I AM proud to stand in the parliament tonight to deliver on Queensland Labor's election commitment to restore balance to our state's vegetation management laws through the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016.
This bill follows in the great tradition of Labor governments before us that have acted in the interests of all Queenslanders on this issue. Unfortunately, there has never been a consensus on vegetation management in Queensland.
Despite the difficult and contentious nature of tree clearing, I want to again acknowledge that it has always been Labor governments in this state that have taken action on this issue on behalf of all Queenslanders.
This time it is no different. We recognise that we have a moral obligation to act for future generations. When it comes to vegetation management, Labor will not hide from this issue because it is difficult or because it is hard. It is the Labor way to champion reform that is based on science, that is based on evidence, that is based on fact.
Let us not forget that those opposite did not even want this bill to go to the committee for community consultation and they did not even want to have a debate in this House about this important issue as it affects the future of Queensland. Ultimately, the facts will win out.
Queenslanders are smart, despite what those opposite think. Queenslanders understand that the level of native vegetation destruction in our state is unsustainable and law-makers and leaders just cannot stand by and do nothing.
While vegetation management has always been a significant issue in Queensland going back decades, I hope tonight's debate can be argued not on emotion or careless fearmongering but on science and the facts—a debate that looks beyond short-term self-interests and instead focuses on the type of Queensland we want to leave our children and our grandchildren.
The key changes of this bill include stopping the broadscale clearing of remnant vegetation for high-value and irrigated high-value agriculture. The inclusion of high-value and irrigated high-value agriculture as purposes for clearing our most ecologically important vegetation in Queensland was nothing short of a rort.
There are no greater examples of this than the permits that were granted for clearing at Olive Vale and Strathmore Station. Under the Newman-Nicholls government, landholders were granted permits to clear thousands of hectares of remnant vegetation without proper land suitability and financial surety assessments.
There was also no requirement included for landholders who were granted these permits to actually demonstrate that the land they cleared was for high-value crops.
The second element of the bill is to re-regulate clearing of high-value regrowth vegetation on freehold and Indigenous land. High-value regrowth is native vegetation that has not been cleared since 1989, some 27 years.
These are mature trees that are home to large numbers of wildlife and contribute to Queensland's biodiversity. These trees also have the ability to store large volumes of carbon and are critical to ensuring that we create a carbon sink in Queensland in an effort to fight climate change.
The third key change this bill will implement is extending the existing regulation applying to the clearing of riparian vegetation from three Great Barrier Reef catchments to all six Great Barrier Reef catchments.
Currently, riparian vegetation is only protected in three out of six Great Barrier Reef catchments. Riparian vegetation slows down run-off and prevents erosion which keeps sediment in the ground and out of our Great Barrier Reef. This is vital, as sediment reduces the light available to seagrass ecosystems and suffocates in-shore coral reefs.
Fourthly, the bill will amend the Water Act to reinstate the application of riverine protection provisions to the destruction of vegetation in a watercourse, lake or spring. This will stop soil erosion, improving water quality and provide permanent wildlife habitat.
This bill will also amend the Environmental Offsets Act to require any residual impacts to be offset, not just significant residual impacts as is currently required. The bill will also enable Commonwealth offsets to be legally secured and payments placed in offsets accounts under the Environmental Offsets Act.
The fact is Queensland has a shameful history on the issue of broadscale tree clearing. In 1997 we were clearing over 400,000 hectares annually and, according to the Society for Conservation Biology Oceania's scientific declaration, it is estimated that 100 million native animals were dying each year between the years of 1997 and 1999.
That is why successive Labor governments acted. In 1999 the Beattie Labor government introduced the Vegetation Management Act. In 2004 the Beattie Labor government introduced amendments to prohibit clearing of endangered ecosystems on freehold land.
In 2006 the broadscale clearing of remnant vegetation was phased out along with the introduction of environmental offsets and in 2009 the Bligh Labor government regulated the clearing of high-value regrowth vegetation on freehold and Indigenous land.
These reforms were not rushed or knee jerk. They were based on years of consultation with the agricultural sector, environmentalists and everyday Queenslanders, and in some cases they even had bipartisan support in this place when there was a Liberal Party in Queensland back in 2004 when the Liberal Party in this place voted in support of better protections for native vegetation.
Let me say that in 1999, in 2004, in 2006 and in 2009 these changes were put to the Queensland people and on every occasion they were given an endorsement at the ballot box.
Compare this balanced, considered approach with how the Newman-Nicholls government acted in 2012-13. On 28 February 2012, only weeks before the state election, the then opposition leader Campbell Newman sought to reassure voters of his party's environmental credentials, claiming on vegetation management that the LNP will be retaining the legislation.
