Statu­to­ry Review of Bio­di­ver­si­ty Con­ser­va­tion Act 2016 (NSW)

Damn­ing Find­ings from Review of Bio­di­ver­si­ty Con­ser­va­tion Act

The find­ings from the 5‑year statu­to­ry review of the Bio­di­ver­si­ty Con­ser­va­tion Act 2016 (NSW) (BC Act) are in, and it does­n’t make for hap­py reading. 

Pur­suant to sec­tion 14.11(1) of the BC Act, the Min­is­ter is to review this Act to deter­mine whether the pol­i­cy objec­tives of the Act remain valid and whether the terms of the Act remain appro­pri­ate for secur­ing those objectives. 

The short answer from this statu­to­ry review is that they do not. Lead Inde­pen­dent Review­er Dr. Ken Hen­ry AC states that it is clear to the Review Pan­el that the oper­a­tive pro­vi­sions of the Act are inca­pable of sup­port­ing its objectives”. 

The Review Pan­el finds the diver­si­ty and qual­i­ty of ecosys­tems is not being main­tained’ and the objects of the BC Act are already obsolete.’

The pur­pose of the Act (sec­tion 1.3) is to main­tain a healthy, pro­duc­tive, and resilient envi­ron­ment for the great­est well-being of the com­mu­ni­ty, now and into the future, con­sis­tent with the prin­ci­ples of eco­log­i­cal­ly sus­tain­able development. 

One of the chal­lenges here is that for some inter­est groups, there is no such thing as eco­log­i­cal­ly sus­tain­able devel­op­ment.’ Even the Review con­cludes that the prin­ci­ples of sus­tain­able devel­op­ment are no longer fit for purpose’.

The counter-argu­ment we hear from clients is that poten­tial projects become mired in red and green tape, caught up in the con­fu­sion of Bio­di­ver­si­ty Off­set Pay­ment Cal­cu­la­tions, bio­di­ver­si­ty cred­its, and stew­ard­ship agree­ments, among myr­i­ad others.

The Review Pan­el finds the reg­u­la­to­ry pro­vi­sions of the BC Act are com­plex and uncer­tain, with high com­pli­ance costs. There is crit­i­cism that the integri­ty of the Bio­di­ver­si­ty Off­sets Scheme is being com­pro­mised by pay­ments being made into the Bio­di­ver­si­ty Con­ser­va­tion Fund, rather than cred­its being sourced directly. 

Tra­di­tion­al farm­ing prac­tices are com­ing under greater pres­sure; so too are irri­gat­ed crop­ping, native tim­ber har­vest­ing, pri­vate native forestry, and pest and weed control. 

The Review Pan­el con­cludes that the BC Act’s objec­tives lack pri­ma­cy, being under­mined by a range of oth­er leg­is­la­tion – the key tar­gets are the Forestry Act 2012 and the Local Land Ser­vices Act 2013.

The com­plex­i­ty and con­fu­sion are only added to by a lay­er of Com­mon­wealth leg­is­la­tion, includ­ing the Envi­ron­ment Pro­tec­tion and Bio­di­ver­si­ty Con­ser­va­tion Act 1999 (Cth). A 2020 review of that Act found it was duplica­tive, inef­fi­cient, and cost­ly for the envi­ron­ment, busi­ness, and the community. 

The ques­tion is how to unscram­ble the leg­isla­tive egg, par­tic­u­lar­ly against the back­drop of a nation­al hous­ing cri­sis that requires an increased sup­ply of hous­ing, increased devel­op­ment, urban sprawl, and the poten­tial for fur­ther habi­tat loss. 

This review pro­motes the notion of a Nature Pos­i­tive Strat­e­gy’ seek­ing not only the pro­tec­tion and restora­tion of bio­di­ver­si­ty but improve­ments over time, pre­serv­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for future generations’.

What might this mean for the devel­op­ment of renew­able projects like wind and solar farms? 

The world of devel­op­ment is com­pli­cat­ed enough – in seek­ing to improve bio­di­ver­si­ty out­comes by giv­ing the BC Act pri­ma­cy over oth­er pieces of leg­is­la­tion, there is the very real risk that the path­way toward a project deter­mi­na­tion will only become more con­fus­ing, cost­ly, and uncertain