Our comments are restricted to point 1* of the Terms of Reference as we have little knowledge of the particular sites/projects mentioned in the second point.
EFN strongly supports the principle that where any development results in depletion of environmental services, or causes environmental damage, offsetting should be required. Since European settlement, agriculture, mining and other developments have caused enormous damage to native vegetation across the nation. This development combined with the introduction of exotic plants and animals has caused loss of native biodiversity and the extinction of many species. We have certainly used up any buffering capacity we have had in the availability of environmental services, and the balance sheet is now well into the red. Offsetting is paramount to stop us sliding further into the red.
Governments can ensure biodiversity decline is arrested by making offsets compulsory. A secondary advantage of this is that it creates a new market for progressive land managers to undertake environmental improvement work which should more than offset the damage caused by short term and extractive economic activity.
EFN member experience with environmental offsets suggests that insufficient monitoring is common, inadequate offsets are required by planning approval bodies such as local government and that land managers are not adequately compensated for the work they undertake especially for ongoing maintenance of offset sites. Further, breaches of vegetation control laws are often not challenged or financial penalties are totally insufficient to give appropriate public feedback if action is taken. Recent examples in Victoria include several cases of large scale clearing of paddock trees which provide food, nesting sites and shelter to Red Tailed Black Cockatoos in the west Wimmera. The fines were totally inadequate to dissuade other land managers doing the same thing and the offsets required were also totally inadequate to compensate for biodiversity loss. In fact when old habitat trees are cleared it is really not possible to offset the damage in the short term (a hundred years).
The provision of offsets as a farm business could perhaps be looked at in conjunction with elements of the Carbon Farming Initiative to provide a better source of income for those land managers providing carbon offsets with little incentives (low carbon prices and conservative carbon sequestration models especially for environmental plantings).
*Terms of Reference 1:
The history, appropriateness and effectiveness of the use of environmental offsets in federal environmental approvals in Australia, including:
*the principles that underpin the use of offsets;
*the processes used to develop and assess proposed offsets;
*the adequacy of monitoring and evaluation of approved offsets arrangements to determine whether promised environmental outcomes are achieved over the short and long term; and
any other related matters
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