Then, just to back it up and to be absolutely crystal clear, he went on to say in black and white to the World Wildlife Fund `that the LNP will retain the current level of statutory vegetation protection'.
Less than a month after being elected, the member for Hinchinbrook (Andrew Cripps) announced a review of the way penalty provisions within the Vegetation Management Act had been applied to alleged breaches of the act. He also suspended all prosecutions for alleged illegal clearing.
He stressed— This action does not signal changes to the Vegetation Management Act 1999. Well, don't we know now how misleading that was! Suspending prosecutions within a month of being elected was a clear signal landholders would not be held accountable for illegal clearing.
Within months there were amendments drafted to the Vegetation Management Act and then in early 2013, while the proposed legislation was still out for public consultation, the member for Hinchinbrook delivered a speech that was titled `Taking an axe to Queensland's tree clearing laws'.
The member for Hinchinbrook and all of those opposite have no credibility when it comes to the issue of vegetation protections and delivering on their commitments to Queenslanders. They did, they will and they will always peddle misinformation.
Not only did those opposite break their commitment to the people of Queensland, something that we have become all too familiar with in this place, but they ignored the experts and denied the science and the results have been nothing short of dangerous.
The Statewide Landcover and Trees Study, also known as the SLATS report, undertaken by some of the most credentialed scientists in Australia found that under the Newman-Nicholls government annual land clearing rates almost doubled.
The latest SLATS report released last week confirmed tree clearing is continuing at an unacceptable level of almost 300,000 hectares per year since the LNP gutted tree clearing laws in 2013. That is approximately 360,000 rugby league fields cleared every single year. As a result, emissions in Queensland have grown from 15 million tonnes in 2011 to 30 million tonnes in 2014. This is almost back to the levels they were before the end of broadscale clearing in 2006.
In 2006, we marked the end of broadscale clearing, which made a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in our nation. This led to a major milestone for Australia: we met Kyoto emission targets.
In 2013, amendments as enacted by the Newman-Nicholls government have, in effect, erased this significant achievement. Alarmingly, of the 11 world regions highlighted as global deforestation fronts, eastern Australia is the only one in a developed country. This is truly disturbing.
The verdict on the Newman-Nicholls tree-clearing laws is in. The LNP's legislation had nothing to do with science, or our state's interests; they were laws created in the self-interest—or, more specifically, in the interests—of the old National Party of Queensland.
When the Palaszczuk government came to office in February last year, it inherited tree-clearing rates that had skyrocketed, emission rates that were rising and a reef on the verge of being listed as in danger by UNESCO. Since 2011-12, clearing in Great Barrier Reef catchments has increased by 46 per cent.
In 2014-15, 108,000 hectares in Great Barrier Reef catchment areas were cleared, representing more than a third of the vegetation cleared statewide. It is a complete mess of Newman's and Nicholls' making and it is completely unsustainable.
In June 2015 I travelled to Bonn in Germany for the UNESCO meeting along with the Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection and Minister for National Parks and the Great Barrier Reef. Whilst attending the UNESCO committee hearing in Bonn along with my cabinet colleague the Minister for the Environment, I argued strongly on behalf of the Queensland government, and on behalf of all Queenslanders, that the Great Barrier Reef should remain off the in danger list.
I told member nations present that Queenslanders loved their reef. They loved it so much that they voted in a new government to protect it. I can tell members they voted in favour of keeping the Great Barrier Reef off the list because we promised to prohibit dumping of dredge spoil, we promised to reinstate Labor's vegetation clearing laws and we provided $100 million to clean up water going into the reef.
I can tell members that it was a tough fight to keep the Great Barrier Reef off the in danger list, but one of the main reasons we won the fight was our commitment to keeping our native trees in the ground, containing massive amounts of carbon and keeping sediment out of the reef.
This commitment was central to the Reef 2050 Long-term Sustainability Plan agreed to by the Australian government. If this legislation does not pass, there is serious concern that UNESCO will question this state's commitment to the reef and may, in fact, declare it as in danger.
UNESCO has confirmed that the committee will consider the progress of Australia's Reef 2050 Plan in December and can act if it decides that Australia is not complying with its own promises for action. Let us be clear: it is not just about the world's largest coral reef and one of our most beautiful natural icons; there are 69,000 jobs and $6 billion at stake if we do not act.
The Turnbull government is even growing concerned about clearing in Queensland and its impact on the reef. In fact, the federal government has moved to freeze land clearing at several agricultural projects previously approved under the Queensland LNP's laws.
That demonstrates, at least at a federal level, that there is still a Liberal Party. This is clearly not the case in Queensland. Just look at how far the member for Clayfield has come since his time as a councillor and member of former lord mayor Campbell Newman's leadership team.
