At a recent address to the Queensland Rural Press Club, Hon Andrew Cripps M.P., Minister for Natural Resources and
Mines stated ‘The previous Labor Government had allowed the pendulum to swing too far towards extreme green policies…’ and this was the justification for breaking a commitment of the now Premier, Campbell Newman, made prior to the last election. A commitment was given to World Wildlife Fund and the Queensland Conservation Council on behalf of a large number of conservation organisations that the ‘LNP will retain the current level of statutory vegetation protection’ under the then existingVegetation Management Act and related legislation. That was justified because even under that legislation biodiversity was still in decline and illegal clearing still occurring.
To address the perceived wrongs of the former Government on 20 March 2013 Minister Cripps introduced the Vegetation Management Framework Bill 2013 to the Queensland Parliament.
The Bill was referred to the State Development Infrastructure and Industry Committee for consideration. The Committee called for submissions that closed on 10 April 2013. In spite of the relative short time frame, 152 submissions were received. A brief analysis of the submissions reveals that almost 30% were opposed to the Bill, about 5% ambivalent and about 65% in favour of the amendments. However about two thirds of the submissions in favour were details provided in a set proforma but obviously valid submissions. Following the close of submissions several invited public hearings were held in April.
The Bill allegedly:
- reduces red tape
- supports the four pillar economy-construction, resources, agriculture and tourism (Where is the environment that underpins all these pillars?)
- maintains protection and management of Queensland’s native vegetation resources.
However there is no mention of the broken commitment or potential environmental harm that has the potential to eventuate.
Unquestionably the Bill puts bushland and forests and the wildlife they house under considerable threat. The Bill may permit the removal of some 700 000 ha of important ecological significant vegetation. In addition exemptions and Ministerial whims may allow clearing of unspecified high conservation value forests for high value agriculture.
Obviously Wildlife Queensland lodged a submission for consideration. Major concerns focussed on:
- potential for massive additional clearing of Queensland’s vegetation
- protection of vegetation in a number of catchments weakened
- additional relevant purposes for which clearing applications can be made could see the reintroduction of broadscale clearing
- introduction of simplified regulated vegetation maps will lead to inappropriate clearing of key environmental regional ecosystems
- enforcement and compliance provisions weakened
- concern about lack of scientific rigour underpinning many of the decisions
- concern about the lack of clear and appropriate definitions for key terms used in the Bill
- concern about the Minister’s capacity and ability to evaluate self assessable codes for a broad range of activities.
However there is one aspect that Wildlife Queensland may support subject to close examination and the self assessable code being underwritten by science and an appropriate compliance program is in place. That aspect is a self assessable code for harvesting of mulga (Acacia aneura).
The current prescriptive policy and guidelines for the harvesting of mulga are resulting in suboptimal outcomes for the environment and production. It is acknowledged that the mulga lands bioregion is one of, if not, the most naturally unstable land systems in Queensland. Furthermore certain aspects of this landscape are under pressure from a biological point of view. Wildlife Queensland is not talking about alleged harvesting of mulga for fodder and then the sowing of exotic pastures that is development and must be treated as such. However these lands have produced food and fibre for over 140 years and provided the mulga is managed appropriately with scientifically based self assessable codes can continue to do so for years to come.
These proposed amendments to the Vegetation Management Act arising from the Bill have been drafted and rushed through with little or no consultation of many interest groups including the conservation movement as well as the broader community.
The State Development Infrastructure and Industry Committee has to report back by 14 May 2013.
It is feasible that legislation could be debated and passed by end of May 2013. This is imminent! If you have concerns let your local member know. Email the Premier. Write to your local paper. This environmental wind-back and loss of protection should not be allowed to occur.
For more information on Wildlife Queensland’s activities, call us on +61 7 3221 0194 or send us anemail.