On 6 February 2017 Wildlife Queensland appeared at the public hearing on the Stock Route Network Management Bill 2016. The fate of this Bill is yet to be determined.
Queensland’s Stock Route Network, 72,000km in length and covering 2.6M ha of public lands, is deemed to be a public road. Though its primary purpose is to support bona fide traveling stock, its linkage across the landscape ensures the Network possesses conservation, cultural heritage and other values.
Tabled in Parliament in November 2016 by the Palaszczuk Government, the Bill was referred to the Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources Committee for consideration and report back by 7 March 2017. The primary objective of the Bill is to ‘provide a single contemporary Act that manages Queensland’s stock route network (the network) and administers stock (travel and grazing) and pasture harvesting activities on the network and other related roads and reserves’.
Wildlife Queensland has always had a strong interest in this natural icon, and became a key player in 2008 in the Stock Route Coalition, a broad range of community organisations including conservationists, drovers, naturalists, Indigenous groups and national trusts, united under one banner to protect and manage the entire network.
Concerned that generations of public management of the stock routes could be undermined by state governments wanting to change the network’s management and ownership – placing this national asset at risk – the Coalition commenced advocating for standalone legislation and that no part of the network be sold or fragmented. It worked to protect the network’s biodiversity, aboriginal heritage, post settlement heritage, social and tourism values.
Other key issues for the Coalition included the need for a state management plan for the network and the importance of compliance with it while there was no opposition to delegating management to local authorities. The role of the network in mitigating against climate change also needed to be acknowledged and incorporated into relevant state strategies.
Now, more than eight years later, Wildlife Queensland welcomes the Stock Route Network Management Bill 2016. Many aspects of the Bill address key issues as well as shortfalls of the existing legislation, and though Wildlife Queensland is not opposed to the broad general direction of the Bill, the devil is always in the detail. Until the details have been considered, Wildlife Queensland is not in a position to give its unqualified support.
Wildlife Queensland supports the primary purpose of meeting the needs of traveling stock, but the clause regarding recognising natural, cultural, recreation and tourism value needs to be strengthened. There is a need to do more than simply recognise these values; these values must be conserved.
The previous Bill, which lapsed in March 2012, included the role of climate change. The fact that the impact of climate change has been omitted from the 2016 Bill is disappointing and Wildlife Queensland feels strongly that it should be included once again.
With transparency and accountability being fundamental to good governance, the determination of the simplified classification of the Stock Route Network must be transparent and publicly available. The process for challenging the classification also must be readily available to the community.
There is provision for the establishment of Advisory Panels (Part 4 other Provisions 128); however, it is disappointing that the requirement for A Stock Route Assessment Panel with stipulated categories of representation is not mandatory. Reinstatement of such a panel would certainly contribute to transparency.
Wildlife Queensland has in-principle support for The State Management Plan, the simplification of the network classification and the identification of special interest areas. The proposed activities appropriately permitted and conditioned are not of a major concern provided adequate pasture is available for bona fide traveling stock. Monitoring of pasture as provided for in the Bill is absolutely essential. However, ensuring local authorities have the expertise to manage the network within their area of control is absolutely essential.
Wildlife Queensland supports the ‘user pays’ concept. No detailed comment is provided on proposed charges; however, fees imposed on traveling stock must be set so that such activity remains a viable option. Failure to do so would put this national asset at risk.
While the Bill appears to have adequately addressed infringements, and that is to be applauded, without a strong compliance and enforcement program in place there is the concern that little will change in spite of the enhanced legislation. History clearly reflects that some local authorities, either through a lack of resources, expertise or political willingness, have been reluctant to issue non-compliance orders or prosecute breaches of legislation. No doubt the introduction of an electronic database to issue permits and address other management issues will be of assistance in ensuring enhanced management.
Wildlife Queensland awaits the recommendations of the Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources Committee and the fate of this Bill in the house. Only then will we be in a position to determine whether the battle for the conservation of the ‘long paddock’ can be set aside, at least for the time being.