In the last budget he prepared for the then lord mayor, he allocated $10 million to plant trees in Brisbane. He is now looking to retain a system that is destroying more than 40 million trees annually under the LNP's reckless laws.
This is just a rearguard action from the member for Clayfield to pander to the Nationals and the extreme right out in regional Queensland. Instead of addressing these facts and finding solutions to the issues that we face, opponents of this legislation, including those opposite, have run an almighty scare campaign.
Tonight, I want to take some time to address directly some of the myths surrounding this legislation. Firstly, if we listened to those opposite, we would think that this legislation has the ability to single-handedly kill off the agricultural sector in Queensland. Except, like with so many other arguments made by those opposite, the facts simply do not back up the spin.
The latest SLATS report revealed that 91 per cent of clearing that occurred in 2014-15 was cleared for pasture—91 per cent cleared for pasture—and not for cropping. Contrary to the claims from those opposite and AgForce, the ban on broadscale clearing in 2006 and restrictions on regrowth clearing in 2009 did not directly impact on employment in the agricultural sector.
In fact, the fastest decline in primary industries employment occurred prior to the ban on broadscale clearing in 2006. That was in line with the nationwide trend. The decline in primary industries employment appeared to come to a halt from 2006 and bounced back up slightly, in contrast to the rest of Australia, in 2009.
Employment began to decline again and it appeared unaffected by the change of government and the regressive changes to the clearing laws in 2012-13. We know that, under a decade of Labor's tree-clearing protection laws, agricultural production thrived, growing by more than $2 billion in sector profitability during that period. This proves that we can get the balance right between growing the agricultural sector and protecting our environment.
Secondly, opponents of this legislation would have Queenslanders believe that these laws stop farmers from ever clearing their land. That is simply incorrect. The bill aims to protect our most ecologically valuable vegetation and regulates the purposes for which this vegetation can be cleared. Where this vegetation is not present clearing is not regulated.
Furthermore, clearing for agricultural expansion and development will still be able to be undertaken through a range of mechanisms, including self-assessable codes under which smaller parcels of land can be cleared for numerous agricultural purposes, through the State Development and Public Works Organisation Act 1971 under which large agricultural projects can be assessed and approved and, importantly, under the Cape York Peninsula Heritage Act 2007 under which approval to clear Indigenous land for agriculture can be granted.
These laws will not remove the ability for Indigenous landholders and the Cape York community to benefit from, and develop, their land and a range of opportunities will still exist. In fact, applications to clear for agricultural purposes on Aboriginal land in the Cape York Peninsula can still be applied for under the Cape York Peninsula Heritage Act 2007.
I have heard firsthand from traditional owners and Cape York residents. The minister for the environment (Steven Miles) and myself travelled up to Cairns at the request of the member for Cook to meet with traditional owners and community leaders about their ambitions for economic development for their communities.
While the Cape York Peninsula Heritage Act 2007 provides a framework to allow clearing for Indigenous development, no applications have been pursued to date. That is why tonight I am making a commitment to undertake a Cape York Development and Sustainability Review and appoint a Cape York Development and Sustainability Steering Group consisting of Indigenous leaders, NGOs and government agencies.
Broadscale clearing of remnant vegetation has been prevented by previous Labor governments since 2006. Despite the doom and gloom peddled by those opposite, agricultural production did not stop. Landholders continued to produce high-quality produce for us and the rest of the world for which our state is renowned, but our biodiversity, our reef and our climate were much better off.
I thank the Agriculture and Environment Committee for its consideration and report on the bill which was tabled on 30 June 2016. I also thank those who made submissions on the bill, of which there were over 680, as well as those who participated in public hearings. I would particularly like to acknowledge some key stakeholders who contributed enormously to the public discussion around vegetation protection: the group of independent environmental scientists across Queensland led by Associate Professor Martine Maron and the conservation sector, including the Wilderness Society, WWF and the Australian Marine Conservation Society.
After careful consideration of the submissions and the committee's report I am pleased to table the government's response. Tabled paper: Agriculture and Environment Committee: Report No. 19, 55th Parliament—Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill, government response. I will now address the committee's report and the five recommendations made by the committee in relation to the bill.
The first recommendation is that the Minister for State Development and Minister for Natural Resources and Mines explains the consultation process that will be undertaken on the updated self-assessable codes, including details of who will be consulted. The Minister for State Development and Minister for Natural Resources and Mines (Anthony Lynham) will speak to this matter.
However, I can say that this government has consistently stated that it would retain the self-assessable codes. The government is undertaking a review of the self-assessable codes to ensure they align with the latest scientific information, that they are practical for landholders to implement and to ensure environmental values are protected. The review of the self-assessable codes is an opportunity for landholders, interest groups and the general public to comment on the revised codes and I would encourage anyone with an interest in the codes to do so.
