24 Jul 2019 Billnewsparliament

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (Minister for Human Services) (16:08): I would like to thank all speakers who have provided a contribution on the bill before the house. A number of comments have been made on this legislation, the merits of this reform and why we are doing it. I look forward to responding to questions on particular clauses that are of interest to members during the committee stage of the bill.

If I could address some of the particular concerns and, in particular, the concerns raised by the Hon. Ian Hunter. Water reform was specifically not part of the scope of this particular review and the government has been quite transparent about that from the start. In terms of the consultation, the brief of a lot of the consultation was to elevate the role of community in this very important role that these boards undertake on behalf of their communities.


Over the years, having been the opposition spokesperson for the environment, I have sat in here with a number of colleagues who were here. In relation to the existing legislation, the complexity of the consultation processes and the prescriptive nature of how consultation must take place—reports and so forth—has been a frustration for the community and has been a frustration for boards.

The bill before us reflects the consultation undertaken, with very clear messages that came through from that. A number of the amendments that have been filed are contrary to what the community told us, and some amendments use existing NRM concepts and language rather than being modernised, so I make those brief remarks.

I note that the bill passed the House of Assembly with some amendments moved by the Labor opposition. A number of other amendments were put forward that the Minister for Environment and Water, the Hon. David Speirs, did not agree to. He did, however, make it clear that we would be open to further discussing some of those amendments between the houses or in this place. I indicate that some of those amendments have now been filed by the honourable Leader of the Opposition and I look forward to considering those amendments in this chamber.

I would like to make a few remarks highlighting some of the key reforms to be delivered by this legislation to improve the way natural resources are managed. Over recent years, a gradual centralisation of staffing, resourcing and decision-making has eroded public confidence in how the natural resources management system is working. During extensive community consultation on the bill, people made it clear that they are looking for a simpler and more effective system that puts people back at the heart of managing our natural resources. They are looking for less focus on planning and bureaucratic regulation and more focus on giving communities a greater say on the management of our natural resources.

Importantly, to deliver what our community is looking for, this reform has focused on changes to board governance, including changes to the composition of boards and the way that they will operate in the future. Our reforms deliver a system that is more centred on boards working in partnership and on ground with local communities and groups to deliver real outcomes and practical programs to sustain our landscapes. The reforms also deliver a simpler and more accessible system by removing unnecessary bureaucracy, focusing regional planning on clear priorities and making way for more community involvement on ground and through representation on boards.

A key aspect of this new reform is that the boards will be decentralised, putting the decision-making authority in the hands of the community. Under the legislation there will be eight new regional landscape boards plus Green Adelaide. To provide greater community confidence that a community voice is present in board decision-making, for the first time regional communities will have a say on who sits on a board through community elections. We will move away from the minister appointing all members. In future, three board members will be elected democratically by their local community and four members will be appointed by the minister, also coming from within the community.

Boards will exercise greater control over their workforce and budgets, improving the ability of boards to manage their own business. There will also be greater transparency for communities as to how their levies are being spent, with boards reporting on their activities and the expenditure of levy funds annually.

Another real game changer is the landscape priorities fund, which is taking some of the levy collected in the Adelaide metropolitan area and redistributing it into regional and rural South Australia. This fund will ensure that big funding projects can be delivered in regions through partnerships between the boards and others, delivering investments that will make a real environmental difference and increase resilience in the landscape.

The distribution of a proportion of Adelaide's levy base to the fund gives us the opportunity to see what Adelaide's levy base can contribute to regional projects. This initiative was supported through the consultation process, recognised as an understanding and appreciation that people living in Adelaide enjoy and benefit from the regions too. By providing for simpler, more efficient planning, engagement and operations, this bill will enable regional landscape boards to spend less time planning and refocus their efforts and resources on delivering outcomes on ground for the benefit of the community.

Regional planning requirements under the NRM Act require boards to address a long list of matters in their regional plans, complete prescriptive consultation processes and service an extensive planning cycle. Going forward, each board will have a high-level five-year regional landscape plan that sets out five priorities for managing the region's landscapes, or seven priorities for Green Adelaide. Rather than prescriptive consultation requirements, each board will have flexibility as to how they engage, taking into account consultation guidelines.

Having high-level plans and greater flexibility is about doing the right amount of planning so boards can get on and deliver on the ground, going about the consultation they need to do in a manner that is right for the community and in their circumstances. Importantly, it is a requirement of the bill that boards and other decision-makers are informed by the local knowledge and expertise that is held within communities, together with the best available science when they are planning and making other decisions. In other words, genuine participation and engagement with the custodians of our natural environment is a must. This is to ensure that the priorities and on-ground outcomes being delivered are informed by the experience and knowledge of land managers, Aboriginal people and industry alike, as well as scientists.

Regional communities will be more empowered to deliver natural resources management outcomes as well. The bill enshrines the principle that the boards will work collaboratively and forge strong, enduring and productive partnerships with land managers, volunteer groups, industry experts, Aboriginal nations, other tiers of government and advocacy organisations to deliver practical on-ground works that address local priorities. Boards will also be giving back through providing education and a helping hand where needed, and sharing the knowledge and understanding that experts and governments have to support local communities and land managers to be directly responsible for sustainably managing their regions' natural resources.

