GREENS MOTION: Disallowance of Native Vegetation Regulations in Flinders Chase defeated

Today Mark's motion to disallow the Government's Native Vegetation Regulations relating to Flinders Chase was debated and went to a vote.  Disappointingly, SA Best and Advance SA lined up with the Government and voted against the motion.  As a result the new rules stay in place, which means that any vegetation in the National Park that the developer wants to clear for buildings, roads, tracks, fire-breaks etc will no longer be assessed by the Native Vegetation Council, but will be approved by a public servant answerable to the Planning Minister.


Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. M.C. Parnell:

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.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (Minister for Human Services): I rise to place some remarks on the record in relation to this particular motion. Can I say at the outset that the Treasurer's contribution in the previous motion I endorse and in relation to this motion, as they are very closely related. I just make some additional brief remarks in support of the government's position, which is not to support this particular disallowance.

I think it is also worth recapping that the Australian Walking Company first approached the Department for Environment and Water about their proposal when the previous government was in office in 2015, and my understanding is that the Labor government at that time was very enthusiastic about it but did not do the community engagement, which was very critical as part of the process and part of the due diligence process.

The package of legislation that has been advanced by the government to amend both the regulations under the Development Act 1993 and the Native Vegetation Act 1991 was intended to provide a resolution to what has been a significantly drawn-out process for the proponent, the Australian Walking Company. The Australian Walking Company has received development approval to proceed with the proposal, as has been noted by previous speakers on the previous motion, and importantly ensures that native vegetation clearance conditions, including pre-clearance surveys and threatened species management plans, are undertaken prior to any development on site.

There has been significant community engagement by the Australian Walking Company since that time, which has seen the proposed development be significantly revised to reduce the environmental impact, including the clearance of native vegetation.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I do have some additional remarks. I will not be as lengthy as I was before—we have canvassed some of the issues—but no less vehement, I expect. I thank the honourable minister for her contribution. What this motion has in common with the previous motion is that it is not just about the Walking Company and their current project for two villages of private dwellings in the national park. It is not just about that. This is about every future private sector development inside Flinders Chase National Park worth more than $1 million for tourism purposes. That is what this is about. This is a permanent change to the Native Vegetation Regulations going forward.

The regulations do not set out how much vegetation can be cleared. It is an unlimited—an unlimited amount—of native vegetation. Whilst we could always imagine what type of project might come along and how much vegetation that might require to be removed it would be pure speculation. It could be everything from a resort, a resort with swimming pools, hotels, all manner of things. When you clear vegetation for projects you do not just clear for the building footprint, you have to clear firebreaks and you have to clear roads, tracks and service buildings.

The way these sort of developments would have been handled up until today, up until now, would have been that someone would go to the expert body charged with assessing native vegetation clearance applications. That is the Native Vegetation Council. That is their job. Their day job is to assess native vegetation clearance applications.

What these regulations say is, 'No, let's not go to them. Why don't we go to someone where we can be a bit more confident of the outcome? Why don't we go to the State Coordinator-General, the CEO of the Attorney-General's Department? We feel we'll have a much smoother ride if this clearance application is assessed by a public servant answerable to the minister rather than by an independent native vegetation council.' That is what these regulations do.

The great irony is that the Native Vegetation Council already approved the vegetation clearance for the Walking Company. I was pretty grumpy that they did; I thought they made a bad call. They already approved it. They approved vegetation clearance on some of these pristine coastal headlands. There was a lot of outrage, but what we cannot really complain about is that it went through the proper process. It went to the Native Vegetation Council, they assessed it, they decided that they could approve it and they worked out how much compensation should be paid for the loss of the vegetation to go into the kitty, the Native Vegetation Fund.

My feeling is that it is at that point that the government and the Walking Company have had trouble. I think their concern is that if these tourist development clearance applications go to the Native Vegetation Council, the Native Vegetation Council knows the value of vegetation and they are going to put a price on it that private developers are not going to want to pay. That is my suspicion of what is happening here. I cannot see any other reason why the government, through these regulations, would take away from the Native Vegetation Council the power to assess and determine the appropriate compensation. That is what they have done forever. That is their job.

This is a kick in the guts for the Native Vegetation Council. It is saying, 'We don't trust you. We don't trust you to get it right. We don't trust you to assess it properly. We would much rather the assessment be done by a public servant.' I know from my discussions with some crossbenchers that the minister has been out there telling people, 'If Parnell gets his way and these regs are disallowed, then it will add eight weeks to the process.' That might be right, and you know what? Assessing a clearance application inside a national park does need to be done properly.

We have just seen from the previous regulation debate that the government's assessment regime is to approve something on the same day it is lodged. Might it take eight weeks for the Native Vegetation Council to approve it? Yes, it might. Is the Walking Company ready to build anything yet? No, they are not. The park is burnt; they are not going to be building anything for quite some time. Eight weeks is neither here nor there, but what is important is that the Native Vegetation Council be trusted to do this job as we trust them to do every other job. Every other clearance application goes to the Native Vegetation Council.

I think the minister mentioned earlier the Tailem Bend motorsport park. People who have been here a little while might remember that that was a similarly appalling situation. What happened was that the Tailem Bend people, Peregrine, went to the Native Vegetation Council and said, 'Here's our map of all the veg we want to clear.' The Native Vegetation Council said, 'A fair go! Most of the vegetation in this district has been cleared. There's not much left. Can't you incorporate what's left into your development?' They said, 'No, we want to clear it.' The Native Vegetation Council said no.

What happened then is that Peregrine went screaming to the Premier, and the next thing we know there are regulations saying, 'The Native Vegetation Council no longer has the ability to say no to vegetation clearance at The Bend at Tailem Bend.' Now it has a companion. There are now two items on the list of developments that do not need to go to the Native Vegetation Council: clearing at the motor racing track at Tailem Bend and clearing inside a national park for private tourism development. That is the list of two, the list of dishonour in the Native Vegetation Regulations.

It is an absolutely appalling way to manage the environment. I can tell members that every conservation group and every environment group in the state is going to be appalled at what this chamber has done by shirking its responsibility to protect the environment and to ensure that proper processes are followed. Depending on how we go on the voices, we will need to divide on this motion as well.

The council divided on the motion:

Ayes 9

Noes 10

Majority 1

Bourke, E.S. Franks, T.A. Hanson, J.E.
Hunter, I.K. Maher, K.J. Ngo, T.T.
Parnell, M.C. (teller) Pnevmatikos, I. Wortley, R.P.
Centofanti, N.J. Darley, J.A. Hood, D.G.E.
Lee, J.S. Lensink, J.M.A. (teller) Lucas, R.I.
Pangallo, F. Ridgway, D.W. Stephens, T.J.
Wade, S.G.    
Scriven, C.M. Bonaros, C.  


Motion thus negatived.