Legislative Council

GREENS BILL: State Planning Policy on Biodiversity

August 9th, 2017

On the 9th of August, Mark introduced the Greens Private Members Bill - Planning, Development and Infrastructure (State Planning Policy) (Biodiversity) Amendment Bill 2017.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: This bill is a very simple measure that gives effect to one of the key recommendations of the report into biodiversity in South Australia conducted over a number of years by the Environment, Resources and Development Committee of this parliament. The unanimous recommendations of the committee included the following:

A State planning policy on biodiversity should be made by the State Planning Commission, to ensure that biodiversity outcomes are appropriately considered in the context of planning and development under the Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act.

So, that is precisely what this bill does. I do not propose to go through all of the evidence that was presented to the Environment, Resources and Development Committee inquiry because members can read that for themselves in the report, and they can download the submissions from the committee's webpage. However, I do want to make a few observations about why the committee thought this reform was necessary. The starting point was the terms of reference for this inquiry. The first term of reference was:

Whether the provisions of the current environmental and planning legislation provide for biodiversity outcomes…

The committee had no difficulty in agreeing that legislation was critically important, and the report notes the following:

Legislation can impose obligations or confer rights, create frameworks to support or underpin voluntary action, and implement policies or drive policy-making. None of these functions of legislation can by themselves improve biodiversity outcomes, as they cannot by themselves change attitudes towards biodiversity. However, they are all essential elements in promoting, encouraging or requiring the changes in behaviour that will in the longer term change attitudes and ultimately, improve biodiversity outcomes. The legislative framework is a strong signal to the community about the things that should be valued, and by how much.

Having agreed that legislation is important, the question then was whether the existing laws were up to the task of protecting and ultimately enhancing South Australia's biodiversity. The conclusion that the committee reached was that existing laws were mostly not up to the task. Again, according to the report:

…South Australia’s current legislative framework does not provide for optimum biodiversity outcomes.

Three key issues contribute to this—

•an out-of-date suite of environmental legislation that lacks cohesion and consistency, particularly regarding enforcement and compliance provisions;

•inadequate and incomplete processes for identifying and protecting at-risk elements that need special measures (e.g. for protection of specific threatened species and ecological communities); and

•inadequate consideration of biodiversity conservation in legislation that regulates human activities. In particular, there is a lack of cohesion between the environmental, legislative and policy framework and land use planning, assessment and approval.

Now, I know that sounds like a mouthful, but it is the third of those limbs that is most important here, because land use planning, assessment and approval processes are regulated by the Development Act and by the replacement to that act, the Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act 2016, and that is the act this bill seeks to amend. The South Australian government acknowledged this problem in its submission. It said:

Human activities continue to impact our biodiversity, causing habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation through the impacts of invasive species, land management practices, climate change and new developments.

In response the committee noted that:

The fact that almost all of these activities are regulated by South Australian laws, yet continue to contribute to the degradation and loss of biodiversity, is a clear indication that the form that the regulation takes is inadequate.

There was pretty much no-one who thought the current legislative regime was perfect. In fact, whilst a lot of attention is paid to not making things worse, a number of submissions pointed out that that was setting the bar too low and that we should be looking in legislation and in policy to improving biodiversity, not just addressing the decline. For example, Professor David Paton emphasised the importance of restoring habitat as well as protecting it. He said:

The Planning Act needs to reflect the need to put back habitat if the biodiversity that we have today is to survive into the future. At present biodiversity appears as a protagonist for proposed human developments. Biodiversity needs to be lifted to the first tier of our planning acts and policies as something that we have to plan for and plan for in a positive and active manner.

I have taken that concept, and I have incorporated it into my bill. The operative words in the bill are:

The minister must ensure that there is a specific state planning policy (to be called the biodiversity policy) that specifies policies and principles that are to be applied with respect to enhancing biodiversity and minimising adverse effects of development on biodiversity within the state.

So, that brings us back to the start—the committee's recommendation that:

A state planning policy on biodiversity should be made by the State Planning Commission, to ensure that biodiversity outcomes are appropriately considered in the context of planning and development under the Planning, Development and Infrastructure Act.

That is exactly what this bill does: it incorporates that policy. I note that my bill refers to the minister ensuring that there is a policy. In reality, the job of preparing these state planning policies is jointly held between the minister and the State Planning Commission, and it is the commission which will drive the process and the consultation program.

Just to remind members, these state planning policies are high-level documents that will in turn guide the planning documents that are used to assess individual development applications. These documents, these state planning policies, will not be used directly, but they will have a powerful impact on the actual working documents that planners will use to shape and make decisions about our cities, towns, suburbs and regions.

I would also remind members that the Legislative Council has already proposed a number of these state planning policies which have been accepted by the government. As well as the policies that were built into the original Planning, Development and Infrastructure Bill, we had three additional policies that were added by this chamber, all of which were unanimously agreed to be positive additions to the planning regime. We had the Hon. Kelly Vincent who proposed a state planning policy on universal design; the Liberal Party, I think the Hon. Michelle Lensink or maybe her—

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: I was on maternity leave.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: She was on leave, but she was with us in spirit, as her colleague, I think the Hon. David Ridgway, proposed a state planning policy on adaptive reuse of old buildings and that was accepted. I successfully incorporated a new state planning policy on climate change. But back when we debated the original bill, I did not include a biodiversity policy because we were still debating that matter in the Environment, Resources and Development Committee. I should in all fairness acknowledge the Hon. Michelle Lensink, who brought the topic to that committee and kickstarted the biodiversity inquiry.

I suspect that had I moved that a biodiversity policy was a good idea when we were debating the original planning legislation, it would probably have been accepted then, but I think it did make sense to wait until the committee had concluded its deliberations. Now that it has, it is timely to make this change now. It is also timely because the State Planning Commission has just been established and is now commencing work on these new state planning policies, and it is hoped that the first of those policies will be completed by the end of the year. I attended a presentation during the week conducted by the Adelaide Sustainable Building Network on the topic of adaptive reuse, and it was interesting to hear that work is already underway in relation to these new state planning policies.

Finally, by way of declaration, I should declare that I won the raffle that was conducted at the Adelaide Sustainable Building Network meeting. In fact, I won first and second prize, but I did insist on a redraw. At the second prize I thought, 'No, that's just being greedy.' I will point out that, as a consequence, I am now the proud owner of two strawberry plants that might not add a lot to biodiversity, but they will certainly be a welcome addition to my veggie patch, and hopefully will feed my family and not just the millipedes that got most of my crop last year.

For more information see a copy of the Bill

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