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  • Water quality: conserving and restoring riparian vegetation 50m to 100m either side of major rivers and wetlands; 20m to 50m either side of creeks and 10m to 20m either side of streams;

  • Salinity: recharge areas and areas prone to rising water tables;

  • Biodiversity: conservation and restoration of threatened ecological communities and the conservation and restoration of critical habitat of threatened species;

  • Soil conservation: windbreaks and conserving and restoring vegetation on slopes.

The Group noted that if these four standards are implemented across the State, there will be a dramatic improvement in the health of rivers and catchments.

Water catchments should be the basic planning unit for all natural resource management. Catchment strategies need to be prepared by regionally based institutions that have community support, local knowledge and scientific expertise. Each catchment needs to produce a simple map-based catchment plan that can translate the State environmental standards into practical rules that are easy to apply at a farm scale across the catchment.

The development of property management plans is meant to give farmers an alternative to having to apply for development consent every time they wished to clear native vegetation. Instead, farmers will be able to submit a property management plan for the management of native vegetation on their property. Once a plan is certified, any clearing consistent with the plan would be exempt from the Native Vegetation and Threatened Species Act and other relevant legislation for up to ten years. For farmers, these management plans provide greater investment security, less red tape and improved management flexibility. For the community, the plans ensure that farm management is informed by the best available science and will contribute to creating healthy rivers and catchments.

The Wentworth Group proposed a significant investment of public funds to implement the proposals – led by a new $120 million Native Vegetation Investment Fund. If a landholder believes the viability of their business has been undermined by the introduction of the reforms, they should be able to have the government purchase their property, as a whole, at its pre-reform fair market value. A simple test should be established to determine an adverse impact.

All landholders who have their property management plan certified within the next four years should be given a grant of up to $1000. Farmers should be given financial support where the new environmental standards applied to their property involves significant costs, or a loss of income due to above average levels of native vegetation of high conservation value.

The Group recommended the establishment of a Natural Resource Management Commission. The Commission should report directly to the Minister on:

  • Statewide standards and targets;

  • Accreditation of catchment strategies against these targets;

  • Funding priorities for implementing catchment strategies; and

  • Information and research projects.

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