He said that he was unhappy that Mr Staples had not complied with the directive, that he had raised it with him on several occasions, and he did not find that “particularly acceptable”.
“I think the point that I would make is that what has gone on there is a classic example of what needs to change,” Mr Constance told the estimates hearing in late February.
Mr Staples was fired as Transport for NSW secretary without reason in November, six weeks after a positive performance review with Premier Gladys Berejiklian, taking with him a severance package of up to $830,000.
Less than four months before he was sacked, Mr Staples wrote to Mr Constance telling him that Transport for NSW had “limited power” to cater to his specific request of a clearance zone 40 metres on either side of every highway under its control.
Opposition roads spokesman John Graham said the directive would have scarred the length and breadth of NSW, and resulted in more clearing than the amount of primary forest cut down between 2010 and 2018.
“This would be a land clearing record,” Mr Graham said, before questioning the legality of the measure.
Mr Betts also warned in the letter that if forestry land was cleared, the government may have to compensate Forestry Corporation, the timber industry and the Commonwealth either through payment or purchasing land.
NSW Regional Roads Minister Paul Toole revealed to an estimates hearing on Wednesday that he was not consulted before Mr Constance issued a directive to the public service.
Mr Toole also agreed that the directive given by Mr Constance would have been either impossible or impractical to fully implement.
“If you looked at it black and white, I think anyone could understand that it would actually mean a lot more thought and processes, it would probably have to have legislative changes as well,” Mr Toole said.
The deputy Nationals leader said Mr Staples had likely informed him about the direction, which had prompted serious concerns within the government department.
Mr Constance on Monday said that he issued the direction because he was worried someone would be killed and stressed that he had welcomed any recommendations to ensure trees didn’t obstruct roadways in his directive.
Asked whether he would rescind the directive, given the warnings of the scale of the land clearing, Mr Constance said: “No. My conscience is going to be clear in advance of the next major fire event. I’m going to do my best to save lives.”
Peter Regan, the acting TfNSW secretary who replaced Mr Staples, told the estimates hearing on Wednesday that the agency had not worked out how much it would cost to carry out Mr Constance’s direction.
“I don’t think the directive is clear enough to answer that,” Mr Regan said, before adding that he had never seen an estimate for how many trees would need to be removed to carry out the order.
Tom Rabe is Transport Reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.