NSW farmers will get greater freedom to clear land under new laws being proposed by the state government.
Private landholders will also receive financial incentives to protect native species, with the government committing to fund a five-year, $240 million private land conservation program.
The draft land-clearing and biodiversity legislation will replace the decade-old Native Vegetation Act, which Environment Minister Mark Speakman says has resulted in less biodiversity in the state.
“We are now looking at tipping over 1000 threatened species in NSW so clearly what we have in place at the moment has not been working,” he said.
The reforms also include a $100 million investment over five years for the “Saving Our Species” program, making them an “unprecedented” investment in conservation, he said.
Strict regulations would be in place to make sure NSW did not duplicate similar changes implemented by the Queensland government – which conservationists say doubled allowable land clearing in the state.
“We’ll have a wider rein of checks and balances in place to make sure that what we might have seen in Queensland does not happen in NSW,” Mr Speakman said.
The government’s new satellite mapping system would also provide monthly data on the amount of land clearing taking place under the new legislation.
“So if there were to be a particular amount of land clearing we won’t find out about that in two or three years’ time where we won’t be able to do anything about that,” Mr Speakman said.
Land clearing will be assessed under a single set of rules under the proposed legislation, while a biodiversity offset scheme, conservation trust and new native vegetation regulatory map would be set up.
Environmentalists have, however, slammed the bills, saying they do nothing to preserve biodiversity in NSW and instead facilitate broad-scale land clearing.
“The Baird government has squandered a once-in-a-generation opportunity to actually address both of these crises,” Nature Conservation Council chief executive Kate Smolski said.
Total Environment Centre ecologist Leigh Martin, meanwhile, argued the legislation would pit some farmers against green groups.
“The reality is the majority of farmers want to manage their land responsibly and don’t seek to clear vegetation on a broad-scale basis,” he said.