I seek leave to make a brief explanation before directing a question to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation about native vegetation.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Last year the Native Vegetation (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2013 was passed in this place and there has been quite a bit of discussion in various media outlets in relation to the significant environmental benefit and value of it. In particular, regional councils had expressed a number of concerns as had regional LGA associations.
The minister responded last year by saying that the consultation process was under consideration and that he expected workshops to be completed in February 2014 before a decision would be made. My question is: can the minister provide an update on what the status of those negotiations is and when he expects a decision to be made?
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation) ( 14:21 :51 ):I thank the honourable member for her most important question. I also thank you, Mr President, for recognising the Hon. Ms Schaefer for if I were to do so I am sure it would be ruled unparliamentary—but welcome anyway. In relation to the honourable member's question I can say a few things, and then I might handball to the Hon. Ms Schaefer, who I am catching up with straight after question time to address some of these issues with her.
Native vegetation plays a vital role in the health and prosperity of South Australian ecosystems, communities and natural resource-based industries. Less than 30 per cent of native vegetation remains in South Australia's agricultural areas with some regions lower than 10 per cent, I am advised. One-quarter of all the plants and animals recorded in South Australia are considered to be threatened.
Under the Native Vegetation Act 1991 and Native Vegetation Regulations, authorised clearance of native vegetation in South Australia is generally required to be offset by a significant environmental benefit. The Native Vegetation Council, supported by the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, is reviewing the policies relating to significant environmental benefit offsets and the way in which the significant environmental benefit requirement is calculated.
The proposed changes aim to deliver greater clarity and rigour through a new consistent approach to native vegetation assessment, applicable to all clearance applications and within all natural resources management regions across the state. The Native Vegetation Council is currently engaging with impacted stakeholders to determine how to best manage this process. I have spoken to the chair of the council and urged an approach that is both realistic and also values our important native vegetation but also has a pragmatic outcome for those who are impacted; an outcome that landholders, mining companies, farmers and irrigators can live with and an outcome that benefits native vegetation generally.
There is no reason, of course, to be afraid of this consultation process. I know there have been some comments in the media remarking on probably worst-case scenarios. Whilst that is an understandable part of human nature, it is not to be expected that those outcomes that are being imagined will be delivered. As I said, we want pragmatic outcomes that landholders, conservationists, farmers and irrigators can live with. We also want good outcomes for native vegetation.
As I said, I will have some discussions with the chair very shortly, talk about these issues with her and look forward to a short further period of consultation before coming up with some recommendations from the council.