Computer says ‘Yes’… serious flaws in online information will subvert sound decision-making

The EDO has previously written on the legal and policy problems associated with new ‘permitted clearing’ laws that will govern native vegetation clearing in Victoria. These new rule are intended to come into effect later in September..

In our view, the new native vegetation clearing rules will be a disaster. They will be a disaster for native vegetation and a disaster for good decision-making about habitat protection.

The new ‘risk-based’ classification of decisions to permit clearing will facilitate native vegetation clearing through identifying clearing in most cases as ‘low risk.’ ‘Low risk’ classification then applies a sort of fast-track procedure for decision-making by those charged with doing so (eg local government). A proponent wishing to clear native vegetation will essentially have to submit online mapping information and show that they can secure an appropriate offset and the Council will not be able to refuse the permit..

The allocation of proposed clearing to a ‘risk-based pathway’ – low, moderate or high- , is based upon information to be derived from online mapping databases.

A casual glance – and more thorough study – of the databases show the online mapping to be seriously flawed. For instance, with local knowledge it is quite easy to identify ‘low risk’ areas that in fact contain important areas of native vegetation and habitat. Conversely, it is possible to find areas identified as high risk which in fact have little environmental value.

You can check your own local patches of important bush and native vegetation to check how they have been classified (use the ‘Native Vegetation Location Risk 2013’ map layer).

If you find any significant anomalies or errors, send examples to us: [email protected].

The flaws in the online mapping system are so significant they will likely subvert sound decision-making and promote uncertainty. The online mapping is the primary gateway through which decision-making is organised and applications allocated to ‘risk’ categories. If the mapping cannot be relied upon, the decision-making process quickly becomes dysfunctional.

This is aside from the fact that the decision-making rules will essentially permit unrestrained native vegetation clearing in Victoria. More than 97% of private land will fall into the ‘low risk’ category. A further small fraction is classified as ‘moderate risk’, requiring some demonstration of minimisation of clearing. A tiny fraction falls into ‘high risk’ (about 1.5%), at which point there is some possibility of refusing a permit to clear very valuable native vegetation.

Given this state of affairs, it is imperative that:

  • the Victorian Government delay its plans for the new laws to commence in just a few weeks time.
  • the Government re-think the system – get the laws right, so that the environment is properly protected and decisions about vegetation clearing applications are based on accurate information.
Skip to content