25 September 2023

Audit concern over rural land clearing

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A performance audit of the regulations for clearing native vegetation in rural areas has found them to be ineffectively managed.

In her report, Managing Native Vegetation, Auditor-General, Margaret Crawford found the processes supporting the regulatory framework to be “weak” with no evidence-based assurance that the clearances were carried out in accordance with approvals.

Ms Crawford said her audit examined how Local Land Services and the Office of Environment and Heritage regulated and managed the clearing of native vegetation in rural areas following reforms introduced in August 2017.

“The report found that unexplained land clearing can take over two years to identify and analyse, making it difficult to minimise environmental harm or gather evidence to prosecute,” Ms Crawford said.

“Despite around 1,000 instances of unexplained clearing, over 500 reports to the environmental hotline each year and around 300 investigations in progress at any one time, there are few prosecutions, remediation orders and penalty notices for unlawful clearing.”

She said that while significant effort had been applied in developing a native vegetation regulatory map to guide landholders on which land they could and could not clear without approval, the map’s release had not yet been approved.

“Not releasing the map has made it harder for landholders to identify the portions of their land that are regulated and ensure they comply with land clearing rules,” Ms Crawford said.

She said the Land Management (Native Vegetation) Code, which contained conditions under which clearing could be approved on regulated land, was intended to allow landholders to improve productivity while responding to environmental risks. However, it might not be achieving this balance.

“The Code allows some native species to be treated as ‘invasive’ when they may not be invading an area, provides little protection for groundcover and limited management requirements for land set aside for conservation,” the Auditor-General said.

Her report made 11 recommendations to improve the regulation and management of rural land clearing.

The final 61-page report can be accessed at this PS News link.

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