The Newman Government is proposing amendments to the Vegetation Management Act 1999 that will 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 (page 39 line 17), 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.
These proposed amendments to the Vegetation Management Act (VMA) cause us to have serious concerns about the future of Queensland’s terrestrial biodiversity, as well as concerns about the long term sustainability of Queensland’s agricultural sector, and the future health of the Great Barrier Reef. These amendments are in direct conflict with the original purpose of the VMA, and are not in the long term interests of Queensland communities.
The purpose of the original Vegetation Management Act is to make land use more sustainable by preserving biodiversity and maintaining ecological processes, a critical part of ensuring inter-generational equity in access to the natural environment.
These amendments insert an economic imperative that overrides ecological concerns in allowing for the clearing of Endangered Regional Ecosystems. Most of our most fertile lands are already cleared, what little remains deserves protection. These tiny fragments, and in the case of Brigalow and Mabi Forest they really are tiny, provide critical habitat for threatened species – and yet if someone thinks they can make a few dollars by clearing, then it will be permitted. The effects of clearing and fragmentation of natural vegetation are well researched and absolutely clear – any clearing within these fragments will have a significant long term negative impacts on biodiversity values of the land.
Why protecting native vegetation is important
- Not only is it important to protect native vegetation to preserve endangered plants and ecosystems and to provide habitat for native fauna, but also to ensure intergenerational equity in access to resources and to ensure prosperity of future generations.
- Protecting vegetation is critical for maintaining the fundamental ecosystem services that our regional, rural and urban communities rely on.
- Native vegetation cover safeguards soil health and water quality, and sequesters carbon.
- Maintaining native vegetation cover is a fundamental aspect of ensuring ongoing prosperity for the agricultural sector. Vegetation protects topsoil and maintains water quality in 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 and loss of topsoil and loss of soil health.
- Soil health, as any farmer can tell you, is fundamental to agricultural production. Removing riparian vegetation and losing topsoil to erosion does not lead to ‘sustainable agriculture’.
For more information you can read our April 2013 submission on this issue.
If you’re concerned about this issue, please contact Premier Newman (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Minister for Natural Resources and Mines, Andrew Cripps MP (email@example.com).