The watering down of habitat protection laws in Victoria is raising ire and alarm in local communities around Melbourne and regional Victoria.
Eleven community meetings, targeting municipalities with some of the highest rates of land clearing, have been organised by the Environment Defenders Office, the Victorian National Parks Association and local groups, and attended so far by over 200 locally-active community members.
The EDO and VNPA have been holding joint workshops with community groups to outline proposed changes to the native vegetation clearing rules and discuss how the changes might impact on local communities.
Meetings have been held, or are planned, in Pakenham, Belgrave, Blackburn, Broadford, Rosebud, Frankston, Mallacoota, Bendigo, Wooragee, Geelong and Ballarat. The meetings were organised in response to State government plans to water down native vegetation rules. Final revised rules are expected to be released early in 2013 by the State Government.
Key messages coming through from the workshops are:
- There has been a real lack of consultation and information about these proposed changes from the State Government;
- There is a strong awareness that the existing rules controlling the clearing and degradation of native vegetation are being poorly implemented, not monitored, and their effectiveness is being undermined;
- Deep concern that the changes will mean the loss of many more small patches of bush and old trees, possibly leaving some areas without the natural spaces or the landscape that they currently enjoy;
- An eagerness to see awareness raised around this issue.
The Government’s proposals are essentially to make clearing easier in the large majority of cases, to minimise the need for on-site or detailed information to do so, to undermine the decade-old objective of trying to achieve environmental gains across the landscape, and to abandon consideration of the true values of native vegetation.
Bruce Lindsay, from the EDO, said: ‘These proposals intend to weaken and corrode the limited protections on native vegetation and habitat that presently exist. There is no notion of strengthening the system where it needs to be strengthened, such as in monitoring, compliance and permit enforcement.”
‘The Government got hammered over a lack of enforcement by the Auditor-General last year but there is no effort to pick up their game. Rather, the Government prefers to water down the regulations”.
Yasmin Kelsall of the VNPA said: ‘The proposals are also advanced in an information vacuum. There is no scientific baseline. No scientific rationale. No policy context.’
‘The requirement to consider avoiding and minimising destruction of native vegetation before simply knocking it over is a basic, sensible, precautionary approach to management of our precious local bush.”