DEPI have issued new Fact Sheets on the biodiversity mapping platforms that will be used to make decisions for issuing permits, identifying offsets and so forth.
At the time of writing, Victoria’s new native vegetation ‘permitted clearing’ regulations have not come into force (they were expected in September). However, DEPI have issued new Fact Sheets on the biodiversity mapping platforms that will be used to make decisions for issuing permits, identifying offsets and so forth. The EDO and VNPA have previously been very critical of the heavy reliance on online mapping in decision-making processes, especially decisions to issue permits to clear native vegetation. Effectively, the ‘risk-based’ approach to decision-making will fast-track clearing processes for substantial areas of native vegetation in Victoria,and base those decisions on poor quality, if not misleading, representations of on-ground realities.
There is considerable detail in the leading biodiversity information tool fact sheet about how online mapping platforms are put together. That detail is welcomed. However basic problems with decision-making processes remain. And all of this additional information does not overcome two real telling issues.
First, online mapping information is only a model of what is on the ground, therefore it has inherent limitations which are significant. This is even noted in the fact sheets. They may be useful to guide decision-making but it is inappropriate that they determine or direct decision-making. It is appropriate that on-ground ecological assessments should fulfil that task. Unfortunately the Government intends that the online maps will determine or direct decision making in the large majority of clearing decisions.
Secondly, there are clear legal problems with advice in the fact sheets that on-ground observations (or for that matter other information sources) are not considered when assessing an application for a planning permit to remove native vegetation (Biodiversity Information Tools used in Victoria’s Native Vegetation Permitted Clearing Regulations: Fact Sheet, p, 6). The reality will likely be that decision-makers will need to consider all information and material that is relevant, credible and has a real bearing on the decision to be made.