Queensland farmers throughout the state have been left frustrated and disappointed with the reintroduction of vegetation management legislation into Queensland Parliament. The core of the frustration comes from this issue being treated as a political lever rather than the need for a balanced framework that can protect the environment and accommodate responsible growth.
Farmers, regional communities and the environment deserve a stable, workable framework. With a clearly defined electoral mandate, the government has the opportunity to do this. Central to long term stability is a framework that satisfies the triple bottom line – environmental, social and economic demands.
The proposed removal of the already heavily regulated clearing provisions for high-value agriculture (HVA) and irrigated high-value agriculture (IHVA) must be reconsidered. Replacing these provisions with a costly, bureaucratic state development application process will stifle agricultural agility and growth in the state. For QFF and its members, this will suffocate the expansion of existing and new industries that provide a high economic return to regional economies and much needed long-term direct and indirect jobs.
For example, only 5,600 hectares were approved to be cleared for IHVA between 2/12/2013 and 2/2/2018 (4 years and 3 months). This is equivalent to only 0.0039% of the area currently used for agricultural production. These approvals allow clearing of small areas of highly productive land for specific purposes, such as accommodating shifts in the agricultural footprint to combat climate change. They enable farmers to employ best management practices, increase farm flexibility and profitability, and importantly, lead to better environmental outcomes.
Another important consideration in understanding the marginal clearing for IHVA is recognising that the footprint of Queensland’s prime agricultural production is shifting. Some of our best land is being taken out of production due to urban encroachment and infrastructure developments, and more recently, the rapid growth of large scale solar facilities across the state as we decarbonise the economy. The government’s biofutures agenda will also influence the footprint. More prime agricultural land will need to be brought into production to grow the feedstocks required for a sustainable biofuels industry.
Complicating this further is the lack of data on a comprehensive picture of the agricultural footprint, as these regional assessments are not on the same time scale. Some sort of HVA/IHVA clearing provisions must therefore be part of a long term, stable vegetation management framework to provide the flexibility needed.
Unless we can get more objectivity and balance into the vegetation management legislation that is back before the Parliament, it will likely just fuel the politicised city-country divide. If the legislation goes through in its current form, given the Liberal National Party’s initial reaction, it is likely that when the LNP is next in government the vegetation management pendulum will be swung back the other way.
At some point the pendulum needs to be stopped. A first step to getting there is to at least reduce the size of the swings. This will require strong leadership from a government that wants to govern for all Queenslanders.
Farmers do not deserve to be the collateral damage from what has become a vexed issue. They work extremely hard to grow the food, fibre and foliage we all enjoy. We must have working legislation that will provide long term solutions for the benefit of all Queenslanders.