Review of land management and biodiversity conservation reforms




Land Management and Biodiversity Conservation reform package

In 2017, the NSW Government implemented the Land Management and Biodiversity Conservation reform package (the reforms), which included the new Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 and amendments to the Local Land Services Act 2013. The reforms are delivered through four key pillars, which are:

  • the Land Management Framework, including the Land Management (Native Vegetation) Code (the Code), which sets out the types of native vegetation clearing allowed on private land and rules for each type of clearing, including set aside requirements to compensate for the impacts of certain types of clearing
  • $240 million investment in private land conservation, managed by the Biodiversity Conservation Trust (BCT)
  • improved frameworks to manage native plants and animals, including investment in the Saving our Species program, a process for protecting Areas of Outstanding Biodiversity Value, risk-based wildlife licensing and codes, and a modernised process for listing threatened plants and animals
  • the Biodiversity Offsets Scheme.

Prior to legislation being passed, a policy review trigger was set for when clearing approvals reached an annualised threshold figure of 20,000 hectares measured in any six-month period to initiate a review of the policy framework (including legislative, regulatory and financial settings). This policy review trigger was reached in October 2018.

Advice

On 14th January 2019, the Premier requested through a terms of reference that the Commission provide independent, evidence-based advice on a response to the policy review trigger for the Land Management and Biodiversity Conservation reforms being reached in October 2018. The advice covered:

  • the appropriateness of the current trigger
  • proposed improved triggers and the current status of trigger thresholds
  • monitoring, evaluation and reporting (MER) indicators for measuring environmental, social and economic outcomes
  • emerging issues from available data
  • opportunities to improve service delivery and risk mitigation.

The Commission provided advice to the NSW Government on 31st July 2019.

Findings

The Commission found that two of the six core policies within the reform; a publicly available Native Vegetation Regulatory Map showing all categories and a coordinated, reform-specific monitoring, evaluation and reporting program, were yet to be implemented.

In 2018/19, over 37,000 hectares were approved to be cleared (excluding clearing for invasive native species). This is around 13 times the annual average rate of approval pre-reform, which was approximately 2,700 hectares on average per year between 2006/07 and 2016/17. In addition, less than 55 percent of the state-wide area approved to be cleared was set aside primarily due to high rates of approvals under Part 3 of the Code. Part 3 of the Code relates to thinning for pasture expansion purposes and does not require set asides.

The available data suggests that there is a major risk from unexplained clearing. The long-term average of just under 60 percent of agricultural cleared land being unexplained. This, coupled with a significant increase in approvals to clear, poses a significant risk to biodiversity and the legitimacy of the reforms.

The strategic coordination among agencies can be improved and requires independent oversight and the building of a collaborative culture and trust between agencies.

Recommendations

Based on the findings of the review, the Commission made the following key recommendations:

  1. The NSW Government replace the existing policy review trigger with the immediate implementation of the Commission’s proposed trigger framework.

  2. NSW Department of Planning Industry and Environment – Environment, Energy and Science Division implement a staged release of the Native Vegetation Regulatory Map.

  3. The NSW Government strengthen compliance frameworks by:

    • Reviewing the roles, responsibilities and resourcing for monitoring and enforcing compliance with certifications and notifications to clear and set asides under the Land Management (Native Vegetation) Code.
    • Developing clear processes to monitor and report on compliance with certifications and notifications to clear and set asides under the Land Management (Native Vegetation) Code. Monitoring and reporting processes should be developed with consideration of best practice principles, including ensuring monitoring can identify incidents of non-compliance and compliance risks in a timely way.
    • Developing processes to ensure six monthly monitoring and reporting of unexplained clearing as part of the trigger framework.
  4. The NSW Government undertake a 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.

  5. The Planning, Industry and Environment Cluster should fast-track the development and implementation of a coordinated, reform-specific MER program to holistically track performance and report on outcomes.