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MEDIA RELEASE “Taking the axe to Queensland’s tree clearing laws” not such a bright idea

vegetation clearing24 April 2013

The Newman government is proposing amendments to the Vegetation Management Framework that would reduce protection of our native vegetation and allow the clearing of an estimated 700,000 hectares of Queensland’s endangered and ecologically significant forests and woodlands.

“The proposed Vegetation Management Framework Amendment Bill causes us to have serious concerns about the future of Queensland’s terrestrial biodiversity and the future health of the Great Barrier Reef. If passed, this Bill would represent the biggest wind-back of environmental protection laws in Queensland’s history” said Anna McGuire, Coordinator of the Cairns and Far North Environment Centre.

“Many of the amendments are not in the long term interests of Queensland communities and are in direct conflict with the purpose of the Vegetation Management Act, which is to make land use more sustainable by preserving biodiversity and maintaining ecological processes.”

“These amendments effectively prioritise economic interests over ecological concerns. This Bill should be rejected for the sake of maintaining our soil and waterway health, protecting biodiversity, and safeguarding the future prosperity of our regional and rural communities.”

“Protecting vegetation is critical for maintaining the fundamental ecosystem services that our regional, rural and urban communities rely on. Maintaining native vegetation cover is a fundamental aspect of ensuring ongoing prosperity for the agricultural sector. Vegetation protects topsoil and maintains healthy waterways, and is necessary for sustainable agricultural production in the long term.”

“Minister Cripps describes these proposed changes as ‘practical reforms’ that will ‘pave the way for sustainable development of new agricultural areas’, but these proposed changes would lead to loss of biodiversity, degradation of water quality, loss of topsoil and decreased soil health.”

“These amendments would lead to further fragmentation of an already fragmented landscape, resulting in species declines and loss of ecosystem function. The effects of clearing and fragmentation of native vegetation are well researched and absolutely clear – any clearing within these fragments will have significant long term negative impacts on biodiversity values and on species’ survival.”

“These changes would result in degradation of waterways, including Wild Rivers, with lasting impacts on the health of the Great Barrier Reef. Large-scale vegetation clearing increases the amount of sediment and nutrient runoff flowing out in to the reef lagoon, placing further stress on the reef.”

“We also have concerns regarding policing and enforcement of vegetation clearing under the revised framework. Removal of the capacity for judicial review and placing decision making entirely in the hands of the Chief Executive, removes a fundamental democratic check and allows for politically appointed Chief Executives to make unsound and unreviewable decisions that reflect political ideology, rather than being in the best interests of land stewardship.
Contact – Anna McGuire P: 4032 1746 E: coord@cafnec.org.au

 


 

Background
The vegetation management framework consists of the Vegetation Management Act 1999 (VMA) and the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 and their regulations. Since its introduction in 2000, the framework, policy and codes (developed through extensive stakeholder consultation and with extensive input from the scientific community) which have been applauded by state and national environmental organisations, natural resource management bodies, state and commonwealth government agencies, indigenous organisations, local government, landholders and industry a s a critical tool that to protect Queensland’s native vegetation.
Queensland’s Vegetation Management Act, introduced in 1999, slowed land clearing from more than 50,000 ha per year before laws were introduced to 77,590 ha in 2009-10. Changes to the laws in 2009 gave extra protections to regrowth vegetation in recognition that many ecosystems had been pushed so far to the brink that recovery was their only hope.
The Newman Government is proposing amendments to the Vegetation Management Framework that would mean:

  • Clearing applications could now be made for ‘additional relevant purposes’ of high value agricultural clearing and irrigated high value agricultural clearing. This would mean that north Queensland would be exposed to extensive clearing for agricultural purposes, with adverse impacts on the GBR.
  • High value regrowth vegetation on freehold land and indigenous land (regrowth which hasn’t been cleared since 1989) will no longer be protected, exposing hundreds of thousands of hectares of regrowth to clearing.
  • All Wild River provisions will be removed from the VMA, meaning that clearing along these rivers will be assessed under standard VMA codes rather than previous stricter Wild Rivers codes. Declared Wild Rivers in the GBR catchment that this will affect are: Hinchinbrook, Lockhart Basin and Stewart Basin.
  • Compliance, offences and enforcement provisions will be significantly weakened. For example the defences are expanded to include ‘mistaken belief’. A lease could no longer be forfeited if the lessee has more than one conviction for a vegetation clearing offence.
  • Removing of the capacity for judicial review and placing the decision making entirely in the hands of the Chief Executive which will remove a fundamental democratic check. This would allow for a politically appointed Chief Executive to make unsound and un-reviewable decisions that reflect the wishes of their political superiors, rather than being in the best interests of land stewardship.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://cafnec.org.au/2013/04/24/media-release-taking-the-axe-to-queenslands-tree-clearing-laws-not-such-a-bright-idea/