'Beware the fine print' warning at Lake Eyre consultation

State plan to expand Lake Eyre protection to whole catchments feared

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Desert Channels Queensland staff member Peter Spence pores over the map of the proposed changes to the Lake Eyre Basin management plan.

Desert Channels Queensland staff member Peter Spence pores over the map of the proposed changes to the Lake Eyre Basin management plan.

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Fears were aired in Longreach on Tuesday that proposed changes to Lake Eyre Basin legislation could give the Queensland government the ability to regulate grazing activities in the basin's 2.4 million hectare footprint in Queensland.

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Fears were aired in Longreach on Tuesday that proposed changes to Lake Eyre Basin legislation could give the Queensland government the ability to regulate grazing activities in the basin's 2.4 million hectare footprint in Queensland.

Despite rain in the region nearly 30 people took part in the community consultation morning organised by AgForce to respond to the state government's plans to increase the Lake Eyre Basin Strategic Environment Area by 773 per cent.

Senior policy advisor Greg Leach presented the six-slide briefing made to AgForce and other targeted groups just before Christmas by the Department of Environment and Science's acting executive director for conservation policy and planning, Mandy Downes.

At that, Ms Downes reiterated the Palaszczuk government's 2015 election commitment to "legislate protections for Queensland's pristine rivers for large-scale industrial operations".

That was refined during the 2017 election campaign to "work with traditional owners, stakeholders and communities to ensure the state's pristine rivers are protected" and was to include a review of the extent to which the Regional Planning Interests Act 2014 provided adequate protection.

That review has taken place internally and according to Ms Downes, found a need for additional protections.

Read more: Wild Rivers Act gone

She told the stakeholder briefing the current level of protection given to the Lake Eyre Basin under the RPIA wasn't contested by sectors advocating for increased economic development.

"However, conservation organisations and some First Nations groups are continuing to lobby for significantly stronger levels of protection," she said.

Saying that while indigenous groups had varying views to date, some arguing for stronger protection of environmental and cultural values and others identifying the value of job opportunities in the resources sector, Ms Downes said they were now emphatically standing together to protect and manage the waterways, floodplains and groundwaters.

"Nineteen traditional owners from 13 First Nations groups attended a forum in Longreach on October 28-9 and endorsed a statement for the future of the Lake Eyre Basin," she said.

Channels from recent rain expanding across floodplains around Winton before eventually making their way into the Diamantina River. Picture - Lachlan Millar.

Channels from recent rain expanding across floodplains around Winton before eventually making their way into the Diamantina River. Picture - Lachlan Millar.

No logical explanation

Of the many issues worrying the group in Longreach about the proposed management changes, the plan to expand the SEA to cover the Georgina, Diamantina and Cooper catchments was one of the most concerning.

Desert Channels Queensland spokesman Simon Wiggins said expanding the area protected to the whole catchment made no logical sense.

"It takes in another two million hectares - the Longreach town common would be mapped in for example. Why?"

He added that there were some areas included that DCQ thought should be out, and other areas not included that they thought should be in.

"Why is the big red area around Eromanga significant? The mapping makes no sense."

AgForce's interpretation of the map presented at the pre-Christmas briefing, which they said was the level of detail they were trying to work with.

AgForce's interpretation of the map presented at the pre-Christmas briefing, which they said was the level of detail they were trying to work with.

Responding to Jundah's Ian Groves on where opal mining stood in the proposal, Mr Wiggins said the triggers proposed by the government would catch all opal mining but when they asked about it, were told the government hadn't thought about that aspect.

Longreach's Peter Klem asked whether the proposal could be used to put pressure on grazing use of floodplains, with Dr Leach responding that once the plan is rubber-stamped, the words are regulation.

"It removes confidence," he said, while Mr Wiggins said legislation should build in certainty that other industries wouldn't be included.

"Including the entire catchment opens the door to including other industries," he said.

It was the consensus of the workshop, voiced by former Gregory MP Vaughan Johnson, that the current legislation was suitable and there was no need to revisit it.

"Our concern is that the small print will shut the pastoral industry down without any consultation," he said.

Mr Groves said that even if there was no plan to do this, the uncertainty was a deterrent to encouraging people to live in the region.

Devil in the detail

The "devil in the detail" as far as riparian zones and wildlife corridors were what the Member for Gregory, Lachlan Millar said was most concerning to him.

"What concerns me is where they're going to put those riparian zones, what's it mean for cattle grazing in that Channel Country.

"We've got people out there that have put up cluster fences - what if those riparian zones or wildlife corridors run through some of these that we've spent the last five years putting up."

Mr Millar said the proposal was all about locking in green preferences in south east Queensland at the expense of the western Queensland economy.

"All AgForce and industry groups were given were six slides with no supporting information," he said.

"We've been given a map that doesn't quite look right and we don't even know the criteria the map was based on, we can't even get that information.

"Where's the ground-truthing - was someone sitting in an office with a red texta drawing what they thought was the best way to look at excluding people from being able to do their grazing practices.

"Large pastoral holders are very worried. These are people who've been out there for well over 150 years.

"They've been doing the right thing - what's wrong with what they're doing at the moment.

"If the government was serious about helping they'd release that $5 million of prickly acacia funding, not try and lock more country up and restrict economic opportunities for western Queensland people."

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