Legislative Assembly for the ACT: Week 5 Hansard (4 May) . . Page.. 1718..
MS TUCKER (11.45): Transgrid was the prompt for this legislative change. Transgrid on two separate occasions in 2002 cleared areas of native vegetation in the Namadgi National Park. This highlighted a gap in the legislation protecting the nature in nature reserves, and this bill is intended to fill the gap by creating new offences relating to clearing of native vegetation and damage to the land in reserved areas.
The existing offences in the act do not apply to people licensed to take plants, or interfere with wildlife or nests, and so on. There is also a general exemption for a number of the offences for a conservation officer or the Conservator of Flora and Fauna acting in the performance of his or her duties. Nor do the offences apply to people appointed for the purposes of section 33 of the Electricity Safety Act 1971-connecting electrical installations to network inspections-in the exercise of his or her powers under that section as a person so appointed. These exemptions apply to specific offences and not, for example, to the offences of selling an animal, import and export of animals, and release of animals from captivity. This is a reasonable system.
The new offences proposed in this bill will also be subject to the grant of licences, and the bill exempts conservation officers in the exercise of a function under this act. However, the bill also creates several new and more general exemptions. Section 601 would establish lawful clearing as clearing of native vegetation in accordance with a licence; or in accordance with a plan of management under the Land (Planning and Environment) Act 1991, division 5.7, public land; or in accordance with an approval for a development under the same act; or in accordance with a fuel management plan under the Bushfire Act 1936, part 6; or if it is necessary and appropriate to avoid an imminent risk of serious harm to a person or substantial damage to property or serious or material harm to the reserved area.
These exemptions mean that not every instance of proposed clearing will be subject to assessment against the specific goals of the nature conservation plan. I have had some concerns on that basis about the exemptions relating to a plan of management, to a DA and to the fuel management plan. The government has argued that in the case of a development application related to a nature reserve, the land manager, who is in this case the Conservator of Flora and Fauna, must be consulted, and the decision-maker must take into account what the Conservator of Flora and Fauna says. There will be input from the scientists in the wildlife and research monitoring unit. However, although the same people may be involved, there is not the same requirement in this process, or in this decision-making framework, to emphasise the protection of the nature reserve.
When a decision about a licence is made, the sole decision-maker is the Conservator of Flora and Fauna, and the sole criteria for the decisions are the guidelines for the nature park, and the nature conservation plan. The government is concerned that this means a second layer of bureaucracy, but this is forgetting the purpose of the nature reserve. If we cannot say that the most important consideration in a nature reserve is the protection of nature, then I think we are seriously missing the point.
Similarly, the rules for preparing the bushfire fuel management plan do not at this point include a requirement for the inclusion of expertise on fire ecology, that is, the effect of fires of different types on the ecology of an area, and in some cases vice versa. The CEO of the Department of Urban Services, the relevant land manager, is responsible for