Landscape South Australia Bill: SA Reforms Natural Resource Management

Thursday 28 March 2019 @ 9.20 a.m. | Legal Research | Trade & Commerce

On 21 March 2019, the South Australian Minister for the Environment and Water, the Honourable D J Speirs (the Minister) introduced the Landscape South Australia Bill 2019 (the Bill) into the SA Parliament, describing it as a Bill for an Act to "promote sustainable and integrated management of the state’s landscapes, to make provision for the protection of the state’s natural resources". The Bill also proposes the repeal of the Natural Resources Management Act 2004 (NRM Act) .

Key Reforms

According to the Minister's second reading speech, the Bill establishes a new framework for the management of the state's natural resources based around a "vision" that seeks to provide a "simpler and more accessible system by removing unnecessary bureaucracy". According to the Minister, this is to be done by "simplifying procedures to improve responsiveness and providing greater flexibility for improving best practice over time". Among the key elements of the reforms are:

  • the replacement of regional natural resource management boards with new "arms-length regional landscape boards" and giving communities and landholders a greater voice in how natural resources are managed;
  • a new "Green Adelaide Board" to be focused on seven priorities that will help Adelaide become the most ecologically vibrant city in the world;
  • the capping of increases to land and water levies to reduce cost-of-living pressures for all South Australians; and
  • more "action on the ground", with a focus on partnerships, a simpler approach to planning and creating opportunities for natural resources management focused programs and initiatives in regional communities.

Landscape Boards Replacing Natural Resource Management Boards

The Bill proposes that the existing eight regional Natural Resource Management Boards be replaced with nine new Regional Landscape Boards that will give communities and landholders a greater voice in natural resources management. In his second reading speech, the Minister indicated that the new landscape Boards would be bodies corporate and that, as instrumentalities of the Crown, they would be subject to audit by the Auditor-General and would be regarded as public authorities for the purposes of the Public Finance and Audit Act. The Boards will be required to consider and promote the objects of the proposed Landscape South Australia Act in exercising their functions and will be required to work collaboratively and have the ability to establish committees, reflecting the importance of ongoing discussion with communities and landholders so that the boards have a good understanding about what the issues are in their region. The management of natural resources, with an emphasis on soil quality, water management and pest plant and animal control, will be a function of the new boards. The new Boards will be able to support community efforts to restore and maintain the landscape, such as through revegetation and other "nature stewardship initiatives".

All the new Boards, including the Green Adelaide Board, are to be required to establish a "grassroots grants program" to be based on a proportion of their budget or an amount determined by the Minister. These grants according to the Minister will be made available to "small grassroots community organisations, volunteer groups and individuals." According to the Minister, this reflects the feedback that indicated people wanted boards to "have a closer connection with their local communities and stronger relationships with community organisations". These grants are to be administered by each Regional Landscape Board and not centrally administered.

According to the Minister's second reading speech, each new Board will have a mandate to seek opportunities to deliver programs and projects through partnerships with organisations, such as, local councils, groups and individuals, with the aim being the creation of jobs and further investment, "empowering and reinvigorating regional communities in the management of natural resources." To this end, each of the new boards is to have a "high-level, five-year regional landscape plan that sets out five priorities for managing the region's landscapes". There will be no "prescriptive consultation requirements" and each Board will be able to set out their own consultation processes. The new Boards will also remain responsible for water allocation planning in their region but with provision for the Minister to to be able to step in if there are "delays in water allocation planning processes".

Green Adelaide

Clause 12 of the Bill, indicates that the "Green Adelaide or Green Adelaide Region" will be established as a "landscape management region" and will cover metropolitan Adelaide. It will raise levies like other Regional Landscape Boards to support residents to live more sustainably and invest in community development. The importance to the State of the Green Adelaide Board means it will be larger than the other Boards and be made up of between six to ten members appointed by the Minister and supported by the Department for Environment and Water and in effect, will delegate its regulatory functions to other Government agencies, Councils, boards and private organisations.

The Minister said in his second reading speech that the Bill "delivers the government's commitment to establish Green Adelaide - a new board charged with delivering on the exciting vision of Adelaide as a climate resilient and ecologically vibrant city that is a world leader delivering innovative solutions". In this respect "Green Adelaide" is intended by the government to be a Regional Landscape Board, with the same functions and powers as the other Regional Landscape Boards but it will also focus on seven priorities, namely:

  • coastal management;
  • water resources and wetlands;
  • water sensitive urban design;
  • green streets and flourishing Parklands;
  • fauna and flora in the urban environment;
  • controlling pest animals and plants, and
  • nature education.

Levies and Grants

Clause 67 of the Bill, provides that land levies will continue be collected in the same way they are now, namely, collected from rate payers by local councils. How changes for the payment of water levies will be made is not clear from the Bill. Following on consultation a decision to impose a Consumer Price Index cap on increases to land and water levies was reached and land and water levies collected in a region are to be allocated to be spent in that region.

A Fund for Landscape Priorities

Clause 42 of the Bill proposes a State Landscape Strategy (SLS) which will set out a long term vision for the management of the South Australia’s landscapes and natural resources and will support an “effective and adaptive planning cycle for landscape management with a particular emphasis on establishing links and alignment between State and regional planning”. As part of this, principles for the Landscape Priorities Fund will be set out to identify the outcomes which the SLS is to achieve and to address any other matters arising under the Act or regulations. The state wide Landscape Priorities Fund proposed under section 92 of the Bill will be for "large scale restoration projects" and will:

  • be a separate statutory fund;
  • invest in projects which meet the principles in the SLS;
  • be partially funded by Green Adelaide’s land and water levies;
  • allocate funds based upon criteria established by the Minister; and
  • deliver projects in partnership with other boards, local organisations, groups and individuals.

Next Steps

The reforms introduced by the Bill are large and it will take a while for the Bill to be fully debated and enacted. If passed the legislation will have transitional arrangements that will maintain current natural resources management arrangements for 2019 supported by the Department of Environment and Water.

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