Michelle Lensink

Native Vegetation Council

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Environment and Heritage a question about Native Vegetation Council membership.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: The previous membership of the Native Vegetation Council, which I believe expired around 30 June this year, has largely been dumped, apart from a couple of members who have been retained, and the new membership does not appear to have its full complement.

I am advised that the Local Government Association has submitted three names to the minister, but each has been rejected for some reason or other and that the Native Vegetation Council has at least had one meeting since the new membership was established. Will the minister advise why this is so?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Environment and Conservation, Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Minister Assisting the Minister for Health) (14:26): I thank the honourable member for her important question. Recently, of course, I made some very important changes to the Native Vegetation Council. This was done to strengthen the integrity of the principles that are required to be achieved in terms of protecting and enhancing our native vegetation reserves, but also in addressing some of the issues that were put forward about streamlining the processes for approvals for clearances in a timely way. One of the things that I sought to do was to create a much stronger link between the natural resources management boards and the Native Vegetation Council. What I have done, with the agreement of Mr Dennis Mutton, is appoint a new presiding member of the Native Vegetation Council, who is the same presiding member of the current Natural Resources Management Council. This was done to try to achieve better integration and consistency between natural resource management and the native vegetation agenda. I have also appointed a number of other mainly deputy members from the natural resources management boards to be deputy members of the council in an effort to, again, have better integrated and closer communication between the two areas.

In respect of the local council, the legislation requires that the various representative bodies nominate three different names to be put forward for my consideration. If my memory serves me correctly, local government put forward only two names and so it was not complying with the legislation. I understand that this was brought to its attention and it was then requested to put forward three names. It has informed us that it is currently considering putting forward a third name. Currently, it is really a matter of local government not fulfilling the legislative requirements. I am sure the Hon. Michelle Lensink is not suggesting that I do anything that would be in breach of the legislation. This matter will be addressed and, when three names are put forward, one will be nominated in accordance with the act.

I stress that a great deal of work has gone into enhancing and improving what we are doing in relation to native vegetation; it is not just better coordination between natural resource management and native vegetation. I have also reported in this chamber that I have split the responsibilities of policy and clearance approvals so that both policy development and concentration on that most important work can be done more efficiently and effectively, whilst setting up a panel of experts to expedite the clearance applications; and we know that there has been some concern about the timeliness of taking those applications through.

I am also committed to working with the Minister for Urban Development and Planning (Hon. Paul Holloway) on ensuring that we better coordinate native vegetation considerations earlier in the planning process. Currently, they are done predominantly at the end of the planning process and, of course, often the proponent has ticked off on a whole range of requirements. We know that particularly large and complex developments can be very time consuming and expensive. So, they tick off on all their other requirements but, in relation to native vegetation, they have not been able, in a realistic way, to consider the requirements under the legislation. We believe that building a pathway of consideration, where native vegetation requirements are articulated and dealt with much earlier in the planning process, will be very worth while and useful. As you can see, Mr President, a lot of good work has been done in developing and enhancing the processes involving native vegetation.

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