Review of the Native Vegetation Clearing Regulations

By on March 31, 2017

DR ELIZABETH GIBSON, General Manager of CMPA reports on the submission to the review of the Native Vegetation Clearing Regulations.

The Victorian Government has completed its review of the native vegetation clearing regulations, (announced in December 2016). CMPA made a submission prior to DELWP’s completion of the review (see p.12 Sand & Sone issue 86). The outcomes of the review are detailed in the Review of the native vegetation clearing regulations – outcomes report.

The review outcomes will be delivered through system changes, which include an amendment to the Victoria Planning Provisions (VPP) and an ongoing program for those actions that are independent of the VPP.

DEWLP have sought comment on the proposed changes before the VPP amendments are adopted.

The documents available for comment are:

  • Review of the native vegetation clearing regulations – summary of proposed changes to the Victoria Planning Provisions, and
  • the draft Native vegetation clearing – assessment guidelines.

General Comments

CMPA welcomed the continued use of the regulatory objective for “no net loss” in the Native Vegetation Clearing Regulations (NVCR). The introduction of “net gain” in the Native Vegetation Permitted Clearing Regulations in 2002 was clearly unworkable.

Despite the rate of clearing of native vegetation slowing and the native vegetation offsets outweighing losses due to permitted clearing [1], further tightening of the NVCR has been proposed by DELWP.

The CMPA supports the government’s commitment to produce a framework of offsets on Crown land. This is a useful tool and should be implemented as a matter of urgency.

The CMPA requests the development of policy guidance material specific to the Extractive Industry and requests that the industry’s views are sought during the development of such guidance. Industry specific issues need to be clearly addressed; for instance that rehabilitation works (required under the MRSDA) are recognised as a potential offset.

The range of offsets available should be broadened. The introduction of a financial based offset will improve the workability of the NVCR where a value is placed on a biodiversity unit which is then used to fund, for example, local community-identified biodiversity conservation projects.

CMPA has become increasingly concerned at the responsibility for the state’s broader diversity objectives being passed onto the small number of already heavily regulated industries, in the CMPA’s case, the Extractive Industries. Small to medium family run businesses want to invest in Victoria but are struggling under the weight of legislation, in particular NVCR.

For example:

  • The cost of third party offsets on land is from $120K – $200K per biodiversity unit.
  • A NVCR assessment commenced in 2013 and the Section 173 (which took 6 months) was not finalised until February 2017. This appears to be due to issues with lack of understanding / responsible authority between DELWP, DEDJTR – Earth Resources Regulation and the relevant Planning Authority.
  • Conflict of interest: The accredited native vegetation assessor is registered to score the vegetation with DELWP but is also an offset broker.

 Baxter Quarries

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recommendations

Offsets recommendations

  • The CMPA supports the government’s commitment to produce a framework of offsets on Crown land. This is a useful tool and should be implemented as a matter of urgency in consultation with the Extractives Industry.
  • The use of rehabilitation to be undertaken by the Extractive Industry should be included in any offset calculations. Recognise and credit site rehabilitation as part of a site’s offsets package to remove duplication between various legislation.
  • Ensure that likely future demand for specific offsets is considered when working to develop low availability offsets.
  • The range of offsets available should be broadened. The introduction of a financial based offset will improve the workability of the NVCR where a value is placed on a biodiversity unit which is then used to fund, for example, local community-identified biodiversity conservation projects.
  • An accredited native vegetation assessor registered to score the vegetation with DELWP should not be an offset broker as well.

Other recommendations

  • Consultation should occur with the Extractive Industries sector when developing new policy guidance material to ensure its practicability for the sector.
  • Assign a DELWP officer to work directly with referral authorities to ensure consistent and timely review of permit applications. A consistent case manager for managing referrals and a single point of contact for proponents throughout the life of a development will facilitate the NVCR process.
  • Specify clearly in the guidance material that decision-makers must base decisions on data collected from site-based surveys rather than modelled information.
  • Develop a central portal for biodiversity information, regularly updated in line with site based survey data.
  • Introduce a process for regular independent review of the method used to manage biodiversity information tools.
  • Limit membership of the proposed native vegetation advisory groups to members that regulate, use or support the regulations, not those who directly derive their income from the increasing of obligations.
  • Focus the monitoring and reporting plan on increasing public understanding of the intent and operation of the regulations.

The full submission will be made available on CMPA’s website. From the submission it can be seen that CMPA has concerns on NVCR since their inception and, hence, CMPA has met with likeminded association representatives such as the Victorian Farmers Federation with a view to consider further action.

References

[1] Draft Protecting Victoria’s Environment – Biodiversity 2036, DELWP p.15

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