A report commissioned by the NSW Government has thrown the native vegetation ball back into the government's lap urging "immediate" action to clamp down on illegal clearing and to release the much vaunted vegetation mapping system.
The report from the Natural Resources Commission claimed major issues existed with the new clearing laws, and said almost all triggers for a review had been set off.
The report was revealed by Independent NSW Upper House MLC Justin Field, allied with The Greens, who accused the government of sitting on the report for nine months.
Mr Field said it was "unacceptable and unforgivable that the Government has been sitting on findings for nine months" that "show their own laws present a state-wide risk to biodiversity", claiming land clearing had been "allowed to continue at record levels".
But in a response from Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall, provided to The Land, Mr Marshall maintained farmers were the best people to manage vegetation on their land within the limits of set asides and the biodiversity act.
"The old laws needlessly constrained farmers' ability to actively manage their land, and protect it from invasive native species," Mr Marshall said.
"The area put aside for conservation activities under our new laws is actually double the code's authorisation rate at over 75,000 hectares. Even then, looking purely at authorisation rates is misleading because many people choose not to manage the entire area they are permitted to.
"Under our new laws, more than a third of authorisations have been to clear invasive native species that are actually destroying biodiversity across the state, where they crowd out more fragile species. This makes up the largest area of land authorised for clearing in NSW.
"Further, 326,147ha was authorised for invasive native species treatment under the new laws - this is weed management, not clearing of vegetation and people need to understand the difference. Non-invasive native species areas authorised for treatment are often never actually treated, and sometimes not for a very long time.
"The Natural Resources Commission acknowledges this, clearly stating of 54,746ha authorised for management under the other parts of the code aside from invasive native species, only 6000ha had in fact been cleared.
"This conservation activity is blatantly ignored by green groups who will use whatever opportunity they can to discredit our farmers. These groups, on an ideological level, simply don't believe our farmers should be able to manage their own land."
Mr Field, however, said the report showed a 13-fold increase in clearing.
"I'm calling for the statute of limitations on prosecutions for illegal land clearing to be suspended until the public can be reassured investigations and enforcement are able to proceed unhindered. It would be too easy for those landholders who have done the wrong thing to try to drag out the investigation process to avoid prosecution."
He said the report found that in 2018-19, "over 37,000ha were approved to be cleared. This is almost 13 times the annual average rate of approval in the 10 years prior to 2016-17 of approximately 2700ha."
Among its findings, the NRC said it wanted to "address critical risks to reform outcomes". It called for the immediate implementation of the native vegetation regulatory map as "a NSW Government priority".
"The first stage should involve the immediate release of all categories of the map for woody vegetation-dominant landscapes on a region-by-region basis," it said.
"This needs to be supported by processes to improve map accuracy, including a process to resolve disagreements on map accuracy that remain following EES' (Environment, Energy and Science Group's) normal appeal process that is overseen by an independent body." It said the NSW Government must strengthen compliance and review "the drivers of high rates of unexplained clearing" and undertake an "immediate review of Part 3 (pasture expansion) of the Land Management (Native Vegetation) Code to address risks to biodiversity values state-wide resulting from high rates of certifications and notifications to clear under this part of the Code".