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Noxious weeds

Noxious weeds

Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.
Briefing Paper No 02/2012 by Daniel Montoya
The Noxious Weeds Act 1993 regulates noxious weeds in NSW. These weeds have significant economic, environmental and social impacts for the State. Noxious weed control activities are undertaken by the NSW Government, local governments, industry and the community.

In February this year, the NSW Government introduced the Noxious Weeds Amendment Bill 2012 to amend the Noxious Weeds Act 1993. The Bill contains amendments designed to strengthen the preventative and investigative measures contained in the Act. The Bill also sets out clarifications to several administrative functions.

Weed classifications

A weed is any plant that requires some form of action to reduce its effect on the economy, the environment, human health and amenity. Each Australian State and Territory has its own list of noxious weeds. In NSW, weeds are listed as noxious weeds under the Noxious Weeds Act 1993 if they cause, or have the potential to cause, significant harm to the economy, environment and/or community. [2.1]

Weeds may be listed on one or more of four national weeds lists. The Weeds of National Significance list identifies 20 introduced plants considered to be the worst weeds in Australia because of their invasiveness, potential for spread, and economic and environmental impacts. [2.2.1] The other three lists are: the National Environmental Alert List of weeds; Sleeper Weeds; and Species targeted for eradication. The weeds listed in each of these four lists are identified in Appendix 1. [2.2]

Weeds in NSW

Currently, weeds make up more than 20% of the flora of all regions of NSW. A 2006 survey of weeds in NSW identified a total of 1,386 species. Of these, 190 are listed under the Noxious Weeds Act 1993. Weed Control Order 28, made under the Act, classifies these weeds under one or more of the five classes of noxious weeds and, in the case of Classes 2, 3 and 4, identifies all the local control authority areas to which the control order applies. 16 of the 20 Weeds of National Significance are found in NSW. The distribution of established, new and emerging weeds is generally highest in NSW's coastal regions. [3.1]

The economic impact of weeds in NSW and/or Australia has been estimated on a number of occasions. According to the Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) for Australian Weed Management, in 2004 the total financial cost of on-farm weed control in Australia was estimated at being between $1,365 and $1,519 million. Production losses from weeds were estimated at $2,218 million. [3.3.1] In 2006/07, the ABS found that 90.9% of surveyed NSW agricultural businesses reported weed related activities. Together, these agricultural businesses spent $475 million per year on weed control activities, equivalent to $10,986 per agricultural business. [3.3.2] In 2007, weeds were estimated by the CRC for Australian Weed Management to have cost agricultural production across Australia $4 billion per year. In 2011, the Local Government & Shires Association stated that weeds cost NSW over $1.2 billion in lost production and control costs every year. [3.3]

Weeds pose a significant threat to NSW biodiversity. Weeds feature in seven key threatening processes listed under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (NSW) and two key threatening processes listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999 (Cth). A 2006 study of the impacts of weed on biodiversity in NSW found that 419 threatened species, populations and ecological communities in NSW were threatened by weeds. 127 weed species, or 9% of all weeds identified in NSW, were found to constitute a threat to threatened species, populations and ecological communities. Of the 127 species, 50 were listed on the Noxious Weeds Act 1993 in 2006. [3.4]

NSW legislation

The key statutory instruments regulating noxious weeds in NSW are the Noxious Weeds Act 1993 and the Noxious Weeds Regulation 2008. The Act sets out responsibilities for the Minister for Primary Industries, Local Control Authorities (local councils) and land owners and occupiers. It also sets out the powers of authorised officers for undertaking weed control activities. Provision is made for the Minister to make weed control orders for specific plants. Weed Control Order 28 classifies 190 weeds under one or more of the five classes of noxious weeds. It also sets out the weeds listed under each class and, in the case of Classes 2, 3 and 4, identifies all the local control authority areas to which the control order applies. [4.1 & 4.2]

Other NSW statutory instruments with relevant provisions are identified, including: the Crown Lands Act 1989; the Pesticides Act 1999; and the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995. [4.3]

NSW legislative reforms

In 2010, the NSW Government released a Statutory Review Issues Paper for the Noxious Weeds Act 1993. The report was tabled in NSW Parliament in September 2011. In February 2012, the NSW Government introduced the Noxious Weeds Amendment Bill 2012. The Bill comprises reforms generally supported by stakeholders during the review process. The amendments strengthen and clarify preventative, investigative and administrative measures contained in the Act. Many of the proposals contained in the Issues Paper that were supported by stakeholders, but not introduced in the Bill, have been slated for progression and further consultation. The NSW Government also stated in the report on the statutory review that it is currently undertaking a NSW Biosecurity Reform Project, within which noxious weed control issues form an important component. [5.0]

NSW policy & administrative framework

The lead NSW Government bodies for noxious weed control are the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and the Office of Environment & Heritage. Additional roles and responsibilities are shared by bodies such as local councils, the Noxious Weeds Advisory Committee and Catchment Management Authorities. [6.1]

Noxious weed management in NSW is classified according to four policy approaches: prevention; eradication; containment; and asset protection. Each approach matches the invasion process of a weed species from arrival through to widespread establishment. Key NSW policies include: the NSW invasive species plan 2008-2015; the NSW new weed incursion plan 2009-2015; Biodiversity priorities for widespread weeds: Statewide framework; and weed specific strategies, such as the NSW Alligator Weed Strategy 2010-2015. [6.2]

Noxious weed control programs are funded by a variety of sources, including the Commonwealth's Caring for our Country program and the NSW Government's NSW Weeds Action Program. DPI expenditure on noxious weed control rose from $8,353,000 in 2009/10 to $11 million in 2011/12. The NSW 2011/12 Budget also allocated $68 million to the Office of Environment & Heritage to manage pest animals and weeds and to improve fire management in National Parks. [6.3]

Commonwealth regulatory & administrative regimes

Commonwealth noxious weed control responsibilities can be divided into two areas: biosecurity measures to prevent new weeds from entering Australia; and measures to address weeds currently in Australia. The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999 and the Quarantine Act 1908 together regulate the importation of live plants into Australia. The Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Code Act 1994 and the Biological Control Act 1984 regulate different noxious weed control measures. [7.1]

Administrative responsibility for noxious weed control is shared between the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Two inter-Governmental committees also play a significant role in noxious weed control: the National Biosecurity Committee; and the Australian Weeds Committee (AWC). In 2007, the AWC released the Australian Weeds Strategy. This Strategy sets out the weed management roles and responsibilities of each level of government, along with other relevant parties. It also identifies three goals, with associated strategic actions, to realise the Strategy's vision. [7.2]

The Commonwealth Government administers several programs involved in noxious weeds control. The most significant is the Weeds of National Significance program, under which each of the 20 listed weeds has a National Coordinator, a weed control manual and a strategic plan. Six national eradication programs are also under way, targeted at six weeds identified for eradication because of their potential impacts on Australia's primary industries, trade, the economy and the environment. [7.3]