Councils must be consulted on future bushfire clearing rule changes

Local Government NSW (LGNSW) President Linda Scott has expressed concerns over the State Government’s rule changes around bushfire prevention without consulting councils and other stakeholders.

She said the NSW Government must include councils in designing future changes, including revisions to the contentious issue of vegetation clearing, to ensure rules were clear and easy to navigate.

“I am deeply concerned that the Bushfire Amendment Act 2020 Bill was passed through Parliament without consulting councils, which are not only at the forefront of making their communities safe from bushfires, but are also supporting them through the recovery process,” she said.

“As was demonstrated last in last summer’s horrific fires, councils led the way in supporting firefighting efforts and have been there since to continue to help those affected.

“While it is too late to consult with councils on the Amendment Act now, it is not too late to include them in developing a critical new Rural Boundary Clearing Code that allows councils the ability to determine what is appropriate for their communities and will maximise bushfire prevention.

“LGNSW is seeking an assurance that Government will consult local government in that process.”

Cr Scott said the Bushfire Amendment Bill was designed to improve upon the 23-year-old Rural Fires Act and other legislation following the NSW Bushfire Inquiry earlier this year.

“I appreciate Government’s desire to act as quickly as possible on the Inquiry’s recommendations in order to keep people safe, but pushing through poorly consulted regulation could be just as detrimental to communities from an environmental and social front,” she said.

“The reason councils should be consulted on this issue is simple: NSW’s regions are diverse and, frankly, a one-size-fits-all approach is not an effective or appropriate way to best defend our State from the increasing risk of bushfires.”

One of the recommendations of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry was that the NSW Government would support local councils’ efforts to plan and implement locally targeted hazard reduction strategies.

“Councils can’t do this effectively if they are not consulted in the process of making the rules, which is why I am concerned the Government made these latest changes without seeking input from councils,” Cr Scott said.

“I have written to the Minister asking him to commit to consulting with local government on the Rural Boundary Clearing Code before it is adopted, rather than letting us know after the fact.”

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