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Landscape SA Bill

Mr TRELOAR (Flinders) (12:44): I rise to make a contribution on the Landscape South Australia Bill today. From the outset, I would like to congratulate the minister, his staff, the Department for Environment and Water and the many people from around the state who have contributed through the consultation process to the drafting of this new bill. It is certainly a great body of work.

I want to talk initially about part of my life’s journey and part of the reason I came to be in this place, and that is that I spent 30 years as a farmer on Eyre Peninsula, mostly growing grains but also keeping sheep for wool and meat. I and farmers around Eyre Peninsula, around the state, around the country and around the world are essentially landscape managers, and it is beholden on us to do that as well as we possibly can. This bill particularly highlights the role of primary producers, and I certainly appreciate that.

As farmers in the Australian environment, we have altered our natural landscape significantly to produce agricultural goods. Given that Europeans have only occupied this land for a relatively short time, it is possible for us to remember in relatively recent history what the natural landscape was like, what it looked like and the balances that were part of that landscape. In other parts of the world—Europe is the prime and probably best example, but there are others as well—the farmed landscape has come to be regarded as the natural landscape itself, so it is a different mindset. There are different parameters around primary production in other parts of the world.

Europeans are very much still new in the Australian landscape, and we have certainly changed the landscape significantly. We have upset many balances. I think that part of what we are doing today is attempting to restore a balance—not the original balance but a balance—back to our landscapes, our environment and our production systems that we rely on. Our aim as primary producers always has been to use the landscape productively yet sustainably, and therein lies the challenge.

I have a theory in my own mind that the more productive a farming system is the more sustainable it is, but that can be for a whole range of reasons, not just economically but environmentally as well. We have seen our farming systems evolve significantly over the last 150 years. I have often talked in this place about how South Australia was key in developing some of those farming systems. In fact, they were transported right around the world to similar environments, across southern Australia, through the Middle East and even to parts of America that enjoy a similar climate and temperature.

Very soon after I started farming, I recognised that there were some environmental issues not just on our property but in the district as a whole. For us, they were primarily around waterlogging and salinity. I began planting trees almost immediately. I am sure that the member for Hammond will appreciate that it was a number of years before I realised that the best way to ensure that trees survive is to fence them off, otherwise they become particularly palatable fodder for whatever livestock is running around. Protection of those planted trees was a good thing.

I often think that, in these days of much discussion about climate change and the efforts we might make to address that, the single best thing any of us can do is plant a tree. An even better thing would be to plant many trees, but I digress. I began planting trees and by the mid-1990s I found myself living down the road at Edillilie. I was an inaugural member of the Edillilie Landcare Group. We formed the Landcare group, coming together as like-minded land managers. I am very proud of the work that we did as a Landcare group. Almost every day, I still drive past the very first plantation of trees that we put in place and fenced off, thus they survived.

Whole-farm planning was a big part of those early days. It was before Google Maps. Those of us who took part in this program had to purchase a large aerial map of our property, and with various different coloured textas we drew soil types and drainage lines. I see a few nods in the chamber. Other people have been through that as well. It was a really important part and it fitted into what we wanted to do in relation to a catchment management plan.

I think there were about 50 farmers who lived within the Cummins-Wanilla Basin and over a couple of years almost all of them took part in this farm management planning program. From that, we developed a catchment management plan, which we worked on diligently for a number of years. In the early days, funding was available for landscape and environmental works, generally on a one-for-one basis.

The groups were able to apply for funding to both federal and state governments and match that from their own input, often in kind, actually doing the work themselves to fence off creek lines and those trees that we did not want the sheep to eat. That was a really exciting time. I joined the Lower Eyre Peninsula soil board. I particularly enjoyed that because of course the soil is our primary resource and we are reliant on that for everything that we grow and produce.

