Queensland poised to pass tougher land-clearing laws as early as next week | Australia news
The Queensland government may push land-clearing laws through parliament as early as next week, after a committee report recommended few changes to its proposed vegetation management act.
The report, tabled late on Monday night, noted concerns from the Liberal National party opposition that the process was rushed and that consultation with people in regional areas had been inadequate.
The government could now move to pass the land-clearing laws before Beef Week in Rockhampton, a key forum for pastoralists, many of whom oppose the measures. Beef Week begins on 6 May.
Clearing laws have long been controversial in Queensland, which is responsible for more land clearing than the rest of the country combined. A new report from the Climate Council calculates that bushland more than seven times the size of Brisbane was cleared between 2012 and 2016.
More than 1m hectares of woody vegetation was cleared in Queensland between 2012-13 and 2015-16 and the state accounted for between 50% and 65% of the total loss of native forests across Australia over the past four decades, the report found.
Vegetation management regulations were brought in by the Beattie government but then effectively scrapped in 2013 when the LNP came to power.
The Palaszczuk government attempted to restore many of the Beattie-era measures in 2016 but its bill was defeated in the minority parliament. It is expected to use its second-term majority to quickly pass the bill.
The state development, natural resources and agricultural industry committee recommended measures including the establishment of Indigenous country use areas to help support development and job creation, particularly on Cape York.
The committee also suggested development applications for clearing should be cheaper and easier for landowners to obtain.
The committee made eight recommendations but none significantly alters the bill as it was proposed.
Some environmental groups had raised concerns about loopholes that could allow the continued clearing of high-value vegetation where landowners had already “locked in” their vegetation maps.
The Queensland Conservation Council welcomed the report.
“This bill represents an important milestone in Queensland’s land-clearing legislative approach”, the council’s head, Tim Seelig, said on Tuesday.
“It will see the ending of broadscale remnant clearing for spurious agricultural reasons, it will see the reprotection of high conservation value regenerating woodlands under a modified definition, and it will see a curtailing of remnant thinning.
“It will extend reef riparian area protections and terminate current area management plans.”
Seelig said the conservation council was disappointed the committee had not sought to close “gaps” they had asked to be closed. He said more still needed to be done to ensure koala habitat was out of bounds to all development.
“We recognise the bill will not stop all clearing of native woodlands in Queensland. It will not fully address Queensland’s land-clearing crisis,” Seelig said. “Nevertheless, it is a significant step forward that will make a big difference, and we welcome and support it.”
Climate scientist Prof Will Steffen said the bill would significantly improve protection.
“Proposed amendments to Queensland’s Vegetation Management Act (1999) would, if passed, lead to a tripling of protected forest areas in the Sunshine State, from an estimated 500,000 hectares to 1.8 million hectares, while simultaneously cutting greenhouse gas pollution levels,” he said.
AgForce, the main lobby group for the pastoral industry, said farmers were angry and had “hit the end of their rope” after the committee recommended the laws be passed.
The AgForce president, Grant Maudsley, said the laws were “the worst of both worlds”.
“The changes will make it harder for farmers to grow food and fibre, shut down agricultural development opportunities and lead to worse not better environmental outcomes,” he said.
“Farmers love and care for their land and the vast majority know how to manage it responsibly.
“Farmers have had enough. It doesn’t have to be like this. There is no need to ram these flawed laws through as quickly as possible. We’re all in this together, we all eat food and we all care for the environment.”
LNP members of the committee submitted a dissenting report opposing the new laws. They said there was a lack of consultation with industry groups.
“The significance of this proposed legislation on the agricultural industry was deserving of a much more wholesome engagement, and many submitters expressed their anger and disappointment at this constrained timeframe, both online and at the public hearings across the state,” the dissenting report said.
They said expanded powers of entry for government departmental staff gave them powers beyond those of the police.
The LNP members of the committee also said mapping of vegetation and the statewide landcover and trees study on which the legislation was based did not account for regrowth.
“To not base this legislation on science fails to tell the whole story around vegetation in Queensland,” they said.