NATIVE vegetation mapping has been a long time coming – but NSW Farmers delegates have called for government to hold it back even longer if landholders don’t get final say on its accuracy.
Also passed during today’s annual conference was for maximum land clearing fines to be reduced ‘to reflect the size of the entity, economic impact on the entity, and environmental impact’, and for family trust companies to not be lumped in as a ‘corporation’ and therefore face heavier fines.
Farmers delegates at Luna Park also voted for Office of Environment and Heritage to deal with illegal clearing under a retrospective permission process before proceeding with legal action, while there will be a push for prosecutors to wear the onus of proof in cases of alleged illegal clearing – not the landholder.
Moree branch delegates also moved that prosecutions be unable to be brought if the alleged illegal clearing incident occurred more than two years ago.
“If you’re accused of murder, you have more rights than if you are accused of knocking some trees down,” said Moree delegate Stuart Gall.
The regulatory property satellite maps have been a major sticking point throughout the landmark native veg reform process as far back as 2015.
In theory, the aerial maps will divide a property into land that can be cleared of native vegetation without regulation, and land that will have clearing rules applied.
But the maps’ accuracy, and subsequent fairness on landholders, has been the subject of much back and forth between government departments and farm groups, with producers concerned the maps will be overzealous in their zoning and prohibitive to sustainable development.
The Association has previously slammed sample mapping given to members as highly inaccurate and posing a significant risk to farmers.
“Mapping on my property can’t tell the difference between a eucalyptus tree canopy and a bit of bracken fern with blackberries growing out of it,” said Native veg working group chairman Mitchell Clapham.
Rob Anderson, Moree, said: “I don't think a lot of people realise how bad these maps are. They are appalling. I have had the dubious privilege of seeing mine. There is some land that was first farmed in 1967.
“As well as being regulated, it’s got a pink line through it that is meant to be sensitive land because of a creek.
“I'm not even sure where the stream is?”
Currently, landholders can interact with the native vegetation reforms through self-assessment and Local Land Services direction for lower-end clearing.
Also in the Native Vegetation space at annual conference is a call for government to remove impractical retention requirements for invasive native species, and land on a slope greater that 18 degrees.
Last month green groups launched a second round of legal action against the reforms, hoping for a repeat of March’s embarrassing admission by government it had not properly signed off on new land clearing codes.
That action ended in government reinstalling the code hours later, reassuring farmers they would not be prosecuted for legal works during the invalid law period.
The team leading the new legal case against government has rejected any suggestion this fresh court action is an expensive public show.
NSW Farmers say it’s a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Earlier this month The Guardian reported that complaints to a NSW land clearing hotline had increased by from an average of 45.2 complaints a month under the old laws to 59 complaints in August 2017, 61 in October 2017 and 56 in November 2017.
However, The Guardian noted: “Complaints to the hotline are only a pointer. They are not proof of increased clearing and could be affected by other factors such as increased publicity of the new laws. The land clearing reported may also not be illegal.”