A report tabled at the August 24 Clarence Valley Council (CVC) meeting warns that the NSW Biodiversity Offset Scheme (BOS) has had the opposite effect to its intention: instead of protecting the valley’s natural environment, it has “ensured a net loss to biodiversity, often of our most threatened flora and fauna”.
Councillors voted eight to one (Cr Arthur Lysaught was opposed) to advise the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Integrity of the NSW Biodiversity Offset Scheme (BOS) that CVC “believes that the concept of offsetting is basically flawed” and that CVC’s submission would “justify” this view “with the information contained in the officer’s report” to council.
The BOS aims to “offset unavoidable impacts on biodiversity from development with biodiversity gains through landholder stewardship agreements”, the environment.nsw.gov.au website states.
“…[It] is based on the theory that biodiversity values gained at an offset site will compensate for biodiversity values lost to development at another location to achieve a standard of ‘no net loss’ of biodiversity.”
Staff advised councillors of four key issues: “a net loss of biodiversity across the LGA, a lack of stewardship sites in the Clarence (currently, there are only two stewardship sites in the Clarence), a lack of transparency in the BOS, and inconsistencies in offset prices.
“There is little confidence in this legislation for biodiversity conservation as offsets can be facilitated outside of the CVC local government area,” staff wrote.
“…credit suppliers are located all over the state, hence, if a developer can source credits, they are unlikely to be sourced within the Clarence, creating a ‘net loss’ of biodiversity.”
On the lack of transparency, staff wrote: “Many plant community types on the floodplain, which comprises a large percentage of land being developed in the Clarence, are threatened ecological communities (TEC), which are to be offset for the same TEC, forcing developers to pay into the fund as the sole way to offset credits, as there are no locally available credits.
“There is no way to determine if this money deposited in the trust is then used to facilitate recovery or protection of TECs in the Clarence – creating biodiversity loss.”
On the inconsistencies of offset prices, staff gave an example where a “swamp oak swamp forest on coastal floodplain and a paperbark swamp forest on the coastal lowlands are costed at $7,500 per credit, when assessed as a ‘threatened coastal community’, whereas, if costed as a ‘plant community type’, “that price is confusingly reduced to $4,005 per credit”.
“Council contacted the department over 18 months ago concerning this and it still has not been remedied,” staff wrote.
At the August CVC meeting, Cr Greg Clancy moved the original motion, which, at point 1, originally stated that not only was the BOS flawed, but “it should be replaced with a scheme that does not allow the destruction of endangered ecological communities and threatened species habitat”.
At the previous week’s committee meeting, Cr Clancy put the same motion, but was defeated four to one (councillors Baker, Williamson, Novak and Simmons were opposed), however, when he again put the motion at the August CVC meeting, Cr Richie Williamson successfully moved an amendment that resulted in removing the “it should be replaced…” part – all councillors were in favour, apart from Cr Lysaught, and the motion was carried.