The Queensland LNP Government has been in control for over 6 months, the budget has been handed down and public
servant numbers reduced. How is the natural environment and its wildlife weathering this time of change? The answer varies depending on what aspect you are considering.
- The budget saw a number of pre-election commitments met. About $35m for expansion of national parks, $26.5m for koala acquisition of habitat and research and $7.4 for Nature Assist. However the number of staff that addresses the Nature Refuge program has been halved. Nature Refuges are declared subject to an agreement between Government and the landholder or lessee. They are a significant means of delivering biodiversity conservation on private or leasehold lands complementing other tenures under the Nature Conservation Act and second to national park tenure in extent. The Government is sending mixed messages about the role nature refuges will continue to play. The announcement of Everyone’s Environment Grants Program, $12.5m in total with $3m in the first year, is a positive.
- The situation with regard to national parks is very confusing. Funds have been provided to increase the extent – but other statements indicate the cardinal principle of management is at risk. There was talk of selling off national parks and opening others up for increased public access. Except for National Parks (Scientific), national parks have always been open to appropriate passive use by the public. The tourist industry already exploits national parks through a range of activities. There is no denying that the tourist industry has a place in national park management but that has to remain as a secondary function to the internationally recognised primary purpose – the protection and conservation of our biodiversity.
- Actions adversely affecting wildlife are causing concern. The reintroduction of lethal damage mitigation permits to kill up to 10500 flying foxes by using shotguns indicates lack of concern for animal welfare. Two of these species – spectacled and grey-headed – are listed under the Commonwealth EPBC Act. On the other hand, action has been initiated to reduce the level of pain when dugong or turtle are taken by indigenous peoples for cultural purposes is an apparent demonstration of concern for animal welfare issues. The approach to crocodile management again appears to reflect a lack of understanding of the needs of wildlife and the role wildlife plays in ecological services and process
- The pre-election commitment not to amend theVegetation Management Act appears to be honoured. However with a wind-back of compliance and enforcement programs, the alleged proposed changed
policy interpretation and reduction in the need for at least some permits, it appears that amendments to the legislation has been achieved by stealth. Offset policies are under review and the recent biodiversity conservation strategy is due to meet a similar fate. Similarly it is our understanding that the Stock Route Management Bill that would have introduced enhanced management of this national icon will certainly be amended and undoubtedly the environment will be the loser.
- Wild Rivers legislation is under review and it appears the commitment to leave the declared wild rivers of south-western Queensland alone has been put aside. The Reef Plan to protect the Great Barrier Reef has survived and funding has been made available to buyout particular net fishing licences. However, there is talk of fishing in green zones in marine parks. Much needed expansion of green zones in certain marine parks and the declaration of additional marine parks in State waters appear unlikely to occur.
- Planning instruments are under review. The State Planning Policies are to be set aside and a focus on paying greater respect to the role of local government in making decisions. It appears that the thrust of the Government is to reduce green tape and expedite approvals – meaning the environment will suffer. Without question the fragmentation and loss of habitat which these amendments will only accelerate is the major contributor to the decline in biodiversity. A major restriction to challenging inappropriate developments by concerned groups or individuals is the change in the Planning and Environment Court where the party who loses pays all court costs not simply their own. Other processes and procedures are to be introduced or provided but only time will tell if such arrangements are as effective as past practices.
- The establishment of the Queensland Gas Fields Commission to oversee the Coal Seam Gas industry is a positive. The Government is also to be commended on stopping Connors River Dam although it appears the Nathan Dam is still on the agenda.
- So it can be seen that in the first 6 months the LNP has sent confused messages. Wildlife Queensland has endeavoured to establish a working relationship with the Queensland Government. We have entered into a partnership in establishing Friends of Taunton. A working relationship has been established with Andrew Powell, Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection. Minister Powell meets with Wildlife Queensland and is prepared to discuss issues within the constraints of the various LNP policies. Naturally the views of the Minister and Wildlife Queensland on a range of issues do not align but it certainly assists in transparency and an understanding of the Government’s position.
It is early days for the Government. Hopefully the situation will change with time and a better understanding of the needs of the environment and actions required to address Queensland’s declining biodiversity will surface before it is irreversible.
- Qld re-introduces shooting of threatened flying-fox species on Threatened Species Day – 7 September 2012
- Inquiry into Government land tenure across Queensland – August 2012
- Friends of Taunton National Park – a joint venture with the new Queensland Government – July 2012
- The Future for Flying Foxes – June 2012
For more information on Wildlife Queensland’s activities, call us on +61 7 3221 0194 or send us an email.