An inquiry into controversial vegetation management laws in Queensland has been unable to agree on whether the laws should pass.
The Agriculture and Environment Committee tabled its report into proposed amendments to the Vegetation Management Act late on Thursday.
- Recommendation 1 The committee recommends that the Minister for State Development and Minister for Natural Resources and Mines explains to the House, during the second reading debate on the Bill, the consultation process that will be undertaken on the updated self-assessable codes, including details of who will be consulted.
- Recommendation 2 The committee recommends that the Minister for State Development and Minister for Natural Resources and Mines provides an update, during the second reading debate on the Bill, on the steps, including the associated timescales, that will be taken: – to improve the accuracy of vegetation mapping, and – to proactively engage with landholders to provide them with updated property maps of assessable vegetation which correct any inaccuracies.
- Recommendation 3 The committee recommends that the element of clause 6 of the Bill, which inserts new section 67A into the Vegetation Management Act 1999 to reverse the onus of proof in relation to vegetation clearing offences, be omitted.
- Recommendation 4 The committee recommends that the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection engage with the property, resources and development sectors to assess and establish the full impact of the proposed amendments to the environmental offsets regime in Queensland.
- Recommendation 5 The committee recommends that the Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection and Minister for National Parks and the Great Barrier Reef informs the House, during the second reading debate on the Bill, of the outcome of the assessment of the impacts, including potential costs, of the proposed amendments to the environmental offset regime and if any actions will be taken.
It makes five recommendations, including omitting a provision that would reverse the onus of proof on those accused of illegal clearing, improving the accuracy of vegetation mapping, and outlining the consultation process on the updated self assessable codes.
Committee chair Glenn Butcher said in his foreword that the committee received more than 680 submissions and 870 form submissions, and heard from more than 140 witnesses in hearings in Cairns, Townsville, Emerald, Bundaberg, Gympie, Charleville, Roma and Brisbane.
“While not being able to agree to recommend that the bill be passed, the committee was able to agree to a number of sensible recommendations to improve the bill and seek further information from the responsible Ministers for the benefit of the House,” he said.
Non-government MPs Tony Perrett and Rob Katter tabled statements of reservation on the report.
The LNP’s Tony Perrett said the Opposition considered the measures in the bill extensive and aggressive.
“They will apply a brake on investment and job creation, shut down farm management, and will have a negative impact on the agricultural, resource and property industries,” his statement said.
“It demonises the activities of farmers and landholders and is anti-agriculture, anti-resources and anti-economic development generally.
“These measures are being driven by ‘green activists’ which have demanded pay back for previous preference deals and for future support.”
Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) Member for Mount Isa Rob Katter’s statement rejected outright any intention to pass the bill.
“For a multitude of reasons, particularly the apparent impact this legislation would have on the development and the land holders of this state,” he said.
“I am not convinced that the recommendations put forward by the committee can address all of the issues raised in investigation of this bill.
“As such I do not commend the bill to the house and in the hopes of preserving potential development in the State of Queensland I will be voting against this legislation outright.
“The rights of the communities, producers and industries dependent on stable vegetation management laws have simply not been taken into account in the drafting of this bill.”
Conservationists call for ‘broken’ Act to be ‘fixed’
World Wildlife Fund conservation scientist Martin Taylor said the report would not bring opponents and supporters of the bill together, and he doubted either side of the debate could find middle ground.
“At the end of the day everybody’s agreed on the purpose of the Vegetation Management Act, the LNP didn’t change them,” he said.
“To conserve remnant vegetation, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to prevent the loss of biodiversity and land degradation. Are those things happening? No they are not.
“Since the LNP gutted the act remnant vegetation clearing has tripled, the greenhouse gas emissions from land clearing have doubled, and of course we’ve had hundreds of thousands of hectares threatened species habitat cleared, so that can’t be preventing the loss of biodiversity.
“The Act as it was left by the LNP is broken, needs to be fixed, and that’s what should be in the forefront of every body’s mind as we approach the second reading of this bill.”
He said on the issue of the accuracy of mapping, there had been a lot of ‘hysteria’ and ‘whipped up panic’ by opponents of the bill, and recommendations two and three were unnecessary, but conceded recommendation four.
Farmers shift focus to the cross benches
AgForce president Grant Maudsley said the report reflected what the farm lobby group expected would happen, and said the fight to block the laws would now move to the crossbenches.
“If Annastacia Palaszczuk decides to put it back to parliament with only these few changes then she’d be chancing her hand,” he said.
“It really comes down to negotiation with the crossbenches and what they think is a reasonable policy.
“Let’s hope they’re not going to be bought off, we’ve got a very fluid parliament in Queensland now, we’ve got a by-election coming up after the federal election in Toowoomba, that’s going to be very, very interesting.
“We’ve obviously been talking to Billy Gordon and now we’ll start talking to Peter Wellington given that the report’s out.
“The sad thing about all this is that it doesn’t even really talk about some of the other ways you could achieve environmental outcomes. It’s just a big stick and it’s just not nation-leading policy.”