Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 4 Hansard (1 April) . . Page.. 1609..
Document incorporated by the Minister for Environment
It gives me great pleasure today to present the Environment Legislation Amendment Bill 2004.
This is a Bill that addresses the complex issues raised during the Investigation into the illegal land clearing by NSW power entity TransGrid, in Namadgi National Park in 2002. As members will recall, this incident involved the company clearing a strip of land 60 metres wide and some kilometres long. It is fair to say that this kind of clearing and consequent damage was of a type that was never envisaged when the Nature Conservation Act was drafted back in 1980. These amendments introduce appropriate offences and stronger penalties to cover any future illegal clearing of native vegetation or damage to land in nature reserves.
There are two groups of new offences. The first is clearing native vegetation on public land classified as a wilderness area, a national park or nature reserve. Clearing will be allowed, under licence from the Conservator of Flora and Fauna if it is legitimately required and steps are taken to reduce the impact of the clearing. There will also be some general exemptions from the prohibition on clearing. These exemptions include:
action specifically authorised by a development approval under the Land Planning and Environment Act 1991, or
action taken in accordance with a plan of management for that area made under the Land Planning and Environment Act, or
action taken in accordance with a Bushfire Fuel Management Plan under the Bushfire Act 1936 and
action taken if it is necessary and appropriate to avoid an imminent risk of serious harm to the health or safety of people or serious damage to the property or serious or material harm to the reserved area.
The second new offence is damaging land in a "reserved"area. Damage will mean the destruction or removal of any rock stone gravel sand or soil from the land. Again the Conservator of Flora and Fauna can licence the activity for legitimate purposes. It is aimed at covering deliberate or reckless removal or destruction of rock or soil within reserves, but not incidental damage caused by recreational use of reserved areas such as bush walkers, mountain bikers or rock climbers.
The penalties for these new offences are serious. Penalties of up to a $1,000,000 fine for corporations and $200,000 fine for individuals can be imposed. In the most serious cases, the Court may impose a term of up to five years imprisonment. The penalties for the new offences are tiered, with fines based upon the seriousness of harm caused and whether the offender was reckless or negligent in causing the damage. These penalties are in line with those in the Environment Protection Act 1997 for causing environmental harm.
The Bill proposes some new provisions in the Nature Conservation Act 1980 dealing with the criminal liability of executive officers of corporations and third party enforcement. An executive officer of a corporation will be personally guilty of an offence independently of the corporation if the officer could have taken steps to prevent the offence. The Bill also introduces provisions to allow private citizens to make application to the Court to seek injunctive orders against a person who