New laws tighten controls on land clearing in Queensland

The Queensland Parliament has passed legislation to tighten native vegetation clearing laws, and a new office has been established to implement the $500 million Land Restoration Fund.

Natural Resources Minister Dr Anthony Lynham re-introduced the tree-clearing reforms after they lapsed prior to the election. telling Parliament that they would reinstate a responsible vegetation management and protection framework for Queensland.

“These laws will protect our climate, our wildlife and our Great Barrier Reef, and the tens of thousands of jobs that depend on the Reef,” Dr Lynham said.

“Landholders will still be able to maintain their land and clear fodder trees to feed their stock, and the majority of landholders will continue to do the right thing, as they do now.”

Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch said the Palaszczuk Government’s policy was based on science and would maintain biodiversity, reduce land degradation, protect water quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support the sustainable use of land.

“The changes proposed in this legislation are backed by science and have been expertly prepared by the Queensland Herbarium and peer reviewed by the CSIRO,” Ms Enoch said.

“In 2015/16, close to 400,000 hectares of vegetation was cleared under the former LNP Government – that’s more than twice the area of Brisbane and seven times the size of Rockhampton.

“If the current clearing rate continues, it will drive native wildlife to extinction, put jobs reliant on the Great Barrier Reef at risk, drive up Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, and prevent Australia from meeting its international climate commitments.

“This policy forms part of a suite of initiatives the Palaszczuk Government is delivering to protect our environment, tackle climate change and reduce carbon emissions.”

Among the changes, the proposed laws will:

  • ban broadscale clearing of remnant vegetation for agriculture

  • expand the “high value regrowth” that is protected from vegetation that hasn’t been cleared since the beginning of 1990 – 28 year-old trees – to 15-year-old trees. This means an extra 232,000 ha of trees will be protected.

  • increase, up to almost treble, the maximum penalties courts could impose for illegal clearing to more than half-a-million-dollars

  • give compliance officers more powers and enforcement tools

  • require farmers to get approval to thin vegetation

  • still allow farmers to harvest fodder trees to feed livestock.

Ms Enoch said that new, more accurate vegetation maps had also been released for the entire state, the first major review of major update to vegetation and ecosystem mapping in five years.

“The improved maps now reflect the best available sciences and will support landholders to manage their land,” he said.

“Landholders will continue to have certainty about what they will be able to clear in the future because we are retaining Property Map of Assessable Vegetation (PMAV).”

Some aspects of the proposed legislation take effect immediately, and the Bill will now go to committee hearings, including public hearings and submissions.

Minister Enoch said the Palaszczuk Government was also committed to expanding carbon farming in Queensland, as part of the Queensland Climate Transition Strategy.

“We know the estimated value of carbon farming in Queensland under current settings is $4.7 billion, and that it could be worth $8 billion to Queensland by 2030,” Ms Enoch said.

“Carbon farming involves management of vegetation, land, animal, soil and fire to store carbon and avoid greenhouse gas emissions being released. It is an alternative to land clearing and is a new source of revenue for farmers.”

In another development, the Queensland Government has established a Project Management Office to implement the $500 million Land Restoration Fund to support land sector carbon projects that was announced as an election commitment.

Minister Enoch said the initiative was “about leveraging emerging carbon markets to supply high quality offsets and delivering important environmental, economic and social benefits” .

“These co-benefits could include establishing new and expanded koala habitats, protection of threatened species, rehabilitating and restoring wetlands and waterways, and helping to drive greater agricultural productivity.”

The office will establish an expert advisory board to develop options for the Fund’s design, and engage and work with stakeholders to deliver a program.

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