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Last chance to have your say on Victoria’s native vegetation regulations

Powerful Owls need large old trees to nest in. Photo: Lyn and Geoff Easton

 

Published 9 February 2017

The current review of Victoria's native vegetation clearing regulations is now in its final consultation phase before the changes are implemented.

The product of a commitment by the current Andrews Government to 'sensibly protect sensitive vegetation', the review puts forward some improvements, but has failed to come up with the fundamental reform the system so desperately needs.

 

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Despite the review Victoria's native vegetation clearing regulations remain very complex, with decision-making heavily dependent on online mapping and computer-modelling. Offsets are still the key mitigation strategy, rather than environmental site assessments.

The regulations continue to focus on significant biodiversity at a statewide scale, and, under a business-as-usual model, environmentally-minded, under-resourced local councils will be expected to shoulder the burden of protecting local values.

They will also now need to significantly invest in costly, detailed and time-consuming research into developing appropriate planning scheme protections, such as Environmental Significance Overlays.

The submission period for the review has been extended and will now close at 5pm, 8 March 2017.

To download the relevant documents and make your submission visit the Engage Victoria website.

 

Points for your submission

In making your submission please consider these points:

What's missing and what needs improvement

No leadership by state government agencies: Public authorities are one of the largest clearers of native vegetation in Victoria, yet they are exempt from the rules. This is clearly a double-standard.

The review includes a very weak commitment to "work with relevant stakeholders to develop cost effective approaches to record and report significant new permanent clearing..." and a weak measure stating that "...environmental impacts resulting from exemptions on public land are minimised and counterbalanced, and the accountabilities for this reporting". These could hardly be called 'sensible' protections.

No Nature Cop on the beat: There are still no clear commitments around regulatory enforcement. The review refers to the development of a Compliance and Enforcement Strategy, but to date there has been no public consultation, commitments, or even any detailed information released.

Heavy reliance on offsets: Offsets remain at the core of the native vegetation clearing approach, and many conservationists remain sceptical offsets actually benefit biodiversity. A range of initiatives has been proposed, including an increase in the use of over-the-counter offset credits for losses of lower-value habitat, establishing an offset credit register, creating a framework for offsetting on Crown land, and trying to find alternative offset arrangements for private native forest timber harvesting.


What's improved, needs to be kept and strengthened

Endangered Habitats will now be considered: The presence of Endangered Ecological Vegetation Classes (EVCs), sensitive wetlands and coastal habitats identified onsite can now be part of the assessment. However, there needs to be more attention given to the assessment process for threatened species observed (but not mapped/modelled) onsite.

Assessment Pathways: There are still three 'assessment pathways' for native vegetation clearing applications, however, the criteria for assessment and referral has been broadened. Criteria are still based on the location and extent of clearing, but are now referred to as 'Basic', Intermediate' and 'Detailed' pathways.

Avoid is back. Sometimes: The Avoid-Minimise-Offset hierarchy is still in place, with some greater emphasis on the meaning and application of the terms when being assessed. All applications need to legitimise the need for clearance, using an 'Avoidance Statement' and highlighting how clearing has been avoided or minimised. However, a 'Basic' clearance pathway application (which currently make up over 90% of applications) still do not require any supporting evidence around avoidance and minimisation.

Onsite assessments are back again. Sort of: Onsite assessments involving local knowledge and expert assessors to incorporate actual values onsite are now allowed, to some extent. These assessments will only be required for approximately 10% of applications, which are those considered likely to have a significant impact on Victoria's biodiversity.

Large Old Trees: The ecological value of Large Old Trees is now being considered for all applications, and includes both Scattered Trees and 'Patch' trees. Associated offsets are now also required, though some offsets under-value the importance of Large Old Trees, particularly in heavily cleared landscapes.

No Net Loss: This objective has been retained, and thankfully not further weakened. It now reads as 'no net loss to biodiversity'. There are also improvements that allow for the consideration of 'other values' relating to native vegetation, such as groundwater impacts, water quality, soil erosion or salinity, as well as biodiversity and threatened species.

 

More info

Environmental Justice Australia has developed an excellent briefing paper 's Briefing Paper - Draft regulations and policy on native vegetation clearance.

You can make a direct submission using the Engage Victoria website.

If you would like to send your submission by post or email you can download a submission form from the Engage Victoria website. It should then be sent to:

  • Review of the native vegetation clearing regulation
    Regulatory Strategy and Design
    Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning
    PO Box 500
    EAST MELBOURNE VIC 8002

It can also be emailed to nativevegetation.review@delwp.vic.gov.au