When is a ‘reform’ not a reform?

According to the Trust for Nature, 4000 ha of native vegetation is being cleared from private land each year.

In spite of this, there has been a push among supporters of the State Government to ease laws controlling this clearing, and the Government is about to do this.

The changes may be seen in a DEPI document in which the word ‘reform’ is repeatedly used. ‘Reform’ used to mean ‘improvement’: but it has now become  a general rule that prolific use of the word almost certainly means that the systems in question are about to be degraded. This seems to be the case here.

The government’s ‘reform’ document can be seen here

A thorough analysis of the ‘reform’ proposal can be found on the Conversation website, together with interesting responses from readers: including one landholder who discovered that under the new regulations his bush block–which contains several endangered plant species–is classified the same, for clearing purposes, as the wheat field next door!

Essentially the ‘reforms’ mean that it will be easier to clear native vegetation. FOBIF has put its name to the following letter drafted by the Victorian National Parks Association, objecting to the changes:

As ecologists, scientific experts, industry groups and community-based environment groups, representing thousands of Victorians, we are alarmed at the State Government’s dilution of Victoria’s Native Vegetation policy and are concerned that they will lead to increased land clearing

We value, care for and conserve the various habitats across the state and expect to see our government doing the same.  We want to see Native Vegetation policy in Victoria strengthened, not weakened.

The new native vegetation policy significantly weakens the protections for habitat, threatening the State’s biodiversity and its sustainability. Additionally, it compromises the value of native vegetation for landscape stability and amenity.

This comes on top of pressures from both urban and regional growth as well as agricultural intensification and fire management which are currently impacting on the vegetation remaining on freehold land across the State.  None of these issues were duly considered in developing the reforms.  Furthermore there are increasing pressures on vegetation within public land, such as the large-scale clearing of large old trees along fire trails.

We have the sad legacy of being the most cleared state in Australia.  This includes 80% of the original cover of native vegetation cover on private land[1] with a corresponding loss of biodiversity leading to a high proportion of threatened species[2].

Native vegetation not only provides a home to wildlife, it provides a safety net for all of us.  A 2002 study for the Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council[3] found that native vegetation in Australia provides approximately $1 trillion per year in value for preventing land degradation, and providing basic services like pollination and tourism value. 

State and Federal governments spend tens of millions of dollars per year on restoration and habitat protection supported by the community through Landcare and other regional networks. Tree-planting and habitat restoration is important, but must be done in conjunction with protecting remnant bushland – for both ecological and economic reasons. Reducing or stopping clearing is the best strategy we have and native vegetation regulation is an efficient way to do this. Native vegetation regulation was estimated to cost the Victorian economy $ 41 million per annum[4], this being significantly less than the amounts spent on land restoration.

Despite receiving over 200 submissions to the draft Consultation Paper for the Native Vegetation Reforms, of which the vast majority (approx. 80%) expressed concern at the proposed reforms, these concerns were disregarded and Victoria’s native vegetation permitted clearing regulationsreleased without further opportunity for comment.

The reforms will create a new system where we will see:

·       A cash for clearing approach, where in almost all cases, permits will be granted provided an offsetting fee is paid.

·       Flawed maps for decision making based on biased and inadequate data and irresponsible assumptions

·       Nature losing its safety net, formerly provided by on-site expert assessments – how do you know what’s there if you don’t look?

We call on the Minister/ Premier to:

          Move on from this flawed native vegetation policy and develop new standalone legislation that will truly ensure that Victoria’s unique natural values will be conserved on private land.

          Make sure that decisions to clear native vegetation are based on the actual vegetation on the site, rather than flawed mapping.  If mapping is to be used to help decision makers, then make sure it accurately reflects habitat values.

          Set a vision for biodiversity and native vegetation across the State.  This will address the gaping hole in current policy to guide subordinate policy of this kind.

          Make the state government and public land managers subject to the same rules as private land.

          Provide better planning support upfront to ensure that native vegetation is considered and large-scale clearing is avoided.  For example, when State Government decisions are being made about urban and regional land use and growth.

          Provide upfront guidance for land managers who are seeking to intensify their agricultural production to ensure that native vegetation is considered upfront in their planning.

          Support local government efforts to strengthen their local planning schemes, undertake compliance and enforcement and to better administer any native vegetation policy that falls within their primary responsibility.

[1] Department of Sustainability and Environment (2008) Native vegetation net gain accounting first approximation report.  State of Victoria, Melbourne

[2] Victorian Environmental Assessment Council (2010) Remnant Native Vegetation Investigation Discussion Paper, VEAC, East Melbourne

[3] Possingham H, Ryan S, Baxter J and Morton S(2002) Setting Biodiversity Priorities: a paper prepared as part of the activities of the working group

producing the report Sustaining our Natural Systems and Biodiversity for the Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council.

[4] Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission (2009) A Sustainable Future for Victoria: Getting Environmental Regulation Right Final Report, VCEC, Melbourne


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