NATIVE vegetation reform is just weeks away, after the state government reaffirmed its promise to scrap laws it says has plagued farmers for 20 years.
This week NSW Nationals leader Troy Grant repeated his commitment to releasing a draft Biodiversity Bill in November as per the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed with NSW Farmers on the eve of the March State election.
“The NSW government is on track to meet all of its commitments in the MoU with NSW Farmers, including releasing an exposure draft bill to get rid of the Native Vegetation Act by November 2015,” Mr Grant said this week.
“I look forward to the day I can stand on the steps of Parliament
and tear up the Native Vegetation Act. It has plagued farmers for too long.”
But political commentators say the Coalition should brace itself for resistance from green groups.
Sydney University public policy expert Dr Peter Chen said he expected opposition to the reforms to develop the way land use conflicts had about coal seam gas and large-scale coal mining.
“These kinds of issues are red flags for the Nats now, especially with rural electorates changing, and green groups mobilising.
“If people in rural areas are concerned the Nationals haven’t been delivering for them, then they will take their vote elsewhere.”
Dr Chen said he didn’t expect the Liberal-led Office of the Environ-ment to stand in the way of the new laws.
“This, and the Biosecuirty Act, were definitely bones thrown to the Nats (by the NSW Liberals),” he said.
“The Nats need to get some runs on the board in NSW. It will be a test of the coalition partnership but it shouldn’t be a problem.”
University of NSW senior lecturer and planning expert Peter Williams said the fate of the Biodiversity Bill could rest in the hands of upper house crossbenchers.
“You wouldn’t expect The Greens or the Opposition to support it, so it could come down to the Shooters (Party) or Christian Democrats,” Mr Williams said.
“(There was) a similar alignment of groups when it came to the NSW planning laws (that failed to pass in 2013).”
Farm advocates trace back their anger at native vegetation laws to some 20 years, when the Carr Labor government introduced State Environment Planning Policy (SEPP) 46 in 1995.
The SEPP prohibited clearing of native vegetation on most rural land in the state without development consent, which was further entrenched in the Native Vegetation Conservation Act 1997 and Native Vegetation Act 2003.
Former NSW Farmers and National Farmers Federation president Ian Donges said subsequent Labor and Coalition leaders had only bowed to pressure form green groups.
“Native vegetation is no doubt one of the (environmental movement’s) core issues,” Mr Donges said.
“They seem to have managed to convince the majority of people that farmers are going to go out there and clear hundreds and thousands of hectares of land. That is absolute nonsense. You need to recognise that there are food producers to look after here.
“The amount of farming land that has reverted back to native vegetation and national parks... it can’t all just be national parks.”