FARM and environment groups expect state government to reveal the finer points of its land clearing reforms imminently.
After a protracted year of debate, government made good on its promise to NSW Farmers and repealed the Native Vegetation Act in November, replacing it with new Biodiversity and Local Land Services laws.
But until now, the codes and regulations that power the legislation have remained hidden.
An announcement is expected today.
The new regime is scheduled to go live on July 1.
Government has used the first half of 2017 to meet with stakeholders and discuss the settings within the legislation, including the release of property mapping, the value, scale and methods of biodiversity set-asides, interaction with federal laws, and the resourcing of LLS.
Conservation groups and the state opposition have fought government and industry over the reforms and have vowed to repeal them.
Chief concerns include species extinction, and impacts on climate change, and providence branding.
Government, however, says the reforms will allow farmers to better care for their land while improving on-farm productivity.
It has also vowed to maintain strong environmental safeguards, including sensible limits on clearing, offset requirements and exclusions.
Regulatory property mapping, which will define areas of land where permission is needed for clearing – or alternately, where landholders can manage native veg at their discretion – won’t be finalised by the Office of Environment and Heritage until later this year.
Government said it will publish draft maps, from which landholders can seek a review of how their property is classified.
Until the final maps are released a transitional framework will apply, using the same criteria as the Native Vegetation Regulatory Map to determine how land is categorised and whether vegetation is regulated.
Landholders, with the assistance of LLS, have been determining whether their vegetation meets the criteria rather than relying on the map.
Some farmers contacted by The Land have expressed concerns over the influence of the Office of Environment on the reforms, and worry that the department will ultimately water down the effectiveness for primary producers.
NSW Farmers’ Association, meanwhile, called for the codes and regulations to reflect the intent of the Independent Biodiversity Review Panel’s 2014 recommendations, which were based on passing a triple-bottom-line test.
The Association’s conservation and resource management chairman Mitchell Clapham said it was important the new legislative instruments worked for the farming community.
“NSW Farmers stresses the importance of delivering a fair and useful framework for land management which will let all farmers, across the state, get on with the business of producing food and fibre and enhancing our state’s environmental assets,” Mr Clapham said.
“In particular we will be looking out for land management codes which reflect the intent of the Independent Panel’s recommendations.
“NSW Farmers is committed to taking every opportunity to consult with Government regarding all aspects of the proposed new system and we will continue to strongly press for meaningful reform in regards to land management until we are satisfied a system that is farmer friendly and allows farmers to readily participate, has finally been implemented.”
Crucially, the legislation has a $240 million biodiversity fund attached that rewards farmers who set aside land for environmental value.
The fund – which will be topped up by an extra $70 million annually after five years – is to be managed by an independent trust that would identify private land suitable for conservation and negotiate voluntary agreements with farmers.
Special categories of land have been created where no clearing under any codes will be permitted. This covers internationally-recognised wetlands, littoral rainforest, core koala habitat, critically endangered ecological communities, old growth forests and high conservation value grasslands. Commonwealth environment regulations apply under the reforms.