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Queensland Vegetation Laws      

habitat protection

queensland vegetation laws

Vegetation Management Framework Amendment Bill, 2013

On the 20th of March 2013, the Queensland Minister for Natural Resources and Mines, The Honourable Andrew Cripps MP, introduced the Vegetation Management Framework Amendment Bill, 2013 to the Queensland Parliament, and it is currently under consideration by the State Development, Infrastructure and Industry Committee.

The Queensland Parliament states that one of the objectives of the Bill is to ' amend the vegetation management framework,Land Act 1994,Sustainable Planning Act 2009 and Wild Rivers Act 2005 to maintain protection and management of Queensland's native vegetation resources. It is Humane Society International' s view that conversely, the Bill needlessly exposes hundreds of thousands of hectares of currently protected regrowth and remnant vegetation to clearing.

what you can do

Although the opportunity to provide submissions has now closed, it' s not too late to let Minister Cripps and Premier Campbell Newman know what you think of the proposed changes, with the committee due to provide its report to the House by the 14th of May.

Click here to read and send a form letter (please feel free to add your own comments) prepared by HSI, or write directly using the following contact details:

The Honourable Campbell Newman MP, PO Box 15185, City East QLD 4002 - thepremier@premiers.qld.gov.au

The Honourable Andrew Cripps MP, PO Box 15216, City East QLD 4002 - nrm@ministerial.qld.gov.au

The Vegetation Management Act, 1999 (VMA) has played a critical role in protecting remnant vegetation and the clearing of high value regrowth and regrowth around certain watercourses in Queensland, and HSI is deeply concerned that the proposed Bill will result in a weakening of these laws. The integrity of the legislative scheme is underpinned by the application of detailed regulations and a robust methodology for the assessment of environmental outcomes, and the Vegetation Management Framework Amendment Bill, 2013 will undermine that integrity.

In March last year Premier Campbell Newman wrote to conservation groups stating that ' The LNP will retain the current level of statutory vegetation protection.'  However, just one year on his government has announced these proposals to remove regrowth regulations on freehold and indigenous land. HSI is strictly opposed to the fast-tracking of the Vegetation Management Framework Amendment Bill, 2013, which we view to be one of the largest environmental rollbacks in Australian history and a clear breach of an election promise.

The passing of the Vegetation Management Framework Amendment Bill would allow clearing applications to be made for additional relevant purposes of high value agricultural clearing and irrigated high value agricultural clearing. While there are criteria that must be met for those purposes, areas such as Northern Queensland would be freshly vulnerable to extensive clearing for agricultural purposes. Furthermore, all the wild rivers provisions are to be removed from the VMA, which means that clearing on those wild rivers in high preservation areas will be assessed against codes under the VMA and not the stricter wild rivers declared area codes ' “ a significant weakening of existing laws.

It is imperative that any amendments do not conflict with or jeopardise the protection of Threatened Ecological Communities (TECs) listed under the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, 1999 (EPBC Act). Any clearing without sufficient assessment of the vegetation being impacted upon risks vegetation types already under great threat, not to mention the species for which they provide habitat, being pushed ever closer to extinction ' “ allowing landowners to clear such communities existing on their land would open up once resilient and abundant habitat types to the risk of suffering a death by a thousand cuts. Such activities will necessarily call in Federal government intervention under the EPBC Act.

HSI has made a number of very important nominations over the years which have been critical in building the national list of Threatened Ecological Communities (TEC) and hence achieving significant conservation outcomes. Many of these TECs are found partially or entirely within Queensland and we are extremely concerned that the proposed Bill will expose them to further clearing. Typically these communities have already been cleared by more than 90% of their pre-European settlement extent, and the complex ecological relationships they support, developed over millions of years, depend on the survival of what little remains.

A good example of an HSI nominated Threatened Ecological Communities which occurs in Queensland is Natural grasslands on basalt and fine-textured alluvial plains of northern New South Wales and southern Queensland. The independent Threatened Species Scientific Committee agreed with HSI' s submission that this community warranted a listing of Critically Endangered, with the pre-European clearing extent remaining being a tiny 4.3% and the key threats to the community being listed as conversion to improved pastures and cropping and overgrazing by stock. With so little of the ecological community remaining, it is imperative that Queensland' s vegetation laws remain strong and prevent any further loss ' “ unfortunately, should the Vegetation Management Framework Amendment Bill pass unamended, communities such as this will be under even greater threat.

To learn more about Humane Society International' s Threatened Ecological Community nomination program, click here.

Preserving native forests and woodlands has been shown to be the most effective form of mitigating atmospheric carbon levels, with deforestation and forest degradation being responsible for a massive 18-25% of annual global carbon emissions. Broad-scale land clearing releases carbon stored in both vegetation and soil, a process which would be near unchecked should the pieces of legislation in question be weakened. Native vegetation provides essential environmental, social and economic benefits, including protecting water quality, maintaining soil health and providing wildlife habitat.

Of further high concern is the new regulated vegetation management map system that will classify areas of vegetation as a non-assessable Category X. High value regrowth vegetation on freehold and indigenous land which has not been cleared since 1989 is proposed to be moved into this category and will no longer be protected, exposing hundreds of thousands of hectares of regrowth to clearing. Additionally, compliance, offences and enforcement provisions are also set to be significantly weakened. For example the defences are expanded to include ' mistaken belief' , and the penalty provisions that allow for forfeiture of lease if the lessee has more than one conviction for a vegetation clearing offence are removed. It is our view that these changes are completely unwarranted and unnecessarily expose important vegetation to increased clearance.

In 2004 the Queensland government revised the VMA, and phased out broadscale vegetation clearing by 31 December, 2006 - an excellent outcome for biodiversity protection and climate change mitigation. Conversely, the currently proposed Vegetation Management Framework Amendment Bill will place large areas of native vegetation at risk from unrestrained and unsustainable clearing, severely weakening the integrity of these important environment protections and inevitably leading to ongoing destruction and fragmentation of habitat. The Vegetation Management Framework Amendment Bill would significantly weaken protection of vegetation in all areas of the state, and given that hundreds of thousands of hectares of currently protected regrowth and remnant vegetation would be exposed to clearing, passage of this Bill would be a great leap backwards in vegetation protection in Queensland.

Australia has one of the worst mammalian species extinction rates in the world, with broad-scale land clearing featuring at the top of the list of causes in the large majority of cases. Pieces of legislation such as the VMA are the first lines of defence in safeguarding the remnant vegetation that our native fauna rely on, further increasing the importance of maintaining these robust pieces of legislation. Furthermore, the preservation of biodiversity has been shown to be integral to both ecosystem health and economic wellbeing.

 

 


Photo credits:

Cape York Peninsula - HSI/M. Kennedy; Natural Grasslands - D. Butler; Wet Tropics - HSI/E. Quartermain





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