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  • Rikki Lambert

NSW native forestry bill mauled by political drop bears

The looming March election has claimed a casualty for the NSW Coalition government in the form of expanded private forestry rights, as concerns about koalas in the state's north causes a sudden U-turn.

Victoria's November 26 election and NSW's in March 2023 both feature attempts at environmentally-conscious 'teal' independents taking seats off the Coalition as they did with great success at May's federal election.

Upper house MP and retiring independent Justin Field independent has been offering support and advice to groups looking to back candidates in blue-ribbon Liberal seats in the hope of repeating the success of the well-funded "teal independents".

On Wednesday the state government introduced a bill to extend the life of private forestry leases from 15 to 30 years, with Agriculture Minister Dugald Saunders saying the 15-year lease didn't allow for effective ecological and commercial maturity of the forests.

The bill had also proposed removing local councils from the approval process, but less than a week from its tabling in parliament, on Tuesday Minister Saunders announced the sudden dropping of the bill, saying:

"While this Bill upholds all existing protections for the environment, we will continue to have further conversations with local councils to progress legislation that unites communities and industry.
"There is significant public interest in this Bill that warrants further consultation."

The majority of private forests affected by the debate are in the north of the state, but it has been a political powderkeg for the Coalition with former Nationals leader John Barilaro threatening to tear up the coalition agreement in 2020 over protections for koala habitat.

On Friday, the NSW Farmers said landholders seeking to harvest timber on their properties need to go through a duplicated approvals process at a state and local government level, reducing supply of hardwoods, delaying rebuilding efforts, and driving construction costs higher when people can least afford it.

The state's peak body of shires and councils, Local Government NSW said councils were being sidelined, but NSW Farmers CEO Pete Arkle said LGNSW had admitted councils were under “unprecedented financial pressures” and should welcome plans to ease the regulatory burden:

“We have roads across the state that can’t be fixed fast enough, a planning system that’s clogged up for all these rebuilding efforts, and councils that are clearly under the pump.
“That’s why it’s so crazy that some of these councils – particularly those dominated by environmental politics – are desperate to cling to control of timber approvals.
“The new Private Native Forestry Code includes boosted environmental protections and these projects will still be subject to strict review, it just won’t be done at a council level.”


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