One thing led to another, and in 2004 the Rann Labor government installed the NRM Act and established NRM boards around the state. I applied and was successful in being appointed to the first Eyre Peninsula NRM board. In a way, I cut my teeth with NRM during that time. We had some very capable board members at that time. I particularly mention Brian Foster, the presiding member and chair of that committee. Brian is a wonderfully capable farmer from Lower Eyre Peninsula. He brought some insights and skills to that board that we really appreciated.

At that time, we were establishing the NRM board as a driver for natural resources management across Eyre Peninsula and across the state, I think we did a good job. What ultimately happened was that the bureaucracy became more centralised and as a board we had less authority and more and more decisions and directives were coming from North Terrace and Victoria Square. People started to realise that and became frustrated with the way that NRM was going. I spent one term on the board because I got busy doing other things, which ultimately led my to being in this place. It was a really important project for me.

As I said, people were becoming increasingly frustrated with the way that NRM was being managed and with the lack of on-ground works. Through the nineties and early 2000s we, as a group and as individual landowners, were able to access funds and do some really important on-ground works, such as fencing off creek lines, natural vegetation and remnant native vegetation. In a way, that frustration has led us to where we are today. I congratulate the minister on recognising that and on the bulk of work he has done in bringing the bill to this place.

Ultimately, we need a landscape that is more resilient than we have and we need to be adaptive in the way we create that. We are not going to go back to the original, pre-European landscape; there are far too many of us who rely on the natural environment for our livelihood. In fact, the average Australian farmer produces enough food for about 70 other people in the world, so much of what we produce is exported. We are also more than capable of feeding our own population.

We need to be adaptive along the way, and part of being adaptive is developing those farming systems. No farming system is perfect. Just when you think you have all the problems solved and a system working, something is thrown up to challenge that. It might be resistant rye-grass, a plague of conical snails or wombats in the Far West. I will come to that as we talk more about the landscape bill.

This new bill, however, establishes a new framework for how we manage our state’s natural resources based around the vision that provides a simpler and more accessible system by removing unnecessary bureaucracy, simplifying procedures to improve responsiveness and providing greater flexibility for improving best practice over time. Key elements of this reforming bill are replacing regional natural resources management boards with new arms-length regional landscape boards and giving communities and landholders a greater voice in how natural resources are managed.

We have been talking during this debate about Green Adelaide. This is a relatively new concept, and it will be a new and separate board. That board will be focused on seven priorities that will help Adelaide, our capital city in which 75 per cent of our population lives, to become the most ecologically vibrant city in the world—a challenge indeed. There will be a cap on increases to land and water levies to reduce cost-of-living pressures for all South Australians, and there will be more action on the ground with a focus on partnerships, a simpler approach to planning, and creating opportunities for natural resources management, focused programs and initiatives in regional communities.

This is an election commitment that we made to the people of South Australia. It was quite clear to us that our communities wanted reform of NRM. We listened to those communities. There were good parts of the pre-existing NRM delivery, but people felt disempowered regarding decisions and that NRM was not really working effectively for them. The result was a heavily overregulated and centralised system that focused more on nice business plans rather than outcomes. I know one of the real banes of previous boards was having to spend so much time preparing business plans and environmental plans that really were continually being rolled over. A lot of time, effort and resources were being put into that.

As a result, we propose a reform of NRM and a new start that refocuses natural resources management on a back-to-basics approach to land, pest plant and animal species, and water management. The legislative crux of this is the proposed replacement of the Natural Resources Management Act with a new landscape South Australia act, which hopefully this afternoon will pass through this place. We believe that this reform will create resilient landscapes that are biodiverse and sustainable. It will also give our regional and rural communities a greater say in the management of natural resources and provide more security and confidence in the system.

I mentioned earlier that extensive consultation occurred throughout our communities and right across the state. I thank the minister for the opportunity that we had on Eyre Peninsula in both Ceduna and Port Lincoln to take part in that. They were both well attended, and all that was contributed by those who were there was taken on board. The measures that come into play also deliver cost-of-living relief. That is a big part, as people will understand, of the Marshall Liberal government. We are doing that, in this instance, through the capping of the land and water levies to the consumer price index (CPI).

