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‘Black mark’: Farmers get nod to clear land for bushfire protection

Proponents for the clearing had sought even wider clearing and for them to be applied to national parks before the cabinet compromised on the 25-metre zone that avoided the national park estate, according to one official who asked for anonymity because he was not authorised to speak publicly.

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An uproar from some local councils, though, led to the Sydney metropolitan region being excluded from the clearing code. Areas close to rivers and other sensitive regions including core koala habitat are also excluded.

“There was quite a lot of thought that went into that [25-metre] distance,” Kyle Stewart, an RFS Deputy Commissioner, said, adding it provided “an operational distance” that balanced firefighting effectiveness and other factors such as conservation.

The RFS would work with partner state agencies to help enforce the code’s provisions, he said.

Martin Tebbutt, a resident near the Blue Mountains town of Bilpin, said Emergency Services Minister David Elliott had “done a snow job” because nothing had changed for his land as it was within the Greater Sydney region.

“We won’t be able to protect ourselves along our boundary,” Mr Tebbutt said, adding that even 10 metres from the fence line would have been sufficient. Getting approval through the Hawkesbury Council for any clearing would continue to be “quite onerous”, he said.

Mr Elliott said councils within the Sydney Metropolitan areas “would be given the opportunity to opt-in to ensure the code is applicable to any pockets of rural zoned land within their Local Government Area”.

“The onus is on the landowner to ensure that they comply with the applicable regulations,” he said.

The Herald also sought comment from Environment Minister Matt Kean and Planning Minister Rob Stokes.

Chris Gambian, head of the Nature Conservation Council, said thousands of hectares of wildlife habitat would be destroyed without requiring an independent assessment of the environmental impacts.

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“Neither the NSW Bushfire Inquiry nor the royal commission recommend land clearing on property boundaries as a valid response to the Black Summer fires, but politicians in the government think they know better,” Mr Gambian said.

“If these codes stand, it will be a black mark on the record of Matt Kean, who in many respects has been a good minister for the environment.”

According to the self-assessed clearing, “it is the responsibility of the owner of the land to maintain a copy of the Rural Boundary Clearing online tool search results from the day that the clearing is undertaken. Landowners are required to provide evidence of the online search tool results in the circumstance that a relevant regulatory authority seeks such evidence”.

Bronwyn Petrie, chair of the NSW Farmers Conservation and Resource Management Committee, said while her organisation welcomed the clearing code it also “raised more questions than answers”.

“On examining the maps, large areas of farmland have been excluded from the code, and the exclusion reasons provided simply don’t apply to this land,” Ms Petrie said. “We need the government to not only explain their mapping and also give us a right of appeal where they got it wrong.”

“More than 50 per cent of the Black Summer fires were in national parks and they caused immense damage, yet national parks have been excluded from the code. This code should be tenure neutral.”

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