Recommendation 2 is that the Minister for State Development and Minister for Natural Resources and Mines provides an update and time frame that will be taken to improve the accuracy of vegetation mapping and proactively engage with landholders to provide them with updated property maps of assessable vegetation which correct any inaccuracies. The Minister for State Development and Minister for Natural Resources and Mines will also speak to this matter.
However, I can say that the government has already implemented this recommendation. The high-value regrowth, or proposed category C mapping, has been reviewed with the objective of improving its accuracy. I am pleased with the work undertaken by the Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation, the Queensland Herbarium and the Department of Natural Resources and Mines in reviewing the existing category C mapping.
I want to put on record my sincere thanks to the agencies involved, particularly the Queensland Herbarium under the leadership of Dr Gordon Guymer, for their mighty efforts to manually check the high-value regrowth mapping. Further, anyone who has requested a proposed regulated vegetation management map or who has previously requested a map has been advised of the updated mapping and can assess this mapping through a number of different formats.
Additionally, the government's vegetation management web pages have also been changed to alert the public to the availability of the updated mapping.
Recommendation 3 is that the reverse onus of proof provisions in relation to vegetation clearing offences be omitted. Prior to the winding back of vegetation management protections by the previous government in 2013, the vegetation management framework contained provisions that place the responsibility on the owner to prove that they did not undertake unlawful clearing on their land—or reverse onus of proof.
This provision has been in the Vegetation Management Act since 2003. The policy justification for this provision was that illegal clearing often occurs in remote areas where remotely sensed images are often the basis of a prosecution due to a lack of other evidence such as witnesses, contracts or receipts with regard to other persons undertaking the clearing.
It is also unlikely that an unknown third-party would undertake costly clearing without the occupier's invitation or approval due to the high cost of clearing and the personal benefit any third party would derive from this clearing. It is acknowledged that the committee gave this provision serious consideration and recommended that this provision be removed.
However, the Department of Natural Resources and Mines has made widely available at no, or very little, charge all the information required by landholders to ensure they clear in accordance with the vegetation management laws.
It is still the government's intention that the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill reinstate Queensland's nation leading land clearing laws and fulfils its election commitment. This includes the offence provisions in the VMA.
It is important to note that the landholder is still able to provide evidence to prove that another person undertook the clearing without their knowledge or consent. There are precedents for this approach in the Forestry Act 1959 and for traffic offences, for example, red-light and speed cameras.
Recommendations 4 and 5 are 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 and inform the House of the outcomes of the assessment of the impacts, including potential costs of the proposed amendments to the environmental offsets regime and if any actions will be taken.
The Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection and Minister for National Parks and the Great Barrier Reef will speak to this matter. However, I can say that the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection has prepared guidance materials clarifying which impacts will come within the definition of residual impact for each state significant environmental matter that could be subject to an offset consideration.
In addition, the department has consulted with the property, resources and development sectors on this guide and considered the ramifications for these sectors.
In conclusion, I again lay out the facts. They are stark and they are disturbing. Almost one million hectares has been cleared since the dark days of the Newman government. Over 84,000 hectares of koala habitat has been cleared since the passage of the Newman government laws.
That occurred after the koala was listed as vulnerable under federal laws and it is incomprehensible that that clearing was undertaken without any proper oversight. In 2014-15 alone, in Queensland more than 40 million trees were destroyed. Clearing in the Great Barrier Reef catchments increased by 46 per cent to 108,000 hectares and 71 per cent of the clearing was untouched forests or vegetation over 28 years old. In Queensland emissions have increased from 15 million tonnes in 2011 to 35 million tonnes in 2014.
These statistics are alarming and the Palaszczuk Labor government recognises the need for action. We are not alone. Across Australia the scientific community recognises this and requires action. UNESCO recognised this and required action.
Thousands of Queenslanders and Australians recognised that action is urgently needed and they are looking to us as lawmakers to do the right thing and do what is fair for our economy, our environment and, most importantly, for future generations.
Tonight a vote for the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill is a vote to restore effective, sensible laws that stop the devastation of broad-scale tree clearing while allowing farmers to grow their agricultural production.
This is a vote to protect our precious native habitat and, in turn, conserve our wildlife and Queensland's unique biodiversity.
This is a vote to act on climate change and immediately reduce Queensland's emissions.
This is a vote to take action to save the Great Barrier Reef. I am enormously proud of the fact that it is this side of the House—it is Labor members—that understands both the enormity and the responsibility of supporting this bill. It is only ever Labor governments that can and will get the balance right between development and the environment.
As this debate unfolds over the many hours ahead, it will be Labor that proves yet again that we are the only party in this place that will champion reform for today's Queenslanders and for those yet to be born. I commend the bill to the House.
- Sourced from Hansard.