‘Deficient’ Sydney maps at heart of koala policy
Farmers' futures could be on the line thanks to what a planning law expert has described as "deficient'' maps at the heart of the government's new koala policy which would cripple landclearing rights and, in some cases, incorrectly lump them with unwarranted $12,000 tests.
The warnings from the state's peak farming body came as separate legal advice compiled for Timber NSW has raised significant concerns over how the koala state environmental planning policy rules impact the state's private forestry industry.
Peter Holt, a specialist in planning and local government law, agrees the NSW government needed stronger koala protections, but says the maps that have been produced "should never have been the end point" and did not adequately identify the correct land to be preserved.
He specifically flagged two concerns - that there were areas of land that objectively should not warrant ecological tests, which can cost up to $12,000, and that planning policy maps would intersect with regulations enshrining the hard-won rights of farmers to make self-assessments to clear their own land.
"I see wider implications not being factored into the decision-making and I see time and energy wasted looking at false positives," he said.
Mr Holt, a special counsel at Holding Redlich lawyers, has been engaged by NSW Farmers to provide a legal analysis of the planning policy.
He previously worked for the NSW Planning Department and been responsible for state planning reform.
"This is about what constitutes good policy,'' he said. "It's like the government has missed a trick here. In the past the government has done great work on policy relating to coastal protection, which was very detailed.
"I can't see the same with the koala maps.
"They've produced something and hardwired it into their legislative scheme without thinking about how it is helpful.
"It's for the government to make decisions about what's acceptable and what's not, but isn't it best if it brings farmers and other stakeholders along with them?"
Mr Holt also warned that, over time, "more people will see their land on these maps and they'll ask why".
NSW Farmers has sent three letters to Planning Minister Rob Stokes this year, outlining farmers' grave concerns with the state environmental planning policy.
It has also held 15 meetings with the offices of Mr Stokes, Environment Minister Matt Kean, Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall, as well as the Premier's office.
"This policy will put at risk the very future of farming across NSW," said NSW Farmers president James Jackson.
Separately, the peak body representing the timber industry commissioned its own legal advice, which has also raised concerns.
The advice found the planning rules applied to private native forestry.
Timber NSW sent the advice to all cabinet ministers in July.
The body received a handful of responses from ministers saying they would pass the concerns on to the relevant minister.
Stuart Coppock, a solicitor acting for Timber NSW, said there were "inconsistencies" between the koala protection rules and other planning and environment laws.
Timber NSW director Steve Dobbyns said the koala protection policy would "shut down the private native forest industry in NSW" - which is worth $465m to the state each year.
The forestry industry is particularly concerned about an increase in the number of trees considered as "core" koala habitat, and different rules for essentially proving the presence of koalas.
Mr Stokes has made it clear he would be happy for Mr Marshall to bring forward a proposal to decouple private native forestry from the koala planning policy but would need to see protections for koalas included.
Timber producer Andrew Moran, who runs a private native forest in an area identified as likely to contain koala habitat, said the proposed rule changes would "pretty much put (him) out of business".
"They're not your trees any more, they're the koalas'," he said.
Originally published as 'Deficient' Sydney maps at heart of koala policy