Native vegetation in NSW: An update
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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. 06/1999 by Stewart Smith
- This Paper is an update of the 1995 Briefing Paper No 28, Native Vegetation Protection in NSW. In New South Wales, two-thirds of the State, or 52 million ha, was covered by forest or woodland prior to settlement. Now only 21 million ha remain. It is significant to note that, nationwide, in the last 50 years as much land has been cleared as in the 150 years before 1945. Across Australia, in 1990 an estimated 500,000 ha of native vegetation (including regrowth) was cleared for agriculture. This equates to over one million rugby football fields, or over two rugby fields being cleared every minute (page 1).
- The NSW Government has described its native vegetation protection policies as having four elements. The first was SEPP 46, which introduced native vegetation clearing controls. The second element was the NSW Vegetation Forum, which was charged with consulting the community and devising a long term alternative to SEPP 46. The third element was the release of a White Paper and introduction of the Native Vegetation Conservation Bill to the Parliament. The fourth element is the ongoing management of native vegetation under the Native Vegetation Conservation Act 1997 (page 3).
- The Native Vegetation Conservation Act 1997 brought the clearing of native vegetation in NSW under the one regime. The Act repealed clearing provisions in the: Soil Conservation Act 1938; Western Lands Act 1901; Crown Lands (Continued Tenures) Act 1989; and the Forestry Act 1916 (Appendix 2). In addition, State Environmental Planning Policy No 46 - Protection and Management of Native Vegetation was repealed (page 4).
- The core of the Native Vegetation Conservation Act is the regional vegetation management plan. This plan provides specifications as to what clearing is allowed in a region. Where clearing is allowed for in the plan, no development consent for that clearing will be required. Any clearing outside the specifications of the plan, or where a plan is not yet in place and the clearing is not exempted, will require assessment and development consent from the Minister for Land and Water Conservation under Part 4 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979. The Act also provides for monetary incentives for landholders to help protect their native vegetation (pages 6-9).
- The NSW Farmers Association has been strongly critical of the Act. Conservation groups have been more supportive. The NSW Coalition released their native vegetation policy on 28 January 1999, which stated that a Coalition Government would repeal the Native Vegetation Conservation Act and replace it with an expansion of the Soil Conservation Act (page 9).
- The Commonwealth Government, through the Natural Heritage Trust National Vegetation Initiative, has also been a participant in native vegetation conservation (page 10).