Matters of State: What is the cause for 'SEPParation'?

Matters of State: What is the cause for 'SEPParation'?

Last week's political drama which publicly unfolded was nothing more than an act of desperation from the NSW National Party.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro, in a very typical display of rashness and volatility, threatened his Liberal masters that the Nats would separate from the coalition and move to the crossbench.

It was a political stunt which he was never ever going to follow through with.

His bluff was quickly called by Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who demanded Mr Barilaro and his fellow National Party cabinet members either resign from their ministries or do as they're told.

It came as no surprise when less than a day later Mr Barilaro fell into line.

Neither he nor his city-centric Nationals ministers would ever be prepared to relinquish their positions of power nor give up their lucrative ministerial salaries and benefits they've become accustomed to.

So why all the hoo-hah you may ask? Well, earlier this year the NSW Government approved the Koala Habitat Protection SEPP, which is the short name for the State Environment Planning Policy (Koala Habitat Protection) 2019.

My colleague Mark Banasiak MLC raised the concerns of farmers and landholders regarding the SEPP at Budget Estimates in Parliament earlier this year, and questioned Mr Barilaro regarding the Nats' involvement in this policy which came into effect in March 2020, but the Deputy Premier fobbed it off.

We have now learned that Nationals' cabinet members approved this policy, and in doing so have avoided any parliamentary scrutiny.

The long and the short of it is that the policy applies to the developments on areas one hectare or larger over the vast majority of rural and regional NSW, yet does not apply to the Sydney basin at all.

The policy has significant planning, financial and economic implications, especially for farmers and rural landholders, including forestry and even some councils, who now potentially have less say over what they do on their own land.

Farmers have traditionally been the Nationals' voter base, and when affected farmers learned that the NSW Nationals consciously supported this policy, they shared their frustration with the National Party for abandoning farmers and their interests.

The Nats are in fear of their political demise. Having lost three key Nationals-held seats to the Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party, as well as tallying a lower two party preferred vote than the Shooters Fishers and Farmers at the recent Eden-Monaro federal by-election, the Nats are fearing the worst. So when they've already been against the ropes and now fear further erosion to their traditional voter base, the only thing John Barilaro knew to do was to use smoke and mirrors, pretending as though the Liberals had pulled the wool over the Nats' eyes, introducing the SEPP without their knowing. The truth is the Nats knew all about the SEPP, they approved it and now they're now going into damage control.

Most farmers are conservationists, and do not want to see the demise of koalas or viable koala habitat. But when farmers are told they cannot have control of the very land they own and are the stewards of, well, let's just say they're not going to take it lying down.

This policy has the potential to devalue land, stifle or deter development, stagnate regional jobs and economic development, while the big cities suffer no such restriction or economic injury.

The SEPP is flawed; trees are not separated into classifications of either primary, secondary or tertiary feed species, and the clumsy mapping requires more consideration for accuracy.

The solution to all of this is to have sound and considered legislation, instead of policy, which can be subject to the rigour of a rational debate and scrutiny of the Parliament.