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Law Reform · Nature & the Reef

Tree clearing bill introduced into Qld Parliament

09 March, 2018

The Queensland government has tabled a highly anticipated Bill seeking to implement its promise to “end broadscale clearing in Queensland”.

On 8 March 2018 the Vegetation Management and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 was introduced into the Queensland Parliament. This Bill has been introduced to address the government’s commitments to end broad-scale tree clearing in Queensland.

Have your say before noon Thursday 22 March 2018 using our template submission

The Bill is a reasonable first step in making needed improvements to reduce the state’s deforestation and tree clearing crisis. Queensland now has an international reputation for the extent of clearing that has been allowed since the Newman Government greatly weakened our tree clearing laws. This clearing has been jeopardising our wildlife, impacting our Great Barrier Reef water quality and stifling work to reduce the risks of dangerous climate change.

However there are changes that must be made to strengthen the Bill, otherwise excessive clearing of wildlife habitats, impacts to Reef water quality and climate change emissions will continue.

The following elements of the VMOLA Bill are strongly supported as they are a step to help reduce excessive clearing in Queensland:

  1. Removal of the ability to obtain permits for high value agriculture and high value irrigated agriculture. The Statewide Landcover and Trees Study found that 10% of mature bushland clearing from 2013-2016 happened under these permit types, with generally insufficient verification that the land was high value agricultural land, was needed for agriculture, and was actually utilised for the agricultural activity applied for; (see clause 16)
  2. Reintroduction of the requirement to obtain Riverine Protection Permits to better regulate damaging clearing in watercourses (see clauses 51 and 52);
  3. Phasing out existing Area Management Plans which have allowed significant clearing under lower regulation across Queensland; (see clause 14)
  4. Extended protections of regrowth vegetation near watercourses across Great Barrier Reef catchments, to reduce damaging runoff, including Eastern Cape York, Fitzroy and Burnett-Mary catchments which were not protected under the VM Act currently. (see clauses 133 and 38)

EDO Qld generally support the following amendments, however it is essential that they are strengthened by our proposed amendments to truly reduce excessive clearing of wildlife habitat, impacts to the Great Barrier Reef and climate change emissions:

  1. Improved protection of ‘high value regrowth vegetation’, being vegetation that has grown back well after being cleared. The Bill creates a broader definition, including vegetation that hasn’t been cleared for 15 years and re-extending regulation to freehold, indigenous land and occupational licences (see clause 38). This is supported.
  2. However, ‘high value regrowth vegetation’ must be extended to fully meet the government’s election commitment by protecting high conservation value regrowth vegetation. Extra amendments are needed to allow much more extensive protection including endangered vegetation species and communities, vegetation in reef catchments, riparian areas, threatened species habitat and areas where landscape integrity is at risk.[1]
  3. Tightening of the definition of ‘thinning’ (now known as ‘managing thickened vegetation’) is supported. The Bill now requires that thinning activities must ‘maintain ecological processes and prevent loss of diversity’. To ensure this definition is given effect there must be a requirement that it be demonstrated prior to clearing being allowed. (See clauses 4 and 38)
  4. However, to truly reduce the significant clearing allowed for ‘thinning’ it should no longer be an allowable activity by permit or code, particularly not for mature and high value regrowth vegetation and under existing Area Management Plans.Thinning’ can include clearing up to 75% of a forest under current laws and has been responsible for significant clearing across Queensland without scientific justification that this is a necessary activity at all.
  5. The Bill clarifies that landholders may seek to amend their property map of assessable vegetation (PMAV) to re-regulate clearing in areas which were locked in across Queensland as not needing assessment under Newman Government laws. This clarification is supported as helpful.
  6. However, the Bill needs to be changed to require amendment of maps that lock in unregulated clearing of all high value vegetation. Under the Newman Government, significant areas of Queensland were locked in under property level maps which allowed the clearing of unregulated ‘category X’ even though the clearing would impact mature, high value vegetation. Leaving map amendment up to the land owner will leave significant areas of Queensland where clearing is unregulated.
  7. The Bill does not tighten excessive clearing allowed under fodder harvesting codes so amendments are needed. Fodder harvesting should be limited to where there is an official drought declaration.

The Bill does not include the reversal of the onus of proof offence provision, nor the removal of the mistake of fact defence provisions, which were previously in the VM Act prior to the amendments by the Newman Government. 

The Bill has been referred to the State Development, Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee for their inquiry into the Bill. The Committee must provide their report by 23 April 2018.  

Have your say before noon Thursday 22 March 2018 using our template submission

Submissions must include:

  • Author’s name

And at least two of the following:

  • Mailing address
  • Email address
  • Daytime telephone number

Submissions should be sent to:

Email: sdnraidc@parliament.qld.gov.au

Committee Secretary
State Development , Natural Resources
and Agricultural Industry Development Committee
Parliament House
George Street
Brisbane Qld 4000

See the parliamentary committee inquiry page here.

[1]Queensland Labor, 2017 ‘Saving Habitat, Protecting Wildlife and Restoring Land’ Policy Document, https://www.queenslandlabor.org/media/20226/alpq-saving-habitat-policy-document-v3.pdf 

Environmental Defenders Office Queensland (EDO Qld) gives a strong legal voice to the environment when needed most.

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