The West Australian

Opinion Piece by UDIA WA CEO Tanya Steinbeck 

Last month, Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley advised that the Threatened Species List under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) was updated to reflect 34 listings, and three ecological communities, including Tuart Woodlands and Forests of the Swan Coastal Plain (Tuarts).

The listing of Tuarts as critically endangered under the EPBC Act is significant for WA and is likely to have an impact on future development and housing affordability.

Don’t get me wrong, UDIA is supportive of policy and regulation that protect our natural environment and leads to tangible, positive conservation outcomes for the species concerned.

However, as we clearly outlined in our formal submission on the issue last year, there is a fundamental lack of evidence to support this particular listing or a clear overall benefit.

I believe this is a relatively hasty decision by the new minister after just four weeks in the role that fails to consider the complexity and consequences that the listing will have.

This decision is likely to result in small areas, down to a few trees or hectares of vegetation, being caught up in a Federal process with little regard for broader outcomes and limited overall conservation benefits.

It will lead to an inefficient and duplicative regulatory process between two levels of government for native vegetation clearing.

This is unnecessary given native vegetation clearing is already extensively regulated through State environmental and planning approval processes.

What this decision will do is add another layer of duplication that will hold up the process and homebuyers will end up footing the bill.

This decision is particularly disappointing given the minister’s recent statements about wanting to reduce red tape and streamline processes.

To achieve the best outcome for the environment, where it is necessary for the Federal Government to get involved and list an ecological community, it should focus on large areas which make up a significant portion of the community, and not on small patches which can be properly addressed at State level.

What this highlights is the dire need for the Strategic Assessment of Perth and Peel Region (SAPPR) to be finalised so there is more clarity and certainty around conservation areas in the State.

The SAPPR was started by the previous government in 2011 with the aim of producing a Green Growth Plan (GGP) that identified the urban development footprint for the Perth and Peel areas as  well as the conservation areas in the region for the next 30 years.

While the progress of SAPPR is currently under an independent review, UDIA still supports its original intent to streamline approvals under the EPBC Act.

There is no doubt that we are dealing with complex environmental issues which are of critical importance to our future, however, we need to balance that with the competing priorities of delivering affordable housing as well as the growth of Perth to accommodate the extra 1.4 million people that will live here over the next 20 years or so.

Government policy and decision-making must take all these priorities into account and in the case of the decision to list Tuarts, I am not convinced that this has occurred.