Minister talks Natural Resources reform

Minister for Environment and Water David Speirs says the aim of changes to the Natural Resources Management Act 2004 is to give regional centres greater control and to go “back to basics”.

Mr Speirs was in Ceduna on Wednesday for the second in a series of statewide forums designed to provide community members with an opportunity to have their say on what could be improved and what is working with the current act.

Mr Speirs said the state government’s proposed Landscape Act would be based on five guiding principles of decentralised decision making, a simple and accessible system, focusing on community and landowners, a whole of landscape approach and getting back to basics.

The Ceduna forum was the second on Eyre Peninsula following a visit to Port Lincoln on Tuesday and Mr Speirs said he had received valuable feedback between the two.

“The mood on Eyre Peninsula – and the hunch the government had which was proven correct – was people were concerned about centralisation and bureaucracy, with a sense they felt disempowered by natural resources management in the state, although they are very happy with local NRM staff, but feel the boards are out of touch,” he said.

“The new government was elected on a platform of decentralisation.

“People are keen for a back to basics approach to natural resources management, they want to see pest plants and animals dealt with, they want good water management, they want soil quality to be a priority and they want biodiversity to be upheld – and it is apparent that the traditional owners want to be heavily involved in the system, which particularly came out in the Ceduna forum.”

Mr Speirs said the forums, and proposed changes into the new Landscape Act, would be testing the five guiding principles.

“We want to get the community involved, to find out what partnerships needs to be in place between local government, agricultural bureaus, land care group, individual landowners and traditional owners.”

Mr Speirs said the idea was not to replace the entire NRM Act, rather they wanted to update the 2004 legislation.

“There are things that are working well and there are good existing partnerships in place,” he said.

“NRM wasn’t dealing with the basics and that created a situation in regional communities, who in particular were losing faith with the NRM processes and structures.

“Decision making has been centralised in Adelaide and money has been taken out of regional communities to prop up projects in the city and we need to stop that.”

Other issues raised at the Ceduna forum included developing a route for Aboriginal employment, effects on the oyster industry, balancing mining and environmental needs, and current NRM zones, with one attendee suggesting Ceduna and surrounding areas should be moved from the Eyre Peninsula zone which had a greater focus on Lower Eyre Peninsula.

Mr Speirs will continue his tour of regional communities until October, with the feedback to then be analysed and legislation written.

He said the aim was to introduce the legislation into parliament next year.

Existing NRM boards will be replaced by nine boards that cover a localised region, with seven members on each board which will include three to be elected by the community and four appointed by the government.