CUTTING red-tape by adding red-tape: failed ecological central planning continues as the NSW government changes its native vegetation laws. Under proposed changes agricultural land would be demarcated according to risk to biodiversity. Development would be allowed in ‘lower-risk’ areas, but bound up in ‘higher-risk’ areas.

Development on higher-risk areas would need to be offset by allocating other parts of that land for biodiversity purposes or paying into a biodiversity fund.

Many are rightly concerned about this proposal’s uncertainty. There is no guarantee future governments would not further restrict farmers. This uncertainty discourages investment. A more fundamental issue is the deeply flawed belief bureaucrats can centrally plan society.

Centrally planning the environment fails for the same reasons as central economic planning. Actions of individuals, combined with the environment’s dynamism cannot be forecast, measured or calculated.

We need a different approach to regulation – one that uses the environmental stewardship of farmers by protecting their property rights, promoting competition and facilitating economic growth. Property rights give owners incentive to look after what they own. Farmers know their livelihood depends on environmentally sustainable practice.

Competition fostered by free markets provides powerful incentive for land-users to economise land use and develop more efficient and environmentally friendly technology. In the last century land used for agriculture has decreased, yet output has skyrocketed.

Discouraging productive land use will hamper growth, resulting in a worse environment. The government’s proposed changes still rely on technocratic tinkering. We are over-regulated.

The Institute of Public Affairs recently revealed red-tape costs our economy $176 billion annually.These changes will not make a dent to this figure. Policy-makers should think big and embrace reform that aligns commercial incentives with conservation interests

This piece was originally published in The Land.