The Cootamundra branch of the NSW Farmers Federation has called for an immediate halt to land clearing following recent strong criticism of the NSW government's land clearing regime by the NSW Auditor-General.
In a report issued on 27 June, the Auditor-General found that the clearing of native vegetation on rural land "is not effectively regulated and managed" because the "processes in place to support the regulatory framework are weak".
The NSWFF resolved at its meeting on Tuesday to propose a motion to the state conference later this month calling for an immediate cessation of all land clearing until all of the recommendations of the Auditor-General's report had been enacted by government.
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The motion followed directly from the "unnecessary and excessive" recent clearing of century-old yellow box on the 7500-hectare property "Englefield Plains", eight kilometre west of Bethungra on the Stockinbingal Road.
Landholders complained to state and federal MPs about the destruction of native vegetation and habitats of endangered species at Englefield Plains by Viridis Ag, a dvision of the Macquarie banking group.
Viridis is operating with the assistance of a $100 million grant from the federal government's Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), and is believed to have bought other NSW properties where it will clear land in a similar fashion unless stopped from doing to by the government.
A spokesman for the landholders, Ashley Hermes, said unsatisfactory replies had been received from the CEFC and the federal member for Riverina, Michael McCormack.
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The State member for Cootamundra, Steph Cooke, issued a statement saying she fully understood farmers' concerns at large-scale clearing of land, and was "seeking further information" about the specifics of the law, its intentions and its effectiveness.
At the height of the Bethungra land clearing in March, Mr Hermes said trees on the Englefield Plains property were being knocked down and burned with such ferocity that you could "see the smoke from space".
Mr Hermes' properties, "Deakin" and "Gum Flat", are next door to Englefield Plains, which was bought in October last year by Viridis.
The 2016 Biodiversity Conservation Act and related reforms established a land management code empowering landholders to self-assess whether proposed clearing requires approval or not.
However the mapping that categorises land into areas in which certain clearing restrictions apply has not been finalised in full.
The Audit office report showed there was no evidence-based assurance that clearing of native vegetation was being carried out in accordance with approvals, and that the amount of land clearing had increased but the latest data had not been publicly released.
Despite 1,000 instances of unexplained clearing and more than 500 reports to the environmental hotline each year, with around 300 investigations in progress at any one time, the Government had not started a single prosecution under the new laws.