HOSTILITIES have resumed over NSW land clearing reform with conservation groups firing their opening salvo.
The pre-Christmas buzz around changes to the Biodiversity Act was dominated by farm groups and the NSW Nationals who say the laws have plagued landholders for 20 years.
But Green opposition to the proposed reform has mobilised.
Environmentalists say farmers can’t be trusted with greater self-regulating powers, and that passing the laws as recommended by the 2014 Biodiversity Legislation Review will see a spike in land clearing.
Farmers, meanwhile, accused green groups of needless fear-mongering, and claim that the desire to provide for future generations would nullify interest in wide-scale clearing.
Kicking off the 2016 native veg conversation was the resignation of NSW Young Farmers chairman Josh Gilbert.
The prominent climate campaigner, 24, quit the role he had held for three years because NSW Farmers’ beliefs did not align with his personal philosophy.
NSW Farmers – along with conservation groups – are among the stakeholders currently in confidential consultation with state government, which has committed to producing a draft bill in the coming months.
But rocky waters lay ahead.
The Wilderness Society has already said any reforms proposed by the government will emulate those created by Queensland premier Campbell Newman in 2012.
The 278,000 hectares cleared in Queensland during 2013-2014 more than tripled the amount cleared in 2009-2010.
Wilderness Society climate campaign manager Glenn Walker Walker – who is involved in the consultation with government – said the information he had seen so far was alarming.
“Put simply, we will see a rise in land clearing, which in turn sees a rise in greenhouse gas emissions, more wildlife killed, and a rise in salinity,” Mr Walker said.
“It only takes a handful of property holders to clear their properties to amount to a large amount of clearing.”
Between 2010 and 2015 the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage commenced 27 prosecutions for vegetation clearing under NSW’s Native Vegetation Act.
A total of 18 cases were completed during that period, with the courts determining 833 hectares to have been illegally cleared.
That’s 166 hectares – or 90 Sydney Cricket Ground surfaces – per year.
However, NSW Farmers natural resource committee chairman Mitchell Clapham said farmers didn’t “want to turn NSW into a bowling green”.
It is fundamentally and blatantly obvious that farmers want to hand good land on to the next generation.
“By and large, the population trusts farmers to look after the land. If they don’t look after their land, they shoot themselves in the foot,” Mr Clapham said.
“Long-term sustainability is something farmers understand. It is fundamentally and blatantly obvious that farmers want to hand good land on to the next generation.”
Mr Clapham said the government’s reforms would end the “ridiculous” cycle that began with former NSW Premier Bob Carr’s SEPP 46 regulations in 1995.
“Farmers have been waiting for 20 bloody years for sensible native veg legislation,” Mr Clapham said.
“(SEPP 46) took people’s breath away. Solutions since have been band-aid on band-aid. It’s just never worked properly.
“You buy a property that is potentially productive - but you can’t do anything.
“We want flexibility to do the work we need to do to keep the land healthy.”
Mr Clapham said opponents should visit farmers to discuss the issue.
“You will never succeed when you do not have the support of the landholders in question who have the land that you want to preserve biodiversity on,” he said.
The Wilderness Society, meanwhile, wants the federal and state governments to better promote the carbon farming industry.
“We want to work with landholders and rural sector in opportunities to maximize the carbon market,” Mr Walker said.
“There is a way to make money from keeping the trees in the ground and planting more to restore the landscape.
“We need to stop these long-pitched battles that continue to block opportunities for everyone.”