June 26, 2014  |  Second Reading

Native Vegitation Credit Market Bill 2014

Mr HOWARD (Ballarat East)— I am pleased to add my contribution to the debate on the Native Vegetation Credit Market Bill 2014.

As has been noted by the members for Bellarine and Brunswick, we on this side of the house generally accept that the concept of this legislation is good and that we should move towards  putting in place the  legislative framework necessary to protect  native  vegetation  and establish a native vegetation  credits  scheme. However, members on  this side  have been  pointing out that with this bill this government  has  missed  a  great opportunity. A couple of speakers on the other side of the house have made  comment on the bill. I do not take  great exception to what even the member for Benalla had to say.

  Honourable members interjecting.

  Mr  HOWARD —  It  is  quite odd. We on  this  side  want  to  see our native vegetation protected. Over a  number of years we have  had, in effect, a form of bipartisan support for this issue.

We have gone from the position of allowing vegetation to be cleared  to the Cain government  putting  in place the first processes to recognise that we  need  to protect our  native vegetation and  put  controls in place.  That work continued from then under the Kennett, Bracks and Brumby governments to this government.

In a sense this government wants to keep moving in the right direction, which is a good thing. A native vegetation credits  system has its merits. However, there must be consultation. So many questions are left unanswered by this legislation. Members know that a  lot of farmers and other land-holders want to do  the right thing with their  properties. They want to  hand  them on in a  better form than when they took them over.  Members also know that in the past the logic was that a good farmer had  to clear all the vegetation from his property  — that is, if they  left trees and did  not clear their paddocks, they  were not doing a  good job.

  Ms McLeish interjected.

  Mr HOWARD — The member for Seymour is not listening.

  The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms  Ryall) — Order! The member for Ballarat East will not respond to interjections.

  Mr HOWARD — Members need to remember what happened through the early part of the 20th century. We know that when people were given soldier settler land  they were required to clear that land. That  was the ethic back in the early part  of the last century. We know that now a lot of our farmers want to protect the land and  that  through the Trust for  Nature  many of them  have  taken  the step of putting covenants on their  land,  which is a great  step to have taken. I  know covenants have been put on  a number  of properties  in my  electorate and other properties in western Victoria.

What we do not know are the  effects of this legislation on those covenants. Now we are not  quite sure whether the Trust  for Nature is to be  taken  out of the picture or  how  it  is  to  fit  into the  picture, because  the Department  of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) is to take over all the regulation and management of the land to be used as offsets.

We  on this side are certainly concerned about how the new system  will operate. The fact that there has not  been consultation  with members  of the key groups, whether they  be the  Trust for Nature, councils or other bodies that have  been involved in offsets, means that how the management of  the land  will operate is still  unclear.   Opportunities have  been   lost in  the  introduction  of this legislation.  Members on  this side  want to ensure that the land set  aside for offsets is managed appropriately.  Given the staffing cuts  in the Department of Environment and Primary Industries, putting the management of all the land under the control of DEPI raises questions about whether DEPI can be the regulator as well as being the Crown land manager and the recipient of the offsets credits.

The concern is how those separate responsibilities  can be undertaken by DEPI in a  sound  and  effective  way.  Members know  DEPI has  been very  slow  in  its administration of the BushBroker scheme. Putting more responsibility  on DEPI so that it will be  dealing  with the entire system  of offsets will clearly put  a whole lot more stress on DEPI staff and will result in a lot more people waiting to work through the process, so there are  ongoing concerns. We on this  side of the house consider that the legislation has  been brought forward prematurely. A lot more  consultation needs to be undertaken so that when the legislation comes forward in the future the concept will be dealt with correctly.

People will then be assured that land set aside for offsets is the right sort of land — that is, land that matches the land that might be  being cleared for one reason  or land from which trees are being removed for one reason or another and that that offset land is being managed appropriately.

Members on  this side  of the  house  are  committed  to the  concept of  native vegetation protection  — of net gain, not  net loss. If we are  to move forward with a legislated program in the form proposed by the bill, it needs  to be done correctly so that  people understand the  answers, the safeguards are  in place, there is the capacity to  ensure that the offsets are managed in a timely manner and people are  not  kept waiting because  of  a  backlog in DEPI  that  we  are confident will develop.  With  those words, I  will  leave my  contribution  and welcome contributions to the debate on this legislation by others.