Cape York Land Clearing, Olive vale and the Great Barrier Reef.
Concern over Queensland’s devastating land clearing rates has been resonating throughout the state since changes to the Vegetation Management Act made by the LNP Newman Government led to new approvals for clearing in Cape York and elsewhere– some in the very last days of the LNP administration.
Before the election win in February this year, the now Palaszczuk government committed to re-tightening the legislation around land clearing, and returning Queensland to the forefront of vegetation preservation. In the three months since, there is rising concern that they have done little more than reassure landowners that they are in no rush to change the legislation.
In 2013 a group of 26 senior scientists expressed their deep concern over proposed amendments to the Vegetation Management Act by Newman’s LNP Government in order to allow for intensive agriculture. They argued that returning to the antiquated practices of mass-scale clearing would result in loss of biodiversity, worsening erosion, salinity and water quality as well as a significant contribution to carbon emissions. They reminded the LNP government that was stricter regulations on land clearing that allowed Australia to meet the Kyoto Protocol.
Their pleas were unheard by the Newman government that swiftly enacted the Vegetation Framework Amendment Act 2013 and consequently stirred a movement of industrial scale land clearing across regional Queensland. It permitted the clearing of high value regrowth on indigenous and freehold land.
Although the actual data of vegetation clearing is not yet publicly available, disturbing figures were leaked showing 275, 000 hectares of native vegetation had been cleared in the last financial year, nearly triple the rates of 2010.
Areas around Cape York and gulf country are of particular concern, with a permit granted by the LNP government to clear 32,000 hectares on a single property. Olive Vale is believed to be of World Heritage value and is home to at least 17 threatened species. Furthermore, broad-scale clearing of the property for “high value agriculture” or grazing, will threaten to increase runoff and pollution into the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon. The presence of these threats to both threatened species and the Great Barrier Reef required action on the part of the Federal Government. As a result, the Environment Minister Greg Hunt initiated an urgent review of the case, claiming that the permit was issued without his knowledge.
Despite the Palaszczuk government’s willingness to jump on the bandwagon and condemn the Olive Vale case, there has been little indication of their upholding their pre-election commitment to roll back the 2013 amendments. Although conservation groups are actively lobbying for the promised changes, this may also have the undesired effect of causing a further spike in land clearing. Data indicates that when a tightening of regulations has been foreshadowed in the past, agriculturalists tend to panic and subsequently take to their vegetation with great enthusiasm and urgency. In order to prevent this imminent vegetation apocalypse, changes to the legislation must be made swiftly, and the data made publically available.
Article by CAFNEC volunteer Cosima Fauldi published 11/06/2015
- Contact the Premier and call for vegetation protection laws to be reinstated immediately.
- Contact Federal Environment Minister Hunt and call on him to put a halt to Olive Vale clearing using the EPBC Act to protect species of national significance.