Hammer falls on sharks, native vegetation protections

Legislation to introduce shark nets on North Coast beaches will be introduced to parliament this week.
Legislation to introduce shark nets on North Coast beaches will be introduced to parliament this week. Marc Stapelberg

A CLUSTER of environmental protections will be targeted in one fell swoop as the Baird Government attempts to amend and repeal laws safeguarding sharks and native vegetation.

Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair told the NSW upper house he would on Wednesday introduce a motion to repeal the Biodiversity Conservation Bill, the Native Vegetation Act and amend the Fisheries Management Act.

A string of shark attacks on the North Coast has prompted the effort - which has Labor's support - to overturn current laws prohibiting the use of Queensland-style shark nets off the region's beaches.

Mr Blair will call for a six-month trial of netting criticised for killing dolphins, dugong, rays and other native marine life.

The Baird Government initially ruled out the measures, but pressure from surfers and two failed efforts to install eco-friendly alternatives on the North Coast have swayed its opposition.

But that is only the first step. If passed, the Federal Government will still have to sign off on the plan.

It will have 20 business days to make its final decision, meaning the nets could be installed before the busy Christmas holidays.

Mr Blair was non-committal when asked in parliament whether the government would financially support a plan to extend Byron Shire Council's "shark spotter" program, which uses a drone and volunteers to keep an eye out for sharks near the beach and sound the alarm.

He whittled away a large chunk of his allotted answer time talking about being the "proud recipient" of a Shark Spotter shirt and joking about whether it would fit his pre-summer figure.

"Initially when we held our summit, the Shark Watch or Shark Spotter program was not something that we chose to include as part of our funding," he said.

"We've directed our funding, initially to extra aerial surveillance, extra use of technologies - but that doesn't mean that other people can't come in and start looking at other measures as well."

The proposed changes to land clearing laws are likely to cause a bigger stir, with a leading government adviser this week resigning from his position in protest.

Conservation biologist and Independent Biodiversity Legislation Review Panel member Hugh Possingham's resignation letter said his advice had been ignored, with the government hoping to allow farmers to clear native vegetation without having to offset the damage they cause to biodiversity.

"Codes in native vegetation legislation are normally intended to facilitate minor clearing to make farming profitable - for example clearing for fences and buildings," he wrote.

"These should amount to the odd hectare here and there, not hundreds of hectares of clearing which leads to the degradation of soil, water and biodiversity."


Topics:  ballina niall blair north coast shark shark net surfing

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