It is no secret that the administrative framework for the management of state land in Queensland has been under review for many years and certainly since the Bligh government. On 30 July 2015, Hon. Dr Anthony Lynham, Minister for State Development and Minister for Natural Resources and Mines, announced that proposed changes to stock route legislation are the first tranche of a suite designed to simplify and modernise Queensland’s state land administration framework.
Dr Lynham said legislation would be developed in consultation with AgForce and the Local Government Association of Queensland for introduction to parliament early next year. He further added that government would continue to work with drovers, graziers, Indigenous groups, conservation groups, AgForce and councils to modernise the state’s 20th century framework.
Wildlife Queensland has been briefed on the ongoing initiative with the current focus on changes to stock route legislation. Correspondence has been exchanged with the Minister, and from the broad information provided at a briefing and a later telephone conservation, it appears the legislation will be a step in the right direction.
Given their considerable conservation and cultural heritage values, the desire for enhanced management of our stock routes – a unique, vast network, about 72,000 km in length and occupying 2.6M ha linking across landscapes throughout the state – goes way back. The desire turned into action in July 2008 when a unique grouping of like-minded organisations, scientists and drovers from Queensland and New South Wales joined forces. The Queensland chapter elected to pursue a different direction than their colleagues down south and developed a log of claims to sharpen the focus and direct the attention of the government.
In late 2012, it was thought that a battle within the war had been finally won when the Bligh Labor government introduced a bill into parliament. In broad terms, the legislation addressed many of the concerns and issues raised in the log of claims, though there was a need for improvement in several areas: accurate mapping of the primary stock routes, accurate data on actual use, and a more effective compliance and enforcement program. However, the bill progressed no further than its first reading. When the Newman government came to power, enhanced stock route management affording increased protection of biodiversity and cultural heritage was not on the agenda.
Albeit a broad outline, a firm commitment has been given by the current government that Queensland’s stock route will not be disposed of or further fragmented – a real positive from Wildlife Queensland’s perspective. WPSQ agrees with Minister Lynham’s statement that “stock routes will remain primarily a vital source of pasture for travelling stock” but further understands that the objective for conservation of natural and cultural values of the network will be enshrined in legislation.
Wildlife Queensland is not necessarily opposed to local Councils managing the stock routes provided it is done in accordance with the state-government-generated management plan for the entire network enforceable by regulation as contained in the earlier bill.
Furthermore, Wildlife Queensland supports local Councils receiving funds, provided they are used to manage the stock routes, improve pest and weed control, protect the environment and reduce fire risks. While Wildlife Queensland supports the ‘user pays’ concept, other sources of funding than those associated with the grazing industry must be explored. Wildlife Queensland would not be opposed to the use of public funds for the protection or maintenance of public good values.
Stand-alone legislation for the Stock Route Network is supported by WPSQ. The previous bill certainly addressed legislative change. It included a revised classification of the network with an increased focus on pasture management and retention for travelling stock. Land condition, biodiversity cultural heritage and the capacity to adapt to climate change were to be better managed. A transparent process was to be used to classify stock route components into a three-tiered system with more effective control on grazing. The expansion of the membership of the Stock Route Assessment Panel in order to address management of all values of the network was welcomed; however, some aspects of the operation of the panel were of concern.
The proposed legislation addressed many positive changes for management and that is to be applauded; however, without a strong compliance and enforcement program in place there remains a concern that little change will occur. Past history clearly reflects that in some local authority areas there is a lack of resources and expertise, or a political unwillingness, to issue noncompliance orders to prosecute breaches of regulation. Any legislation must ensure that local Councils have the necessary power to deal with breaches and plan for both biodiversity and heritage protection.
The introduction of an electronic database to issue permits and address management concerns should be of great assistance. However, the state Government will need to establish a rigorous compliance program if the true benefits of future legislation are to become a reality.
Minister Lynham indicated that the Palaszczuk government will continue to listen to industry, local government and communities state-wide to build a modern state land system in support of sustainable economic growth and prosperous and thriving communities. This is owed to our environment and its wildlife, and, while we have no right to speak on their behalf, the aims and aspirations of the land’s Traditional Owners.