Wednesday 18 October 2006
NATURE CONSERVATION AMENDMENT (THREATENED NATIVE VEGETATION COMMUNITIES) BILL 2006 (No. 19)
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, the intentions of these bills are admirable. Without doubt, Tasmania needs measures to save native vegetation communities from extinction, but these bills in their present form cause me considerable concern. The end does not justify these means. How can these bills work in their present form if the vast majority of the principal stakeholders - private land-holders - are vehemently opposed to the way some of the measures are to be applied? These bills need considerable work, but as stakeholders have until early next year to do that work, I am prepared to support them. If a last-minute compromise involving the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association had not been reached, however, I would have voted against both bills.
I said considerable work needs to be done. Let us just take one seemingly small amendment to the Forest Practices Act for example. It would seem to me that in clause 6 of the Forest Practices Amendment (Threatened Native Vegetation Communities) Bill 2006, the new subsection (5B) provides a penalty for anyone obtaining possession, by purchase or acquisition, of any timber product that has come from an area outside a certified forest practices plan. I am sure the Leader will correct me if I am wrong, but my interpretation of this is that it will be illegal for someone to go to a friend's property and collect a bundle of kindling. It will be illegal to go weekend firewood-gathering unless there is a forestry practices plan. It will be illegal for a wood carver to pick up a fallen branch to carve salad forks from it. If my interpretation of this amendment is correct, Mr President, it is a nonsense.
I question whether it is appropriate to use the Forest Practices Act as a tool to protect native grassland communities. Is a certified forest practices plan - and these plans are by no means cheap - really needed to cover activities resulting in the clearance and conversion of threatened native vegetation communities? According to the farmers, by the way, conversion can include the application of fertiliser to native grassland. They say the onus of proof of whether a species on their land is threatened is on the farmer, not the Government. This is an additional cost at a time when we are told farmers are facing one of the worst droughts in Australia's history.
Mr President, there seems a simple argument that if a land-holder is to be forced to restrict income producing activities on land in the public interest, then the public should compensate for the loss of earnings. Yes, there are provisions for compensation that are in the Nature Conservation Amendment (Threatened Native Vegetation Communities) Bill. Here is an example in the bill of the compensation process. Section 41A(1)(ii) states that a land holder is not entitled to compensation unless the minister is satisfied that -
'(a) at the time of the determination of proposed clearance and conversion was not prohibited by any State or Federal law;
(b) for a period of two years before the date of determination the landowner was actively managing the land with the reasonable intention of undertaking the clearance and conversion;
(c) the landowner had undertaken to manage the threatened species under a conservation covenant or management agreement.'
Section 41 of the previous act relates to the entitlements of the landowner to apply to the minister for compensation for financial loss as a result of becoming an affected owner. Under that section, the affected owner must apply for compensation within 180 days from the date on which he becomes an affected owner. The minister must advise the affected owner of the acceptance or refusal of the application as soon as practicable after receiving the application.
Now, the new section 41A in this bill restricts when a landowner is entitled to compensation and states that the minister is to be satisfied that the relevant conservation determination has the effect of requiring the landowner to exercise a higher duty of care for the conservation of natural and cultural values on the relevant land than is required under the Forest Practices Code as enforced at the date of the determination. So I assume that the minister's satisfaction will be on the balance of probabilities. How is the minister to determine what was the basic duty of care in order to determine if the landowner is required to exercise a higher duty of care? It is hard to envisage any landowner ever being able to prove a higher duty of care and so be able to claim compensation. The new section 41A(1)(b) refers to compensation being referred to an arbitrator.
Now, if the landowner refuses to have the compensation assessed by an arbitrator or does not accept the amount so assessed, then the landowner is taken to have withdrawn his application for compensation. That would mean that the landowner would get nothing. I do not see compensation to land-holders becoming a big drain on the public purse. I have mentioned only a few concerns about these bills and there many others. I believe that considerable work needs to be done. I hope that support for these two bills at this stage will be taken in good faith and that the final outcome will be acceptable to land-holders. It would be wise to bear in mind the words of the Productivity Commission in its report 'Impacts of Native Vegetation and Biodiversity Regulations'. The member for Rowallan has already referred to this quote but I am happy to repeat it:
'Policies which fail to engage the cooperation of landowners will themselves ultimately fail.'