The Queensland Government has been warned it may struggle to meet its renewable energy target if it pushes ahead with its controversial proposal to tighten tree clearing laws.
The $1.6 billion sugar industry has been touted as a central plank in the Government’s clean, green energy agenda, in particular its commitment to ensuring 20 per cent of the state’s electricity supply comes from renewable energy sources by 2020.
But the peak body Canegrowers is questioning where the Government would source the biofuels needed to power biofutures, renewable energy and ethanol industries.
Canegrowers chief executive Dan Galligan warned the industry’s contribution was being put at risk by the Government’s policy, which he described as one of the biggest “pinballs” in Australian agricultural and political history.
“They’re actually taking away what has been a very useful tool for many businesses in clearing permits, under quite strict conditions.
“It was all under permits and approvals but they’ve just deleted it under the current legislation and that’s a really outrageous thing to do given it’s used in a sensible way.”
Important issue for farmers
Mr Galligan stopped short of saying the laws, if they proceed, would stop the Government achieving its renewable energy target, but said it cast serious doubt about the role of the sugar industry in biofuels and biofutures.
“Our members are involved in a number of projects across the state and the mills are very heavily involved in the production of energy and electricity as alternative uses for their processing facilities, which has been a great thing for the state of Queensland,” he said.
“So, this is a very important issue for farmers across Queensland.”
He also pointed to a submission by Ergon Energy highlighting the difficulty in managing the electricity network posed by the removal of current provisions in the vegetation management regime, and the possibility of further upward pressure on power prices.
The Canegrowers organisation was one of several agricultural lobby groups to front the first of a series of public hearings by the parliamentary committee inquiring into the proposed vegetation management amendments.
Food security at risk
Growcom chief advocate Rachael Mackenzie went further, suggesting the legislation, if not amended, would threaten food security.
The peak body for the largest horticulture-producing state in Australia told the parliamentary inquiry horticulture contributed $2.8 billion annually to Queensland’s gross domestic product.
It urged the committee to reject outright the bill, and failing that, to retain clearing provisions for intensive high-value agriculture when a demonstrated economic or social outcome existed.
Growcom also called for a compensation scheme for land lost to production as a consequence of mandatory buffer.
“Land clearing for horticulture averaged 56 hectares a year under the existing legislation, compared with 5,700 hectares of prime agricultural land lost every year to urbanisation,” Ms McKenzie said.
“Where is our food going to come from?”
Queensland Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy Anthony Lynham has been contacted for a response.