As I said, the new act will replace the NRM Act. There will be eight new regional landscape boards, plus Green Adelaide, which will encompass the metropolitan area of South Australia. In relation to the electorate of Flinders, the Eyre Peninsula board will cover the bulk of the electorate of Flinders—the electorate that I represent—but also the Alinytjara Wilurara board has some overlap with the seat of Flinders. In fact, they have offices in Ceduna, which I visit from time to time. I must congratulate those regional staff who put a lot of work into natural resources management and working with local communities. I am sure that will continue. I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 12:59 to 14:00.

Mr TRELOAR (Flinders) (15:59): I continue where I left off just before the lunch break. As part of the reforms, the government has sought to expand the scope of natural resources management. Landscape is a broader concept than natural resources, reflecting an integrated hill-to-sea approach.

The bill defines the landscape as being made up of three components: the natural and physical environment, including coasts and seas adjacent to the state’s land; natural resources, including land and soil, water resources, native vegetation and animals, and ecosystems; and the different ways people value and interact with their environment, including environmental, social, cultural and economic values.

Our coasts and seas immediately adjacent to land are important parts of the landscape. Our government is one that recognises the immense value of our over 5,000 kilometres of coastline and seeks to protect it through our broad and strong environmental reforms. I am sure that I will not be challenged when I indicate to the house that the seat of Flinders has more of the state’s coastline than any other electorate in this state.

There are benefits for the primary production sector. A key benefit from the act will include reducing costs to businesses and household cost-of-living pressures by introducing a CPI cap on land and water levies, enshrining the principle that boards will work in partnerships and collaboratively with primary producers and local communities to deliver real outcomes, and the landscape priorities fund will deliver landscape-scale restoration projects and provide greater opportunities for natural resources management focused programs. In other words, it is a whole-of-landscape approach.

I want to talk briefly in these last few minutes about water because it has been a significant part of my dealings in the electorate of Flinders since first being elected in 2010. The focus of the landscape reforms is on resetting how boards operate to deliver a simpler, more transparent system. As a result, water management has not been a focus in the consultations that have shaped the landscape reforms.

We were very clear about this from the outset in our extensive consultation process and publicly available discussion papers. As such, most water-related provisions in the act have been carried over unchanged to the new bill, continuing the existing role of water allocation plans and providing for the sustainable management of water resources and existing licensing and permit arrangements to manage water resources.

Water-affecting activities, such as building a dam or drilling a bore, will continue to be regulated. To enable the simplification of regional landscape plans and give greater consistency and clarity for consumers as to where policies on water-affecting activities are, these rules will be set out in a water-affecting activity control policy or a water allocation plan.

The bill also provides transitional arrangements for the winding up of existing natural resources management boards and the transfer of any assets and liabilities, with options to ensure continued delivery of services on ground. Critically, options to ensure a smooth transition from natural resources management boards to regional landscape boards have been provided for. Together, these reforms will deliver a fundamental change in how natural resources are managed in this state for the benefit of all South Australians and will move South Australia towards a productive and sustainable natural landscape, upholding the landscape for both environmental and economic development of our state.

Before I commend the bill to the house, I indicate that a number of members of this parliament attended a Friends of Landcare meeting over the lunch break. It was capably and ably convened by the members for Heysen, Frome and Giles, and I note that the deputy leader was also at that meeting. I am going to quote from page 13 of Landcare Communities—Australia’s Future:

Australia is beautiful, biodiverse and productive. Our land, water and biodiversity are integral parts of our national identity, our economy and universal life. They provide abundantly for our agricultural, tourism and resource industries, recreation, the clean air we breathe and the water we drink. They are our natural systems and the foundation of human existence.

I look forward to being actively involved in the newly formed Parliamentary Friends of Landcare group. I commend the bill to the house and look forward to its passage and implementation. I have to say that as Chairman of Committees I am also looking forward to the committee stage of the bill.

 

 

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