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‘Special treatment’: Plans revealed for further easing of land clearing rules

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David Witherdin, chief executive of the Local Land Services, the agency overseeing the implementation of land-clearing codes, told estimates that because of “the scale of the farming enterprises out there”, [the codes] don’t really work as well as they could”.

Independent upper house MP Justin Field, who led the questioning over the codes, said the public had been left in the dark about the scope of the changes planned despite widespread interest in the impact of land-clearing on the environment.

“We shouldn’t be finding out about this through budget estimates,” Mr Field said. “The Minister needs to come clean about who lobbied for changes, the status of the pilot program, what’s being considered and how biodiversity will be protected.

“Despite [then-Minister] Blair stating that the land-clearing reform package introduced in 2016 ‘got the balance right’ – clearly some farmers have continued to push to remove even these limited protections and the Nationals have been prepared to give them what they want.”

A spokesman for Mr Marshall said: “The NSW government is assessing the code to ensure its effectiveness in achieving the triple bottom line objectives of the legislation. Part of this process is consultation with landholders.”

After the laws changed, farmers tripled the area of native vegetation removed in 2017-18 compared with three years earlier, the latest figures from the Office of Environment and Heritage show.

Land cleared for crops, pasture or thinning totalled 27,100 hectares last financial year, or almost 100 times the size of Sydney’s CBD.

Mr Field said the indication the government was preparing to weaken land-clearing codes further was the latest example of “special treatment for big agribusiness in the north west”.

“They got their reform, last month they received their amnesty from prosecution, [and] now they will be given a new code to allow for unabated land clearing,” he said.

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