Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2017 Week 13 Hansard (Tuesday, 31 October 2017) . . Page.. 4732 ..
that there are appeal rights for community groups like the Conservation Council, the National Trust and the local community council. The reality is that your average resident will only ever get involved in one or two of these sorts of decisions in their life. They have no idea how to challenge decisions. Community groups can support concerned community members when the government has got it wrong, and they can make a huge difference in whether the community’s voice is heard.
I urge all members to support my amendments to make sure that registered trees which, as I said earlier, are a very small number of trees—in the low hundreds of trees; they are a small number of the most significant trees in the urban areas of the ACT—are appropriately protected. My amendments will also ensure that the community have appeal rights if and when they need to challenge the government’s decisions when they believe that the wrong decision has been made.
MS FITZHARRIS (Yerrabi—Minister for Health and Wellbeing, Minister for Transport and City Services and Minister for Higher Education, Training and Research) (5.33), in reply: Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak in this debate today on the Tree Protection Amendment Bill 2017. The objective of this bill is to correct an anomaly in the Tree Protection Act 2005 and to ensure that the conservator has the necessary authority to manage the tree register.
In March this year the most popular choice for a new ACT numberplate slogan was “Canberra—The Bush Capital”. It is not surprising, as the notion of the bush capital is promoted by locals as one of Canberra’s greatest attractions. With our parks and open spaces, wildlife and close access to nature, Canberra’s urban forest underpins a lot of what this city is about. The benefits of an urban tree canopy have been discussed here recently, but often not as broadly in the community; but the benefits are many.
I would like to identify just a few of the changes this bill makes to the Tree Protection Act. As we know, trees improve air quality, create micro climates and can cool cities as urban tress lessen the impact of the urban heat island effect that can be generated by a city. Trees act as a natural water filter and significantly slow the movement of stormwater, reducing runoff. Trees have a positive impact on human health, making cities more liveable.
But, like any city, Canberra has the challenge of balancing development and heritage, open space and building infill, innovative progressive city planning and outcomes for our natural environment. In such situations, this tension can be lessened through legislative schemes that provide guidance on how to consider and weight the merits of particular situations.
The Tree Protection Act provides such a scheme by providing for the protection and independent consideration by the Conservator of Flora and Fauna to ensure that trees and the tree canopy of our city are not unnecessarily affected. The Tree Protection Act importantly protects large trees from removal and damage, and specifically identifies trees for special protection by registering the tree as a tree of significance. At times, this involves a balancing act. We are also a jurisdiction that promotes procedural fairness and natural justice. Part of providing these things includes statutory rights to challenge governments on decisions that may adversely impact on us as individuals.