GREENS MOTION: Disallowance of Native Vegetation Regulations for Flinders Chase National Park

In addition to moving to disallow Development Regulations relating to Flinders Chase National Park on Kangaroo Island, Mark today also moved to disallow Native Vegetation Regulations relating to the same National Park. Under these Regulations clearance of unspecified amounts of native vegetation inside the national park for roads, tracks, accommodation, service buildings, car parks, fire breaks, or anything else regarded as incidental to tourism no longer requires the approval of the Native Vegetation Council.


The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I move:

That the regulations under the Native Vegetation Act 1991 concerning Flinders Chase National Park, made on 21 January 2021 and laid on the table of this council on 2 February 2021, be disallowed.

This is the second lot of regulations made on 21 January designed to fast-track and appeal-proof major private tourism projects valued at over $1 million inside Flinders Chase National Park on Kangaroo Island. I have already explained the problem with the amendments to the development regulations, but the situation under the Native Vegetation Act is equally disturbing.

Under these regulations, clearance of unspecified amounts of native vegetation inside the national park for roads, tracks, accommodation, service buildings, car parks, fire breaks, or anything else regarded as incidental to tourism no longer requires the approval of the Native Vegetation Council. Under these regulations, tourist developments worth more than $1 million in Flinders Chase do not require NVC approval if the clearance is incidental to a development that has been approved by the state Coordinator-General who, as I pointed out earlier, is a public servant answerable to the minister. There is a pretence of accountability and balance—

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order! The honourable member needs to be heard in silence.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: —by requiring the developer to prepare a vegetation clearance management plan. They must also convince the state Coordinator-General that the clearance will result in an overall significant environmental benefit and they must pay some money, or at least promise to pay some money, into the Native Vegetation Fund. The Native Vegetation Council, which normally decides these applications, is completely sidelined.

I should note that the government has a habit of stripping the Native Vegetation Council of its powers if they think the NVC is protecting the environment too much. They did this last time to override the Native Vegetation Council's rejection of massive land clearing for The Bend motor racing track at Tailem Bend. This is how governments respond to help their mates when the proper authorities do their jobs properly, as the Native Vegetation Council did in relation to Tailem Bend.

When you look at the list of project-specific exemptions from our native vegetation laws, the roll of dishonour in part 4 of the regulations only includes two items: the Tailem Bend Motorsport Park and now Flinders Chase National Park tourism developments. The irony, of course, is that the Native Vegetation Council had actually approved the Australian Walking Company's clearance application, whereas the Tailem Bend application was rejected. My understanding is that these regulations are a protective measure to make sure that, in relation to any compensation payable for the clearance of vegetation, the amount will be set by a public servant answerable to the minister, rather than by an expert-based and more independent body: the Native Vegetation Council.

As I explained in more detail in relation to the development regulations, even if we disallow these regulations at the very next opportunity, my understanding is that the damage could well have been already done because the proponent, the Australian Walking Company, will have already lodged their application by the time we get around to disallowing these regulations. In other words, their application will be assessed against the regulations that existed at the date they lodged their application, regardless of whether this parliament subsequently throws them out.

My information is that applications have already been lodged, but of course the Coordinator-General has nothing on her website in relation to this so we cannot know for certain; however, I can bet you that an application will be lodged in the next two weeks, if it has not been already. This is an appalling situation. That is why I am again moving to disallow native vegetation regulations, just as I did in relation to Tailem Bend.

Our environmental laws should be applied fairly and uniformly to all projects, without special treatment and special exemptions for the government's favourite developments. That approach is morally bankrupt and I would urge the Legislative Council to send that message to the government by disallowing these regulations at the earliest opportunity.