At the moment, board grant programs come and go and operate inconsistently across regions. The grassroots grants program under this bill will give a guaranteed legislated stream of funding to go toward on-ground projects led by the community for the community. This will provide the opportunity for local communities and groups to work together to come up with solutions for environmental problems and strategies towards sustainability. Regions with smaller levy resources will also draw from the state funding they receive to fund their grassroots grants.

Green Adelaide is another key initiative. This board will focus on seven key priorities and work towards Adelaide becoming one of the most ecologically vibrant and climate-resilient cities in the world. The reforms in the bill have also achieved our government's commitment to cap increases to levy rates to CPI and to reduce cost-of-living pressures on our community. The government's position is that councils should continue to collect the land levy as the most cost-effective way to collect it, maximising the funding available for delivery on ground.

I am advised that previous reviews have concluded that local government provides the most cost-effective levy collection option, a recommendation that has been supported by Treasury. There is a low administrative cost of collection through the use of the local government rating system. Further, I am advised that discussions with RevenueSA in 2003 on the costs associated with incorporating the collection of the NRM levy via the emergency services levy indicated that it would likely be more than double the cost of the current system of collecting through council rates notices.

The government is taking steps to address issues underlying council concerns around collecting the levy, including introducing a cap on levy increases and requiring boards to report annually on how levy money is spent. I understand that the Local Government Association's position is driven in part by concern that councils are left out of pocket for the costs of collecting the levy. Clause 68 of the bill provides for councils to be able to recover both set-up and ongoing collection costs from regional landscape boards. These arrangements will be prescribed by regulations that will be the subject of consultation with the Local Government Association. In practice, around half a million dollars was paid to councils for levy collection costs in 2018-19.

The Hon. Frank Pangallo has indicated that he will suggest an amendment to the bill which ensures that unrecovered land levies written off by local councils will be paid by regional landscape boards to local councils upon application, using the current provisions of the Local Government Act. In this manner it is proposed that local councils will not be out of pocket for unrecovered land levies, and the government will support such an amendment.

Given our focus on changing arrangements for board governance, regulatory arrangements for soil and land management, water resource management and pest plant and animal control have not changed significantly from those in the NRM Act. However, the opportunity has been taken to enhance and modernise certain features to deliver better outcomes, reflect advances in our understanding and knowledge from that when the NRM Act was enacted in 2004, and streamline and reduce red tape in the system.

We see this in the express recognition of the significance of climate change. We also see this in a 'broadened concept of landscapes' in the bill, which incorporates an integrated hills to sea approach to natural resource management and captures social, cultural and economic values in landscapes, as well as natural resources. This broadened focus will shape decision-making and planning outcomes and be reflected in what boards and other decision-makers deliver on the ground.

While opportunities for further reform have been raised in these areas, feedback has highlighted that by and large these arrangements are working well for NRM delivery in communities, and our intention is to come back and look at areas such as water in the medium term so that we can ensure this complex area is carefully considered and thoroughly consulted.

Importantly, this bill provides a framework to manage the landscape to ensure it is sustained to deliver environmental, social and economic outcomes for the benefit of everyone. It provides for the management of private lands and resources used by farms in an environmentally sensitive and environmentally sustainable way.

It is also about sustaining resources for other industries, including mining and tourism. In this regard, I note the bill's objectives have a broader purview than the NRM Act. The bill supports a broader range of other industries, such as nature tourism, in response to feedback received during development of the bill.

Critically, the bill is about sustaining and protecting the landscape and natural resources. In doing so, this bill will operate alongside other legislation that delivers biodiversity and other outcomes for the environment, including the Native Vegetation Act and the National Parks and Wildlife Act. This will not change the important role these other pieces of legislation play. As part of the government's future reform agenda, we are planning to come back to explore improved interactions with other state legislation that intersect with landscape management.

Together, these reforms will deliver a fundamental change in how natural resources are managed in this state for the benefit of all South Australians. Again, I thank all members for their contributions and reiterate that these reforms will move South Australia towards a productive and sustainable natural landscape.

Bill read a second time.

Committee Stage

In committee.

Clause 1.

The Hon. K.J. MAHER: At clause 1, there are some general questions I want to ask. Questions at clause 1 include: will the minister advise which stakeholders the Minister for Environment and Water directly consulted with and what was the nature of those consultations? What further consultations were undertaken by the department?

I understand that an independent consultant was engaged for the purposes of undertaking a consultation process in the development of this bill. I would be grateful if the minister would briefly outline the nature of the consultant's work on that process and the time frames in which that occurred. What was the total cost to the government for engaging that consultant? What specific efforts were made to consult with Aboriginal communities in developing this legislation? What was the nature of those consultations and who were those consultations with?

Noting that the bill was in part a response to the Liberal Party's pre-election commitment outlined in a document entitled 'Natural Resources Management—Empowering Communities', I would be grateful if the minister would explain whether the bill and related materials differ in any way from the policy outlined in the document and the reasons for any of those differences. Also, in relation to a couple of questions asked at the second reading, I seek responses to a number of questions that were put on record regarding Aboriginal partnerships and the costs of unrecovered NRM levies to local councils.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I thank the honourable member for a number of questions. We will get some detailed responses for him and provide those when we next debate the bill.

Progress reported; committee to sit again.