My last post (“Changes to NSW Rural Fires Act“) talked about changes to the Rural Fires Act and offences of impersonating an emergency services officer. The other change brought by the Rural Fires Amendment Bill 2013 (NSW) relate to hazard reduction activity (see also “NSW bushfires spark a range of new laws”). The Rural Fires Act has detailed provisions on the consent that must be obtained to conduct hazard reduction work but where permission has been given, then nothing in the Native Vegetation Act 2003, the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 or any other Act applies to limit the approved hazard reduction work (Rural Fires Act 1997 (NSW) s 100C(4)).
When presenting the 2013 Bill to the Parliament, the Minister said:
Additionally, the bill proposes to make consequential changes to the National Parks and Wildlife Act to clarify that hazard reduction work carried out under section 100C will not constitute an offence of harming or picking threatened species, or endangering populations or ecological communities under section 118A, or damaging habitat of threatened species, endangered populations or endangered ecological communities under section 118D.
That is a useful enough amendment if there was a fear that carrying out approved hazard reduction work could constitute an offence under these sections but it is certainly not going as far as the Victorian provisions that were discussed in my earlier post (“NSW bushfires spark a range of new laws”).
It is not the case that this legislation means “people in designated bushfire-prone areas will not need to get permission to clear trees, shrubs and other vegetation within prescribed distances of homes on their land” but those changes will be introduced in other legislation. According to a Ministerial Press Release (“NSW Government Moves to Protect Emergency Workers and Homeowners from Bush Fire Threat“, 13 November 2013) the government is
… developing new rules which when commenced will allow homeowners in designated bush fire prone areas to clear trees near their homes to protect their property from bush fires, in an environmentally responsible way, without the requirement of an assessment or approval,” Mr Gallacher said.
Minister for Planning and Infrastructure Brad Hazzard said the proposed new rules, would come into force once the amendments were passed by the Parliament.
It would mean residents in designated bush fire prone areas will not need to seek permission to sensibly clear vegetation that is posing a fire risk from around their property.
When the new rules are implemented, home owners adjacent to and those in close proximity to bushland will not need to get permission to clear trees within 10 metres of their homes, on their own land. They will be able to clear undergrowth and shrubs within 50 metres of their homes, on their own land.
“This will need to be done in an environmentally responsible manner but our changes will ensure the rules regarding hazard reduction are based on protecting lives and property – people before trees is the priority,” Minister Hazzard said.