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The EDO/VNPA native vegetation roadshow has been rolling for more than three months. We’ve been visiting communities around Melbourne and regional Victoria to explain existing rules governing clearing of native vegetation and changes that the Victorian Government has in the pipeline.

We’ve just arrived back from East Gippsland, where we gave talks in Bairnsdale and Mallacoota.

We’ve been getting lots of feedback too. Some of this is noted in our recent media release.

Last year, the Victorian Government was dragged reluctantly to a consultation process around rumored changes. The EDO made submissions to this consultation process. The proposals were contained in a cryptic document, which has focused on narrowing the ambition of native vegetation protection policy. They also will weaken the existing precautionary approach (which makes it necessary to consider ways to avoid clearing native vegetation), do away with the need for any on-the-ground assessment of impacts in most cases where a permit to clear is applied for, and potentially allow clearing to be ‘offset’ somewhere else in the State.

We have produced a summary fact sheet on the changes and what our preferred approach to native vegetation law reform is. This builds on the EDO’s 2012 monitoring report on the performance of native vegetation management policy, which found major room for improvement in how native vegetation protection was performing.

Really important issues remain outstanding, such as the fact that native vegetation ‘offsets’ do not necessarily provide an ecological gain at all. Monitoring and compliance of the native vegetation management system is weak and ad hoc. A 2012 Auditor-General’s report found the Department of Sustainability and Environment, which is  responsible for overseeing native vegetation policy, has no effective compliance framework across its areas of legislative responsibility.  And there is no real transparency in how the whole system of native vegetation management operates. For instance, what permits are issued? What land do they relate to? What conditions are attached to them? Where are the offsets? How are they performing? Who is monitoring the clearing and offsetting? Who knows!

Real reform is needed in the management and regulation on native vegetation in Victoria. The present headline goal of achieving a ‘net gain’ in the quality and extent of native vegetation across landscapes is admirable and important. It is a counterpoint to the historic landscape imbalance produced by more than 150 years of government policies to encourage land clearing. We are in the early days of redressing the imbalance. Improving the existing laws and policy will help achieve that balance. Those improvements need to focus on strengthening conservation goals and objectives, not undermining them, providing the tools to achieve these ends, and ensuring independent and transparent oversight of native vegetation management in Victoria.

Rebuilding connected and healthy landscapes is something we owe to our kids and future generations.