Native Vegetation (Road Verges) Amendment Bill


Second Reading


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN ( Stuart ) ( 11:25 :39 ): I also wholeheartedly support the member for Morphett in this bill. In essence, what he is trying to achieve is that adjoining property owners, where their property adjoins a road, would have the ability to clear native vegetation without any restrictions or permission required for two key purposes: for road safety and to reduce the fuel load. That seems very sensible to me.

I accept the fact that road verges can provide very important habitat areas not only for native vegetation but also for lots of animals. There are benefits, but there comes a time when you have to make a choice, and I think it is very important that if the adjoining landowner believes there is a serious road safety issue or there is an unacceptable fuel load, then that adjoining landowner may clear the native vegetation.

The member for Morphett is not saying that has to happen; I do not think anyone needs to fear that all of a sudden every single, little bit of vegetation between the road and the fence will be razed down to some sort of nuclear scorched-earth situation. That is not what he is intending at all; he just wants responsible landowners to have the opportunity to clear it, for these two primary reasons, when it is responsible to do so. I think that is very responsible.

These landowners already have an obligation to get rid of weeds in exactly the same manner, and if they fulfil that responsibility then they are very often already getting rid of native vegetation anyway. It will be the responsible people who are currently trying to get rid of the weeds, it will probably be those same people who are trying to do this in a responsible fashion. In my observations in Stuart and in many other parts of the state, very little attention is paid to this with regard to weeds. That is unfortunate, but it is very often an obligation that landowners are not aware of or that they do not know how to fulfil properly, or they just do not have the resources or the time; they are flat out trying to get rid of the weeds on their own property let alone trying to do it on what they consider to be somebody else's property.

This is pretty sensible, as the member for Davenport said. The CFS would overwhelmingly support this, and I can tell you that in the electorate of Stuart there are many tracks where this native vegetation on the road verge would create a very serious fire risk under the right—or perhaps the wrong—conditions. So I think this is very serious.

Road safety is, of course, incredibly important. Visibility is one thing, and the member for Davenport touched on that, but I can tell the house that there are other road safety risks on road verges as well that are created by native vegetation. As a member of the CFS I have attended more motor vehicle accidents than fires—because that is just how things work, that is exactly what the CFS does across the state; it attends way more motor vehicle accidents than it does fires or any other type of incident—and I have seen situations where the native vegetation has contributed to the accident on the side of the road.

Primarily it is through visibility, but occasionally native vegetation has actually encumbered the rescue and retrieval effort in trying to get people who may be trapped in cars out of those cars. Then, of course, there is the combination of the two together, where a motor vehicle accident might be in native vegetation on the road verge and then all of a sudden there is fuel and sparks and a range of other things. That can create a very serious fire risk and turn the whole incident into a much more serious issue. I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 4 June 2015.)

Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN ( Stuart ) ( 10:32 :46 ): I am grateful for the opportunity to briefly conclude my remarks and refer people who are interested in this issue back to the comments I made on 14 May. I do wholeheartedly support the member for Morphett on this issue. There are many facets to it, of course, but it is not about trying to damage native vegetation and it is not about trying to affect any other type of native vegetation or change any other rules to do with it.

I do accept that native vegetation on road verges can form a very supportive habitat for native fauna, but it is also true that it causes a great deal of difficulty with regard to visibility, the likelihood of a fire starting from a road accident, and, perhaps most importantly, it can significantly diminish the capacity for a road to act as an effective firebreak. Of course, if native vegetation, and non-native vegetation for that matter, is cleared from road verges in fire-prone areas, then that road, including the cleared verge, will offer a much better firebreak if (and unfortunately when in many places in South Australia) a bushfire breaks out.

They are the reasons why the member for Morphett has introduced this bill and why I support it. It is about grasses and low shrubs. It is not about trying to cut down significant trees or anything like that on the road verge. There are rules and regulations with regard to offsets which still apply to that. There are council regulations in council areas where that would apply. I think this is unlikely to be an issue in out-of-council areas and regions. I think this is a very sensible proposal that provides some safety to the community in a range of ways which would not be detrimental to our environment or support for native vegetation across the state in general.

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