With bushland destruction continuing in Queensland at an apparently escalating rate, Wildlife Queensland wonders when the Palaszczuk government will deliver on its pre-election commitment to reverse the Newman government’s land clearing laws? WPSQ believes that action taken immediately would not be soon enough.
Remnant vegetation, bushland and forests are a valuable resource, providing protection to topsoil and minimising waterlogging and salt contamination. In addition, it provides habitat for our wildlife and assists in minimising the decline of our biodiversity. In appreciation of these values, Queensland’s then Labor government phased out and finally ended broad scale clearing of remnant vegetation in 1999-2003.
The Bligh Labor government went on to build on these laws and, subject to certain conditions, extended them to protect previously cleared bushland in wetlands and watercourses, on steep erodible slopes and in endangered ecosystems. As a result, clearing rates of vegetation fell dramatically from approximately 750,000 ha in 1999-2000 to approximately 78,000 in 2009-2010. This figure continued to decline to around 52,000ha in 2012-2013.
The former Minister responsible for tree clearing, Hon Andrew Cripps MP, outlined the changes to the vegetation management laws in a paper to the Rural Press Club entitled ‘Taking the axe to Queensland’s land clearing laws’, the outcome of which has been devastating for our environment and its wildlife with the rate of clearing in 2013-2014 almost doubling the previous period’s and returning to approximately 95,000ha.
It is Wildlife Queensland’s understanding that Premier Palaszczuk instructed the Minister responsible to reinstate the vegetation protection laws repealed by the previous government. Wildlife Queensland appreciates that legislative change and its due process can take time, and further recognises the same Minister’s current focus on amending Stock Route legislation and other matters.
However, there is a concern that while waiting for the errors of the Newman government to be rectified, another phase of panic clearing may occur which could readily be addressed now by appropriate administrative action. To stop unnecessary clearing, the Act would not necessarily have to be amended immediately; the use of ‘declared areas’ provisions within the existing legislation, for example, could be used to protect high value regrowth areas or valued remnant vegetation. Naturally, a robust compliance and enforcement program would ensure unauthorised clearing were minimised.
However, there is no alternative to amending the Vegetation Management Act and regulation. In doing so, Wildlife Queensland would urge the government to correctly examine all aspects. As good as the previous legislation was, especially when compared with the current, there is considerable scope for improvement.
To see remnant vegetation being remapped as exempt, and regulated remnant vegetation being cleared without explanation, is extremely disappointing. There have even been attempts to alter mapping so that essential habitat required by threatened species can be cleared for sugar cane. Exemptions not necessarily underpinned by science, such as those for High Value Agriculture, are being readily given, putting broad scale clearing back on the agenda.
With land clearing even increasing in the Great Barrier Reef catchments, contributing to the sediment loads which continue to threaten this world-class icon, can there be any wonder that our biodiversity continues to decline?
Land clearing with its devastating impact on our wildlife has resurged in Queensland. Wildlife Queensland appreciates the need for balance between development, society and the environment, but the environment appears to be the forgotten component in this equation. Certainly there is no guarantee that ceasing this bushland destruction would stop or arrest the decline in our biodiversity, but it would, at least, be a step in the right direction.