26 September 2023

Auditor gets the dirt on overused land

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Victoria is not achieving its objective of protecting biodiversity on the State’s private land with a report from the Auditor-General finding that land cleaning is one of the culprits.

In his report to Parliament entitled Offsetting native vegetation loss on private land, Acting Auditor-General Dave Barry said he examined the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), four councils and the Trust for Nature’s management of native vegetation clearing on private land.

“Native vegetation forms the basis of Victoria’s ecological communities and helps support the State’s biodiversity,” Mr Barry said.

“The Government has an objective of no net biodiversity loss for native vegetation on private land,” he said.

“This means any clearing should be permitted and offset, unless exempted.”

He said Victoria was not achieving its objective, partly due to illegal clearing which DELWP acknowledged contributed significantly to the decline of native vegetation and undermined work to protect the quality and cover of Victorian native vegetation.

“As these clearings do not go through the permit process, there are no offsets to compensate for their biodiversity loss,” the Acting Auditor-General said.

He said councils were primarily responsible for implementing regulations but did not effectively manage native vegetation clearing in their areas.

“DELWP, which is responsible for setting policy and regulations, including reporting on the no net loss objective, has been slow to address known issues to support councils’ implementation of the regulations,” he said.

“While permitted clearing is offset, limitations in DELWP’s assessment tools mean that in some parts of the State, DELWP cannot determine the required offset to fully compensate for biodiversity loss.”

Mr Barry said he was not able to verify the accuracy of DELWP’s estimate that some 10,380 habitat hectares of native vegetation on private land were lost every year.

He said the estimate was based on modelled data and a range of assumptions that couldn’t be verified because there was “no actual data against which we can measure it.”

“To date, the Department has released four reports in accordance with its 2019 Monitoring, evaluation and reporting plan,” the Auditor-General said.

“However, none of these report on net biodiversity lost or gained from native vegetation clearing on private land.”

He pointed out that the policy objective was quantitative – no net loss – and therefore required a quantitative performance indicator.

“DELWP’s native vegetation reports do not include reporting on this outcome.”

Mr Barry made seven recommendations, four to DELWP to improve its reporting on the no-net-loss objective; its oversight and monitoring; its management of offset sites; and to develop and implement a data management protocol.

The Acting Auditor-General’s 57-page Report can be accessed at this PS News link.

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