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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 12 Hansard (25 November) . . Page.. 3744 ..

MS TUCKER (4.38): A significant feature of Canberra is the closeness of the rural land around it. Some 20 per cent of the ACT is rural land. The rural land in the ACT has had a greater role than just for agricultural production. It has been used as a planning feature to provide a rural backdrop to the city. It has been used as a land bank to allow the orderly expansion of the city over time. In recent times it has become more attractive as real estate for city dwellers seeking a rural lifestyle.

Some of the land contains remnant woodland and grassland that has become endangered and needs to be protected for the benefit of future generations. Because of past land management practices, some of this land has degraded in ways that are impacting negatively not just on its productive capacity, but also on surrounding environments. That needs to be reversed.

Difficult and often conflicting demands have led to much insecurity on the part of rural leaseholders over years. These issues came to a head in 1996 when the Government commissioned a task force to develop a new rural policy. The task force reported in mid-1997. There was a range of recommendations from that task force that have been incorporated into the Bill before the Assembly today. While the Greens have objected to some of the Government's responses to the task force report, such as its promotion of rural residential development, we generally support the approach taken by the task force - and subsequently by the Government - in preparing this legislation.

We accept that rural leaseholders who have leases in areas that are unlikely to be required for urban expansion should be able to have the same security of tenure and ownership of the improvements on that land as other leaseholders in the ACT. We therefore accept the move to give rural leaseholders 99-year leases. We also support the view that the land management policies adopted by the Government should facilitate the maintenance of a sustainable rural industry in the ACT.

However, we would put more stress on the ecological sustainability of the rural industry rather than just its short-term economic sustainability. It is now common knowledge that past farming practices have not always been appropriate for the Australian environment and that very significant land degradation has occurred. It is heartening that efforts are finally being made across governments and by land-holders, for example, through the landcare movement, to address these issues.

There is still so much to be done to reverse this degradation. While there are extensive conservation reserves in the ACT and the other locations which do protect particular natural areas, there has been a growing move across Australia to set up systems which promote off-reserve nature conservation management involving land management agreements with private land-holders in rural areas. I am pleased that the Government has picked up this approach through its requirement for land management agreements on new rural leases as a central tool for promoting nature conservation and responsible land management on rural leases.

However, the experience elsewhere is that effective off-reserve nature conservation management is dependent on the willing cooperation and support of the land-holders, which needs to be obtained through a mixture of carrots and sticks provided by government. This is where my support for this legislation diverges from the

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