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The Victorian Government's Review of the Native Vegetation Clearing Regulations is now calling for submissions from the public. Submissions close on Friday 29 April.

Environmental Justice Australia has prepared these points to help you make your submission.

Where are there improvements in the current proposals?

Some of the better outcomes in rules or policy proposed in the Consultation Paper include:

  • Obligations to avoid clearing first in all cases.
  • Reducing thresholds for those decisions in which applications for a permit to clear can proceed through a fast-tracked ‘lower assessment’ pathway.
  • Allowing decision-makers (such as Councils) to give greater weight and consideration to the value of local patches of native vegetation.
  • Requiring greater justification and principled bases for exemptions from requirements to obtain a permit.
  • Greater scope for the use of ‘on-ground’ information and assessments.
  • Development of higher, more transparent standards to the delivery of offsets.
  • Recognition of the need for far greater effort and effectiveness in monitoring, compliance and enforcement in native vegetation management, including support to Councils where resources can be highly uneven.

Where are the problems in the Consultation Paper proposals?

Generally, the overall approach to native vegetation clearing regulation in these proposals seeks to reproduce and to modify, or refine, the approach taken to the existing Permitted Clearing Guidelines. For instance, a substantial reliance on mapping in decision-making, the permitting of clearing and resort to offsetting as a management tool, complex and obscure scoring systems, and limited ambition for the regulations as a conservation tool, are all common and continuing features of these proposals.

Our main concerns are:

  • Continued primary focus on a narrow understanding of the ‘biodiversity’ values of native vegetation, for which rare and threatened species habitat is the key proxy, as distinct from other native vegetation values (such as land protection, water quality, social-cultural, landscape or amenity values).
  • Emphasis on the role of the regulatory system (ie planning controls) to achieve ‘no net loss’ of native vegetation extent and condition. It is the task of incentive systems to achieve a ‘net gain’ or reversal of long-term decline.
  • Continued emphasis on the use of online mapping and modelling as a means of assessment, to inform decision-making and to drive the regulatory arrangements in practice;
  • Continued emphasis on the biodiversity scoring methods and sources (focusing on rare and threatened species habitat) developed for the existing Permitted Clearing Guidelines policy and a proliferation of quantitative tools (for instance, habitat importance scores, strategic biodiversity scores, general biodiversity equivalence units, specific biodiversity equivalence units).
  • A continued strong emphasis on offsetting as a management technique and as a key device to achieve the objectives of native management. Little consideration has been give to the capacity of offsets systems, in practice or in principle, to achieve the intended outcomes of native vegetation clearing control.
  • Extensive categories of exemption from the application of the permit requirements under the regulations.

What to consider including in your submissions?

You may wish to include in your submission reference to those areas of native vegetation or local habitat with which you are most familiar or which you are working to protect or restore. Identify the work and interests of your group(s), and/or your experience as an individual in conservation activities bearing on the protection and restoration of native vegetation. This information is important in providing a context to your submissions and ground your own thinking.

If you have been involved with decision-making around native vegetation clearing, such as in interactions with Council officers or even experience at VCAT over permit decisions, it is worth reflecting on this experience and how DELWP’s proposal changes might impact on similar dealings or cases. How do you feel that the proposed improvements in the Consultation Paper would assist in naïve vegetation protection and conservation or not assist?

Finally, you may wish to comment on some or all of the proposed improvements in the Consultation Paper. There may be broader issues not directly canvassed in the Paper which you think are important to include. The Consultation Paper does provide quite specific matters to comment on, which is helpful, but the scope of debate and reform should not necessarily be seen as restricted to these points.

More information: Read our Native Vegetation Clearing Regulation Review Briefing Paper