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Council Wants to “Turn Off” the Biodiversity Conservation Act! Please Explain?

Our Native Wildlife Have Been Hammered by the Bushfires – Now Council Wants to “Turn Off” the Biodiversity Conservation Act! Please Explain?

Our media have recently been awash with graphic images of burnt koalas, steaming kangaroos jumping into waterbodies, along with millions of hectares of vegetation burnt out, including endangered native species and ecosystems. Authoritative estimates of the toll on our wildlife are in the range of 1 to 2 billion casualties. The Commonwealth Government has recognised the significant impacts of these terrible bushfires on biodiversity conservation, and allocated $50 million to assist recovery, while the Victorian and NSW State governments have also formally recognised the gravity of the situation. The importance of conserving remaining wildlife refuge areas and well informed, strategic natural resource management is an integral part of responding to an ecological disaster of this magnitude.

In the light of this background, it is instructive to see Eurobodalla Council’s response to this issue. Inspection of the agenda papers for the upcoming Eurobodalla Council meeting on Tuesday 11th February discloses that Council has been quietly advocating to “switch off” requirements of the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act at this time of devastating impacts on our native fauna and flora. Page 20 of the agenda states :

Decisions have previously been made to allow development in areas impacted by the fires. The focus needs to be on facilitating redevelopment and where appropriate improving health and safety through actions such as complying with current bush fire management standards.

"To this end Council has advocated that the Biodiversity Conservation Act should be switched off for development replacing fire impacted development”

This vaguely worded Council minute raises a host of concerns which need to be transparently addressed in the public domain, where the community can be given a detailed explanation of Council’s rationale for this “advocacy”. Council needs to clarify under what circumstances the requirements of the Biodiversity Conservation Act should be “switched off”, specify why this is necessary, and how/when it will be “switched on” again. What does the “switch off” actually entail? Who will determine what is “redevelopment” rather than new “development”? Will this determination be left up to Council’s discretion? What “previous decisions” does this measure actually apply to? Will this action further weaken Eurobodalla planning standards already substantially eroded under the Rural Lands Planning Proposal (which suspended multiple NSW Rural Fire Service standard requirements relating to access, roads and infrastructure outlined in the Planning for Bushfire Protection Guidelines)? Can Eurobodalla Council furnish any evidence that our neighbouring bushfire-impacted councils in Bega Valley and Shoalhaven share similar concerns about the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Act? What will be the downstream biophysical and economic impacts on Eurobodalla’s critical oyster-growing and tourism industries of this proposed “switch off”?

It will be interesting to see whether any of these important aspects are canvassed by our Councillors this coming Tuesday morning, or whether it will be another routine “tick the box” process that passes for debate in our current chamber. Community members interested in wildlife protection and conservation, or transparency in Council process, are encouraged to come along and see how Council proceeds with this issue.

It is sadly ironic that page 23 of the same Council agenda paper goes on to blandly state “There has been significant impacts on flora and fauna due to the bushfires”. However, Council does not seem to have been undertaking any comparable advocacy on their behalf, despite the huge losses outlined above. Council’s response to this issue seems to be limited to facilitating the actions of a few NGOs to set up feeding stations in the Shire, which is welcome but incommensurate to the scale of strategic and co-ordinated response required across all levels of government to this critical issue.

So Eurobodalla Council, please come clean with the full details of what you have been secretly “advocating” on behalf of our community, and explain why the Eurobodalla requires these measures while neighbouring Councils do not.

Name and address supplied