Australia — The New South Wales Government will again change a contentious law that allows homeowners in bushfire prone areas to clear their land without a permit.
Introduced in 2014 to help homeowners protect themselves from bushfires, the 10/50 laws initially allowed people within 350 metres of high-risk bushland to cut down trees within 10 metres of their property without a permit.
But they were scaled back twice, after receiving complaints that residents were cutting down trees to ensure they had better water views.
Under the current laws, property owners can cut down a tree within 10 metres of their home, and clear scrub within 50 metres of their property if they are within 100 metres of a bushfire-prone area.
A review of the scheme did not recommend changing that rule, but instead made 30 recommendations.
Emergency Services Minister David Elliott said they included one recommendation aimed at stopping property owners from cutting down trees simply to enhance property values.
“If you are living within 100 metres of the coastline well you cannot simply use 10/50 [laws] to cut down a tree,” he said.
“We saw as a Government and we heard from the people that this legislation was being misused.
“I am not about going around and using bushfire mitigation reasons so that people on the north shore and on the Sydney Harbour can simply improve their views.”
Environment Minister Mark Speakman said the Government would adopt all 30 recommendations.
“This strengthened scheme will introduce stronger environmental protections such as excluding koala habitats, littoral rainforests, Aboriginal places and trees within 100 metres of the coastline and mapped estuaries,” he said.
“The scheme will now also exclude critically endangered plants, critical habitats, all mangroves and saltmarshes and a range of critically endangered ecological communities.”
But the Nature Conservation Council said the review did not go far enough.
“Nothing in the Government’s review changes the fundamental problems with the code,” the council’s chief executive Kate Smolski said.
“The code still overrides the bulk of the Threatened Species Conservation Act and local council tree preservation orders.
“It has been clear since its introduction that the 10-50 rule has been used almost exclusively to remove trees to improve views, facilitate development and other non-bushfire related purposes.”
Legislation has been a shambles: Labor
Labor’s Environment spokesperson Penny Sharpe said the Government should have included environmental protections from the start.
“The fact that wetlands were considered to be a reasonable inclusion within this code in the first place was wrong,” she said.
“We welcome anything that’s going to protect koala habitat but there’s a lot other habitat we need to look at and we’re looking at the detail now.”
Ms Sharpe said the legislation had been “a shambles”.
“In 12 months there have been three different iterations of the code,” she added.
“We’re now up to the third iteration, that may or may not be doing what it’s supposed to be doing protecting property, protecting people and also looking after the environment.
“We believe you can get this right we don’t think the Government is there yet.”