NSW Biodiversity Legislation Review 2014

The NSW Biodiversity Review report recommends 10 measures to more effectively provide conservation of the biodiversity of NSW. Hopefully they will also provide certainty and a way forward for farmers and land developers as well. NSW Councils will be affected as they will need to developed strategic plans for biodiversity certification.

The review report was released on 18th December 2015. The terms of reference required an independent panel to undertake a comprehensive review of the Native Vegetation Act  2003, Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 and related biodiversity legislation.

The report is welcomed and should provide a pathway forward for a consistent approach to native vegetation assessment and management for the land development and agricultural sectors.

The separate submissions report recommends adoption of strategic biodiversity certification in both urban and rural areas, the use of a mechanism to make a monetary contribution into a single fund to secure offsets and obtaining a bilateral agreement accreditation of the NSW certification process under the Commonwealth's Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The last point should help somewhat with the considerable problem for regional developers and land surveyors in dealing with Grassy Woodland ecological landscapes (Biodiversity Review Submissions report, p12).

Like biodiversity certification, strategic assessments can deal with landscape and cumulative impacts and provide greater certainty to proponents and the community, including by taking a more coordinated approach to offsets. There are currently four strategic assessments completed or underway in NSW. They include one in the lower Hunter Valley, one for the Warnervale Town Centre and another for the Wagga Region. The intention is that development undertaken in accordance with the biodiversity plan prepared as part of the strategic assessment will not need to be separately assessed and approved by the Commonwealth Environment Minister under the EPBC Act 1999.

For many NSW regional Councils, the challenge will be to find the funding to permit a strategic framework for biodiversity certification. Considering the financial difficulties many Councils now face, consideration for separate funding will probably be a necessity. Funding should reflect the societal benefit and come from the wider community: not just from the development and agriculture sectors who too often are required to foot the cost.

It is hoped the recommendations are broadly adopted thereby provided a structure and certainty for the future.

The recommendations by the review panel are:

  1. Proposes a new ‘Biodiversity Conservation Act’, with the goal to maintain a healthy, productive and resilient environment for the greatest wellbeing of the community, now and into the future, consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development.
  2. Recommends focusing on conserving biodiversity at a bioregional or state scale.
  3. Proposes a vision of landscape scale conservation and productivity through a connected network of public and private land which meets national and international obligations – and is in line with international best practice – and is feasible, achievable and affordable.
  4. Recommends repealing the Native Vegetation Act 2003. The Act has not met expectations as a central pillar of biodiversity conservation in NSW. It has been contentious because of difficulties in implementation and the inequitable distribution of the costs involved, in particular sectors and in particular regions of the state.
  5. Recommends repealing the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 and parts of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 Act and reconstituting elements of them in a new ‘Biodiversity Conservation Act’.
  6. Recommends that management of native vegetation in the context of existing agricultural management would be assisted and supervised by Local Land Services, while new agricultural developments which would impact on native vegetation would require consent from the appropriate authorities (often Local Government), as occurs for any other change in land use.
  7. Capitalises on opportunities to not only identify areas of high-conservation value outside of the public reserve system but also promote private land conservation and provide funding their long-term on-going management.
  8. Encourages the broader and deeper application of offsetting, as approved in the NSW Biodiversity Offsetting Policy for Major Projects and through mechanisms such as biodiversity certification and BioBanking. A statewide biodiversity offsets fund should be operational as soon as possible.
  9. Modernises and streamlines the regulation of human-wildlife interactions, particularly in recognition of the increasing popularity of keeping native animals (especially birds and reptiles) as pets, while maintaining the general provisions restricting harm to, or trade in, native wildlife.
  10. Recommends the development and use of a comprehensive system for monitoring and reporting the condition (extent and quality) of biodiversity in NSW.

Further representation on behalf of developers and farmers may be required to ensure the central tenets of the report are implemented.

The Review Report can be accessed here whilst the Submissions Report can be accessed here.
 


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