GREENS BILL: Regulated Trees

Today Mark introduced the Greens' Regulated Trees Bill. Almost identical to a previous Greens' Bill that passed the Legislative Council in 2017, it would ensure that significant or regulated tree removal applications cannot be granted unless the replacement use or the replacement buildings have also been approved. The two decisions need to be dealt with together or the tree decision must be made after the building decision and not before. There is one clear exception and that is where a tree needs to be removed because it is dangerous.


PLANNING, DEVELOPMENT AND INFRASTRUCTURE (REGULATED TREES) AMENDMENT BILL 2020

This is a simple bill that it is virtually identical to one that passed the Legislative Council back in 2017. It seeks to bring some common sense to the law around significant trees in South Australia. In a nutshell, the purpose of this bill is to prevent the unnecessary or premature removal of regulated or significant trees.

The catalyst for the bill last time was the removal of a large number of significant trees from the site of the former Glenside Hospital. The developer in that case was so keen to have a clear slate to work from that they applied and were granted permission to clear 83 regulated trees even though they did not have any firm plans for the housing estate that they wanted to build. As a result, it was impossible to know whether or not some of those trees could have been saved and incorporated into the development.

It makes much more sense to consider these matters holistically; in other words, deal with the tree removal application at the same time as the application to build the new housing. The operative provisions of this bill are that a significant or regulated tree removal application cannot be granted unless the replacement use or the replacement buildings have also been approved. It is that simple. No more clearing of significant trees and then worrying about what to replace them with later. The two decisions need to be dealt with together or the tree decision must be made after the building decision and not before.

The current situation is very poor planning practice and it brings the whole system into disrepute. Of course, I will add that there is one clear exception that we need to consider and that is included in this bill, and that is the situation where a tree needs to be removed because it is dangerous. We know that as trees get older they can shed branches, they can become unstable and they may need to be removed to protect public safety or to protect buildings.

In those situations, of course an approval can be given because it is not a case of the tree being in the way of future development; it is a case of the tree being dangerous, which is why it needs to be removed. Back in 2017 when this bill was put to a vote, the Liberal Party supported it. The Hon. Michelle Lensink on behalf of the Liberal Party called it 'a sensible proposal' and therefore her party supported it.

Members can check the Hansard on 1 November 2017 if they like, which will confirm that the bill passed the Legislative Council with majority support including the Liberal Party. But the then Labor Government did not support it. To be honest, I do not think they understood it. The Hon. Justin Hanson was rolled out by the Labor Party, although sacrificed might be a better word, to make one of his more memorable contributions. The honourable member delivered a second reading speech for the ages that will no doubt be regarded as one of his career highlights. He said:

This issue has been the subject of considerable debate and the Government believes we have the balance right as it stands, so we will not be supporting this particular bill.

That is it: a very succinct second reading speech. I am not going to hold the Labor Party to that position because now the Labor Party is unencumbered by ministerial responsibility, they will be able to actually read the bill and have a look at it with fresh eyes. I also do not hold the Hon. Justin Hanson personally responsible as I expect he just got a text message from the Attorney-General saying, 'Just oppose it without offering any sensible argument.'

I am bringing this bill back now and I expect that this time the 'sensible measure' as the Hon. Michelle Lensink described it, should pass both houses of Parliament. I commend the bill to the chamber.