Weed strategy welcomed

ONE key Kiama-based stakeholder believes a draft report released last week on weed management could be a "game changer" in helping to rein in one of the state's worst and most difficult environmental threats.

The report was released by the NSW Natural Resources Commission.

The Invasive Species Council, the National Parks Association of NSW and the Nature Conservation Council of NSW have endorsed the commission's recommendations to require risk assessment of new plant introductions into NSW, impose a general "biosecurity obligation" for all stakeholders, establish a fund for eradication of new high-risk incursions, and rebuild weed research capacity.

"One standout recommendation is to implement a safe [permitted] list approach to new plant introductions, which would require risk assessment of plants not on the list," Invasive Species Council policy officer Dr Carol Booth said today.

"This is essential to prevent new weeds, which are establishing at an average rate of seven a year."

Nature Conservation Council of NSW chairman Don White said currently about 300 plants regarded as environmental weeds could be legally sold.

The Illawarra District Noxious Weeds Authority is based in Kiama, and also covers the Shellharbour and Wollongong local government areas.

Chief weeds officer David Pomery agreed the report would lead to the introduction of some significant changes, after other recent reviews resulted in minimal change.

These included the formalisation of regional weed advisory committees, which he said would bring together relevant stakeholders to address regional issues.

"[It means we can] assess the weed potential of the plant before it's made commercially available," he said of the report.

"You can work out the potential risk, and hopefully reduce the weed potential in the future. The idea is that prevention is better than cure.

"If we can assess the potential risk of a certain plant, we could be saving ourselves millions of dollars in years to come."

Mr Pomery stressed the importance of the report's recommendation that weed management remain with local governments.

"Weeds don't recognise boundaries ... but you've got that local knowledge, and councils are in the best position to respond at the local level."

He said the authority would be making its own submission, which is open until April 6.

Mr Pomery said a proposed levy for programs addressing new and emerging weeds that posed a high risk could be a topic of debate.

"The idea is that if we can't manage it with existing funds, this levy would kick in, and additional resources [would] be put in before it becomes a problem," he said.

"The money would come from a special levy applied to rural landholders with blocks greater than a particular size - perhaps greater than two hectares in size.

"There may be a [perceived] inequity there, which could cause a few problems, as it's beneficial community-wide and even statewide.

"Why should just the rural sector [pay the levy], when the urban community probably benefits just as much?

"That may cause some issues."

Greens NSW spokesperson on agriculture Jeremy Buckingham welcomed the draft NSW weed management review and called on the state government to make the required resources available to ensure the full implementation of its recommendations.

"The establishment of a 'permitted list' for sale of plants within NSW is an important first step in stopping the spread of weeds, as is the move to a tenure-neutral approach, which ensures both public and private landholders are responsible for controlling weeds," Mr Buckingham said.

"It is clear from this report that the distribution and impact of weeds continues to grow and that the threat to biodiversity and an annual cost of $475 million to landholders is unacceptable."

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