A new push to reduce the regulation of vegetation management, led by Mr Shane Knuth, a member of Katter’s Australian Party, who introduced a bill to Queensland Parliament on 26 October 2017 to amend the Vegetation Management Act 1999 (Qld). The bill lapsed when Parliament dissolved for the upcoming election and it remains to be seen whether the bill will be reintroduced in the next parliament.
The policy objectives of the bill were to amend the Vegetation Management Act to create an obligation on the chief executive to issue an information notice where an application for clearing, as assessed under section 22A of the Act, has been rejected and remove ‘grazing activities’ from the definition of ‘high value agriculture clearing’ to ensure that it is considered a relevant purpose under the Act.
Mr Knuth stated that these objectives had been developed to address gaps within the existing legislative framework that limit the ability of primary producers to clear land for legitimate purposes. At present, grazing is not considered a relevant purpose for high-value agriculture clearing which, according to Mr Knuth, ‘limits the ability of a grazier to establish sources of feed to improve the productivity of their operations’, thereby restricting profits. He assured, however, that if such an amendment occurred, the existing legislative and regulatory framework would provide adequate mitigation against detrimental environmental impacts.
However, the Vegetation Management Act in its current form has been criticised for falling short in providing the safeguards necessary for preventing environmental degradation. According to the latest Statewide Landcover and Trees Study report, land clearing in Queensland increased by 33% in 2015-16 compared with the previous year. Further, since July 2016, over 1,500 properties have gained approval or notified their intention to clear a combined area of over 1 million hectares of land.
Elevated levels of clearing in Queensland not only puts greater pressure on already threatened species such as koala populations; it results in sediment flows into the Great Barrier Reef as 40% of all clearing occurs in reef catchments. Further, the Federal Government’s direct action climate change policy could be undermined, which has involved subsidising landholders to refrain from clearing their land in an attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Deputy premier Jackie Trad has attributed the rise in land clearing to a regression to ‘the bad old days of bulldozing hundreds of thousands of hectares of woody and remnant vegetations in order to make way particularly for pasture for cows’.
The Labor government has promised strong laws to stymie the rate of land clearing if re-elected. NSW Farmers president, Derek Schoen, said Queensland and NSW producers face ongoing issues with the workability of self-assessable codes and the ‘complexity and duplicity of federal environmental law’ faced by all states.
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