The Hon. J.A. DARLEY (11:44): I rise to speak about the landscape bill. This bill fulfils the government's election commitment to overhaul the Natural Resources Management Act. Several years ago, my office was inundated with complaints from disgruntled landowners who had been in contact with their local natural resources management boards, more particularly NRM staff. Some reported that authorised officers had been very heavy-handed in their enforcement of the act, and some were frustrated at the decisions that their NRM boards had made in interpreting the act.
Whilst I give the benefit of the doubt that those involved only had the best intentions, it was crystal clear that there was a problem. Enforcement and interpretation of the act was often undertaken with little consideration of the needs of primary production and, at times, common sense. This bred a culture of distrust against the NRM, with landowners gaining the perception, rightly or wrongly, that the government were out to get them. There were widespread feelings that the NRM had moved away from the principal objectives of controlling pest plants, animals and water management and were instead merely there to manipulate the act against primary producers in favour of the environment. Unfortunately, this is an attitude which still remains with some today.
I am therefore heartened that the government has made the principal objectives of the boards clear in this bill. Boards are to go back to basics and focus on soil quality, water management and pest plants and animals through the management of natural resources. The bill also makes it quite clear that regional boards must work collaboratively with landowners, with an emphasis on education rather than punishment.
The government is to completely restructure the boards. Instead of being entirely appointed by the minister, a proportion of the board will be elected by those in the region. Ministerial appointments will still occur; however, it is hoped that by having elected members it will result in better engagement with the local community and enable those who feel they have not had a voice to have a seat at the table or at the very least be heard by the boards.
As part of community engagement, boards will have grants available for local community groups for relevant grassroots projects. Because boards will be autonomous, they will also be able to determine which projects will best benefit the region and engage with community on a more personal level.
The bill allows for regional boards, which I understand will be established based on water resources. The bill also establishes a Green Adelaide board for the metropolitan area in recognition that the natural resources demands of rural and outback areas will differ greatly to those in the metropolitan area. Green Adelaide's board will be entirely appointed by the minister and will have different priorities, such as guiding nature education in schools.
The government has also introduced a cap on NRM levies through the bill. I am sure I am not the only member who has been lobbied by the Local Government Association to have the bill amended so that councils are no longer forced to collect this levy on behalf of the state government. They have advised that annually there are approximately $700,000 in outstanding levies which have to be covered by councils, as they are not reimbursed by the government.
I understand that, at the time of introduction, the government did not have any mechanism for collecting the levy and so the impost was placed with councils to collect it in conjunction with their rates. However, the government can now apply an emergency services levy to all properties in the state; this could be a mechanism by which the government could collect the levy directly rather than engaging local councils, although it will require significant amendment.
The minister has indicated that no changes to the parts of the act which relate to water have been made, as such changes are complex and would require further consideration and consultation. I know there are stakeholders who are eager to see change in this area and trust that the government will consult widely and listen to those directly affected on how the system can be improved. I support the second reading of the bill.