The Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) and Total Environment Centre
(TEC) approach the issue of biobanking with scepticism. The history of offsets in
New South Wales and Australia generally has not been a good one, with a strong
tendency to inappropriate compensation that has not ‘maintained or improved the
environment’; little follow-up and long term assurance; and in some cases, ultimate
failure. Environment groups have generally opposed the use of offsets as they have
gained the reputation as ‘greenwash’.
Biobanking is claimed to be a more scientific and coherent attempt at offsets but
because it has emerged from this previously unconvincing background, it must be
subjected to the most rigorous scrutiny – if it is to convince the community as to its
utility. During the debate on biobanking, developers have been keen to point out
that it must be usable by them (ie, maintain or improve revenue at the expense of
the environment) for the system to be acceptable as a modern planning tool.
However, the real test for its veracity and ongoing acceptability by the community
is that it does not become marked as a facilitator for the destruction of important
native vegetation, which in the non-rural situation has been much reduced. The
government already has a reputation for a too-close relationship with developers. A
biobanking system that does not significantly lift the bar on the role of native
vegetation protection in non-rural settings will simply reinforce that view.
Additionally the current laws are ineffective largely due to the ongoing dominance
of outdated planning principles practised under the EP&A Act, either where it
intersects with threatened species laws; or where it has free reign. Biobanking
could improve the situation, but its potential to address the significant and ongoing
biodiversity losses is up for debate.
We strongly support providing incentives for biodiversity conservation on private
land in NSW. However, biobanking is unlikely to be a complete major recipe
under the development scenario; rather its methodology could have a widespread
application to allocate stewardship payments drawn from other sources. The
potential of developer initiated biobanking should not be exaggerated.
Offsets must be a last resort and all efforts to avoid and minimise impacts must be
undertaken first. If offsets are a necessity (and environmentally acceptable) as part
of a development approval, then a number of key principles apply. These principles
relate to avoiding and minimising impacts first; offsets must be like for like, and
offsets must be additional.
If biobanking and its methodology are likely to be used to weaken the processes
under the Native Vegetation Act 2003 and BioMetric, then environment groups will
rightly reject the proposals. The current legal impediments to use by the rural lands
sector must be maintained, and in fact, the best elements of the Native Vegetation
Act 2003 system imported into biobanking.
The perils of this interaction can be seen in the proposals to remove ‘red flags’,
under the guise of a current definition of ‘viability’ (that avoids the ‘grey’ issues of
small area protection), so that developers can remove irritating remnants. As
pointed out by EDO and TEC small bush remnants in urban settings can have very
significant environmental values. We support all efforts being made to retain them
in recognition that land tenure change (public ownership) along with a
management plan, can in fact maintain or improve their future prospects.
A potential benefit of biobanking is the development of a robust methodology that
could be more extensively used for land use planning and strategic planning. If this
potential is to be realised and be ecologically sound, then the ‘maintain or improve’
test must be rigorous, objective, and scientifically based. It must engender
community confidence and afford credibility to the planning system, in an
increasingly environmentally aware world.
The EDO and the TEC welcome the opportunity to comment on the documents
on public exhibition relating to biodiversity banking. We acknowledge support
from the Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC) assisting our
participation in the Ministerial Reference Group consultation process.
For the purpose of preparing this report, the EDO interviewed a number of
ecological consultants from the EDO Scientific Expert Register, and sought
feedback from environment and community groups.
This submission is structured in 5 parts. Part One addresses broad overarching
issues in relation to biobanking. Part Two provides comment on the Draft
Assessment Methodology. Part Three discusses the Draft Regulation and
Regulatory Impact Statement. Part Four comments on the Draft Compliance
Assurance Strategy; and Part Five provides a summary of recommendations.