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Law Reform · Access to Justice

The urgent issue of vegetation protection in Queensland

04 March, 2016

Only one instance of illegal clearing during the past year has been successfully prosecuted in Queensland, despite 200 complaints.

Broadscale vegetation clearing causes extensive loss of wildlife habitat, damages soils, pollutes the Great Barrier Reef, and leads to greenhouse gas emissions. That is why EDO Qld, a public interest non-profit community legal centre  is working on this key environmental issue now in partnership with other key conservation  groups, and has done so for two decades.

In the mid 1990s there was massive broadscale vegetation clearing in Queensland. An incredible estimated 2-300,000 hectares or so bulldozed every year. Queenslanders had to fight just to get those figures on clearing rates made public.

After successive public campaigns by the conservation sector, and general community concern when images of bulldozed forests were publicised,  Premier Peter Beattie’s State government brought in new laws in 2004 to restrict broadscale land clearing, the Vegetation Management and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2004 (Queensland).

A sigh of relief was breathed. Commonwealth governments of all political persuasions pointed to those Queensland land clearing restrictions to help achieve Australia’s targets under the Kyoto Protocol. Substantial financial assistance, $150 million, was allocated to rural representative organisations and farmers to help rural industries cope with the new rules. Clearing did not stop completely. In fact a very large amount was still routinely being cleared in Queensland under exemptions and exceptions.

In 2010 under Premier Bligh restrictions were placed on the clearing of high-value regrowth vegetation and native vegetation adjacent to regrowth watercourses in the Burdekin, Mackay Whitsunday and Wet Tropics catchments. But after Premier  Newman took government he loosened the rules, allowing clearing for poorly defined “high value agricultural” purposes and allowing more clearing under self assessable codes. Our 2013 submission opposing those changes is here.

In 2015 Queensland Premier Anastasia Palaszczuk made a pre-election promise to reinstate the ALP’s nation leading tree clearing laws weakened under Premier Newman. That has not occurred. Instead, disturbing incidences of land clearing allowed or approved under the weakened laws continue, cases like:

Only one instance of illegal clearing during the past year has been successfully prosecuted in Queensland, despite 200 complaints.

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

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