A Planning department spokesman denied the pipeline approval was backdated, saying the amendment applied “to a small number of approved infrastructure projects all given consent under an old planning mechanism that has since been abolished”.
“As such, it is a transition regulation that allows the decision maker to assess the request on its merits where extra time is required,” he said.
The Berejiklian government is in caretaker mode up until the March 23 election. Other last-minute changes included an amendment to the Local Land Services Act, that allowed clearing of native vegetation on category 2-vulnerable regulated land and category 2-sensitive regulated land for certain reasons without any approval.
A spokeswoman from the office of Minister for Primary Industries, Niall Blair, said changes reinstated provisions that had been “inadvertently left out of the initial bill”. They cover firewood collection for personal use, the clearing of planted native vegetation – except for plantings paid for with public money – and the installation or maintenance of water, gas and telecommunications infrastructure.
Penny Sharpe, Labor’s environment spokesman, said a Labor government would “remake the biodiversity laws to put back in protections to stop land-clearing”.
Cate Faehrmann, environment spokesman for the Greens, said land-clearing was “out of control in NSW and it is telling that the last act of the Berejiklian government has been to sneak in rules to make it even easier to clear native vegetation that has been mapped as sensitive or vulnerable”.
Bronwyn Petrie, chair of the NSW Farmers conservation and resource management committee, said the exemptions had been in place since 1972 “when protected lands legislation on steeper land were introduced and they were then carried through all subsequent legislation, including as schedule three exemptions in [State Environmental Planning Policy] 46”.
“The amendments are simply a tidy up as we transition into the new LLS act and are in line with previous native vegetation legislation,” she said.