume, although I cannot prove it, that many of them will try to put back into the legislation what had been agreed to in the Sinclair inquiry and report. The only point of difference with the New South Wales Farmers Association is amendment No. 44.
The Government said it wants to get the balance right and suddenly amendment No. 44 appears in the Government's recommendations, something that was not discussed in tonight's meetings with the New South Wales Farmers Association and Jeff Angel—that is another point of disagreement or irritation that seems to me to be absolutely unnecessary and almost provocative. In fact, the New South Wales Farmers Association said that if this amendment is not withdrawn we should vote for the adjournment of the bills until February to allow us time to look at the amendments more closely during the Christmas break, and perhaps have better legislation at the end of the day. It is a pity that the Government has got so close to solving the problems with the current Act, which, on the surface, seem to be a way ahead. On the one hand, they will reduce red tape and, on the other hand, they will provide adequate protection of the environment and native vegetation.
It is an attempt somehow to simplify the whole process. I know that some honourable members have been critical because they believe the Minister has a lot of say. But the Government and the Minister have to take responsibility for their legislation. For the 22 years I have been in this place I have accepted, and continue to accept, that that is the way the Parliament works. At the end of the day someone is responsible and we hope that, because the Minister has the power, he can provide a good solution. If he did not have the power, we could be tied up in red tape, and that could make it impossible to resolve disputes.
I am concerned about problems that have been brought to my attention by the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council and the New South Wales Native Title Services. They have been spelled out in detail by the Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans, and I will not repeat them. It would have been simple to include an Aboriginal representative on the Sinclair implementation group. I have referred a number of times in debate on various bills to opportunities to appoint Aboriginal representatives to various groups. One Aboriginal probably will not change the outlook or the decision of a group, but at least there is an opportunity for Aboriginal input. If the views are rational, which they generally are, that person could carry the rest of the group—in this case the Sinclair group. But Aboriginal representatives feel deeply offended that throughout this process they have been ignored, and ultimately they are ignored in the legislation. Rejection, which is one of the problems the Aboriginal people have dealt with since the white man came to Australia, seems to be accentuated in the Government's dealings with these issues.
The Labor Government professes to be closer than, say, the Coalition to the concerns of the Aboriginal people, but it does not produce the fruit, and that is to be regretted. If we cannot amend the legislation or accept the amendments on such short notice I hope the Government will take on board some of the concerns of the various authorities, such as the Natural Resources Commission, and involve Aboriginal representatives wherever possible. In principle we agree with the bills, subject to the amendments being carried. If we reach a deadlock, we may be forced to defer the bills until February, when we will have more time to produce better legislation.
[The President left the chair at 1.15 a.m.]