Solutions for healthy, resilient and productive landscapes
Environmental Defenders Office has produced a report on the regulatory failings of the land-clearing law introduced in NSW three years ago.
On 25 August 2017, a new legal framework for regulating land clearing and impacts on biodiversity commenced in NSW. The framework featured a strong emphasis on de-regulation, particularly for land clearing in rural areas. Previous laws that prevented broadscale land clearing unless it was shown to maintain or improve environmental outcomes were repealed in favour of expanded self-assessable codes and a more flexible biodiversity offsets scheme.
On introducing the new laws to the NSW Parliament, the then Minister for the Environment, the Hon. Mark Speakman SC MP, said:
“Overall, the reforms aim to slow down, to arrest and then to reverse the long-term decline of biodiversity and to maintain a healthy, productive and resilient environment now and into the future consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development”.
This month marks three years since the laws commenced and this report asks: has the new regime met the stated aim?
The evidence says no.
The NSW Audit Office, the Natural Resources Commission and the official vegetation clearing figures published by the NSW Government all confirm a regulatory failure to achieve environmental outcomes and effectively administer the law. While the law has certainly reduced regulatory requirements on landholders, the balance has tipped significantly against ecologically sustainable development, with the laws resulting in a return to broadscale land clearing in NSW.
This report identifies 10 areas of regulatory failure and sets out a law reform pathway with 27 recommendations for reform.
After a three year experiment in deregulation, it is time to restore the balance to NSW native vegetation laws to ensure healthy, productive and resilient landscapes for generations to come.
 New South Wales, Parliamentary Debates, Legislative Assembly, 16 November 2016 (Mr Mark Speakman, Minister for the Environment, Minister for Heritage, and Assistant Minister for Planning), available at https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/bills/Pages/bill-details.aspx?pk=3357