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.
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.
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.