Development (Regulated Trees) Amendment Bill

30 Oct 2013 speecharchive

A speech regarding the Development (Regulated Trees) Amendment Bill that indicates the Liberal Party support the second reading.

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 28 November 2012.)

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (16:48): The Liberal Party will be supporting the second reading of the bill to enable us to examine it in some detail. However, we are not going to be supporting the third reading. Let me explain the reasons for that. Significant trees is something I have, obviously, taken a significant interest in, if you will excuse the pun. I think the real villain in this whole debate is the Minister for Planning, who has some fairly inconsistent regulations that several members of parliament have tried to point out to him need to be corrected, but he has done nothing at all and has ignored our pleas. Through the bill that the Hon. Mr Parnell has put forward, he has highlighted a few of those specific issues.

I actually have a current disallowance motion on the regulations and have spoken several times in this place on my difficulties with the minister's regulations, so you will be pleased to know that I will not go over those matters again. However, I would like to discuss some elements of this particular legislation.

The Hon. Mark Parnell might be wondering why we are supporting the second reading but not the third. It is so that I can adequately explain my reasons therefore and prevent that little green method of emailing all his constituents saying, 'Those nasty Liberals haven't supported our bill.' Then I get all these angry emails, as I did following the Nyrstar bill, where they say, 'We're not supporting you because you're not very green.' Sometimes the Hon. Mr Parnell may advance what he would advocate is a very environmental cause, as is his wont, but sometimes he goes too far and ties things up in green tape. The Liberal Party would seek to find a better balance in these matters, where we do not have unnecessary regulation but do provide adequate protection, in this case for significant trees. So, I will explain them in a bit more detail.

As I have said, there has been ongoing discussion on this bill by several members of parliament and particularly by TREENET, which is located at the Waite Arboretum. One of the advocates there is Mr David Lawry OAM and now Glen—I will have to remember his surname—who was with the National Trust, is also located there. We have also had the South Australian Society of Aboriculture, which has had ongoing involvement in this, as has the National Trust. Between those organisations and a few members of parliament, we have nutted out what we think would be a preferable regime, which, as I have said, the minister has not taken on board. The Hon. Mr Parnell says that he has written to 18 of the 21 relevant councils—

The Hon. M. Parnell: No, I wrote to 21 and 18 wrote back.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Oh, 18 wrote back. I assume the Hon. Mr Parnell is saying that there is some consensus among those councils for this.

The Hon. M. Parnell: Pretty much.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Given that he gave notice to us recently that he wished to progress the bill, I have not had the opportunity to speak to any of those councils, so I do not feel as though I have been able to do due diligence with these particular provisions. There are largely three areas that the bill covers. There is the 10-metre rule, which basically means that significant trees that are within 10 metres of dwellings or swimming pools can be removed, unless they fall into a particular exempt species list, which species list is wrong, but I will not go into that again. Do not get me started.

The Hon. Mr Parnell says—and I share his concerns—that the 10-metre rule will lead to trees being removed that possibly should not be removed. Ten metres is quite a lot of space, particularly with the size of blocks being much smaller. His proposal is not just to remove that rule altogether; as I understand it, he does not replace it with some other regime such as five metres. He also is establishing a regime whereby there has to be an application to try to prevent a situation where somebody puts up a structure and then, because the tree is within 10 metres, tries to pre-empt that particular provision.

The particular clause that he is proposing I do not think quite addresses that issue. I would like to see some more discussion around what is an appropriate distance between dwellings and pools and, indeed, whether pools should be included in the regime. That is a debate that I do not think has been had and has not been allowed to be had because the minister does not want to engage in the discussion anymore.

The second point he makes is in relation to arborist reports which has had a bit of a vexed history. I think the reason for the arborist assessment being removed from the significant tree regimen was that a lot of councils had become quite risk averse and so they were just telling residents in the first instance that they had to get an arborist's report—which is not cheap, particularly for pensioners and for families with increasing cost of living problems. I think we need to try to avoid—as much as I appreciate the services that they provide—as much as possible the requirement for an arborist's report; whereas this bill is seeking to reinstate it under a number of circumstances which I think would probably be viewed as unnecessarily onerous in a number of circumstances.

The third aspect that the member is tackling is the maintenance pruning. This is where in the regulations the definition of 'maintenance pruning' is not more than 30 per cent of removal of the crown of the tree. This is an issue that has certainly been identified by the Society of Arboriculture. Mr Parnell is concerned that it would be used in subsequent years to basically take the tree down in three years because you cut it down by 30 per cent on each occasion and, lo and behold, you only have 10 per cent left and that is really not much of a tree.

I share that concern and my preference is that the Australian standard be used. That is something that is well understood by industry; it covers all aspects of pruning regulation and it is subject to update through the usual process of industries. When I put a question to the minister's adviser back in January 2011, about the basis of the definition being 30 per cent, the reply was:

The existing legislation excludes from the definition of tree damaging activity 'maintenance pruning that is not likely to affect adversely the general health and appearance of a tree'.

At the moment many metropolitan Councils have a policy that pruning of less than 10% of a tree is regarded as maintenance pruning, some do not have a policy and others determine the issue of maintenance pruning on a case-by-case basis.

The regulation to define a set figure is aiming to ensure that there is a consistent approach across all councils.

My response is that I do not think that is an appropriate response and that the Australian standard would be better. I then did specifically ask a question of the minister's staff as to the concern about consecutive bouts of 30 per cent pruning or, indeed, poisoning, and applications for pools within the 10-metre zone being a sneaky way of removing trees. The reply from the minister's office stated:

It is acknowledged that, as a result of consultation, there have been a number of submissions arguing that the 30% pruning definition would allow for a tree's eventual removal. Officers of the DPLG consider that the provision allows only for up to 30% pruning at a time. Were a property owner to seek to exploit the provision and undertake further pruning some time later (another 30%) then that would more than likely be tree damaging activity (as it would in many cases result in the killing of the tree or lead to substantial damage to the tree). As such, this additional pruning would not be exempt. DPLG will take further advice on this issue to confirm this position. Poisoning would still remain a tree damaging activity for which an owner could be prosecuted.

With regard to the exemption for pools being a possible loophole, DPLG has acknowledged this and is proposing to amend the provision so that the exemption applies only to existing in-ground pools. This would ensure that applications for a pool where it would require a tree removal or would result in tree damaging activity would continue to require approval.

I think in those responses on the 30 per cent rule, in some ways that has actually been addressed.

I have one question for the proponent of this bill and that is: which other organisations did he consult with? For instance, the Native Vegetation Council, natural resources management boards, the CFS or any other organisations beyond the local government sector. With those comments, I look forward to perhaps the committee stage at some point and indicate we will support the second reading, but will not support the third reading.