THE REAL DIRT

Protecting Private Conservation

July 10th, 2008 · 1 Comment · Blog

At Easter in 2004 a few dozen neighbours, friends, family and representatives of the Department of Environment and Climate Change arrived at our property on the NSW South Coast.

The gathering was a celebration to witness the signing of a voluntary conservation agreement over more than half of our property, near Moruya on the NSW South Coast.

At the time it seemed such a momentous event and my wife and I felt that it was one of the best things we would ever do.

In an area where land clearing for subdivisions is rife, our intention was to protect forever more than half of our property from any form of development.

Our voluntary conservation agreement area contains an endangered population of greater gliders, threatened species such as powerful owls, glossy black cockatoos and a number of Aboriginal cultural heritage sites.

It also covers around half of the catchment of a creek, which is one of the main tributaries of an important coastal estuary. In other words there is immense community benefit to the protection of our forest.

There is not much financial incentive to sign and once the ink is dry the area under covenant is worth only a fraction of what it was worth uncovenanted. However, one incentive everybody is promised is relief from council rates. Whatever proportion of your land is protected, went the spiel, will be exempt.

Then two years after we had signed, the goalposts were moved and our rates increased by nearly $1,000. Dozens of other VCA landowners were also impacted like us and it was only a matter of time before all 250 covenanted properties would suffer the same slug.

We complained. The bureaucrats mumbled understanding words and we trusted them but nothing actually happened. We were told that a bill to rectify the situation would go to parliament last year. And then we started getting late notices from council and had to fork out the extra cash.

Finally after a major effort, 35 of us frustrated landowners from the three local government areas where the rate formula has changed found each other. We wrote to the minister last year and were told it was being sorted out.

Then the new rates notices began to arrive again and we were told it still hadn’t been fixed. We are now nearly $2,000 out of pocket – a significant amount. But it’s not the money that is the real issue. Instead of getting thanks from our fellow citizens we feel like we are being given brickbats.

What makes it worse is that while the Government moved the goalposts with glee, all of us are locked in to management plans and a covenant that only the minister can alter or revoke.

Last month, the matter was finally sorted out. A bill has now been introduced to parliament that will guarantee that the the rating formula goes back to what it was when we signed our agreement in 2004. But there will be no re-imbursement of the extra money we have been forced to pay.

It has been disillusioning and has left a bad taste in the mouths of those who have tried to do the right thing by protecting precious areas on their land.

The NSW Environment Department deserves thanks for finally sorting out a fiasco threatening the voluntary conservation agreement program across NSW. But now it has to answer a more important question. If it has had trouble protecting landowners from a petty, grubby cash grab, will the government be able to stand up courageously to protect such areas when they face a real threat?

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One Comment so far ↓

  • David M

    Worthy of note, as the previous owners of the area now under a voluntary conservation agreement by the Woodford’s(2004), for 15years (from 1988) the area remained protected , fenced and unstocked.Possibly the largest, privately owned and protected area of Macrazamia sp.on the East Coast of Australia . And too, we paid rates for all of that time!

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