a FIRM NO to Innes desire to switch off biodiversity conservation legislation

Letter to the Editor

I read Councillor Innes’ media release yesterday about switching off biodiversity conservation legislation so that people who lost their houses in last summer’s disastrous fires could quickly clear more land to rebuild. This was echoed the following day by Andrew Constance, who also wants to cut environmental ‘red tape’. They both blame ‘bureaucracy’ for making things harder for people wanting to rebuild on land which clearly has a high risk of bushfire. This is a simplistic and irresponsible response to a complex problem which we have unfortunately come to expect from this pair. Not only will it further jeopardise our unique wildlife and ecosystems, which have been devastated by the fires and which a recent legislative review reveals is in dangerous decline, but it will also jeopardise even more people and property in these risky locations during future bushfires.

Innes and Constance are largely responsible for last year’s changes to the Eurobodalla Local Environment Plan which now allows further development in areas of high to extreme bushfire danger. They did this by ignoring advice from the ‘bureaucracy’, including the Rural Fire Service, about the risks to life and property of development in these areas. It’s interesting to note that the State government is expected to pick up the pieces (and the costs) when poor planning decisions are made, but when government departments offer responsible, evidence-based advice, the likes of Councillor Innes and Andrew Constance flatly reject it. This could be seen as gross negligence.

Contrary to her statement that nine councils support her position, Councillor Innes is currently the only mayor in SE NSW to publicly call for the biodiversity legislation to be switched off. Other Councils have been more circumspect and some, such as Bega Valley Shire Council, have adopted a proactive ‘build back better’ approach, which would see landholders who wish to rebuild on high risk bushfire prone land, construct dwellings with a higher level of bushfire protection appropriate to the site on which they are building. This minimises the need for further clearing and results in a better outcome, not just for the property owners, who get a thermally more comfortable, fire resistant dwelling, but also for our wildlife.

Instead of blaming the ‘bureaucracy’ and insisting the state government sort out her Shire’s problems, Councillor Innes should look at what additional measures her Council could do for those in our community who have lost their homes and belongings in the bushfires. To date it is largely the state and federal governments (yes, the ‘bureaucracy”), some NGOs and private individuals who have provided the most practical support and most of the funding for bushfire recovery and renewal. Council has largely “piggybacked” on this and has actually provided very little in the way of cold hard cash or practical support to these people.

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