«Staff present: Mr R Hansen (Research Director) Mr P Douglas (Principal Research Officer) Mr K Holden (Inquiry Secretary) PUBLIC HEARING—INQUIRY ...»
Ms Finnegan: My suggestion in that regard is I am a really big fan of the FAO’s approach, which is credit stacking. That means that if you can encourage via market-driven mechanisms preferably—if not, stewardship payments would be ideal—direct to farmers in order for them to be able to manage their properties for multiple benefit. That includes the triple bottom line concept that it has to be economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. The FAO looked at things like if a project or program can deliver carbon offsetting or sequestration, if it can deliver good social outcomes at a community level and if it allows for biodiversity offsetting, which is a really core principle at a global level. That is a core driving principle behind environmental protection on a global level. I think that is where the ideal would be.
From a personal perspective, we have just under 1,000 acres of grazing land. Most of that is marginal at best for grazing purposes. I voluntarily locked up 400 acres of my property under nature refuge. Part of that is to do with EHP’s koala offsetting program. For the next five years I have a contract with EHP to manage 15.5 hectares of our property for koala planting, so we have 10,000 trees in the ground that they have to maintain.
One of the things that I would really like to stress is the issue of dealing with government departments. I agree with Grant that there are some really great public servants out there; but there are some equally belligerent individuals. It took me 18 months to negotiate parts of our contract that needed to be unlocked, and the irony was that I wanted them unlocked and changed to improve the environmental protection of those contracts to do with those nature refuges. I had to fight for 18 months with legal in order to make that happen, and that was ridiculous. I am a persistent individual so I just kept banging my head, and I was really lucky that behind me I had one of the staff working at EHP who was really supportive.
One of the things that I find at Jingeri, which is the name of my farm—I will give you my submission at the end of this—is that we are able to manage for both conservation and production outcomes quite successfully. We do so, but we do not do it alone. We have multiple partnerships with EHP, BirdLife Australia and Bitari Ecological Engineering. We are about to enter into a carbon farming initiative offset project which was been approved last November, so that is going to contract.
Mr Maudsley: There are options, Tony. There are lots of options out there. I think from that you can get that— Mr PERRETT: I was wondering about the incentive process rather than the big stick coming down.
Ms Finnigan: I have a background in NRM economics, so I am always going to drive through that a market mechanism is always going to be the best option. Failing a market mechanism that has bipartisan support, then we need to move down the route of probably stewardship payments so we come in line with America and Europe in particular.
Mr PERRETT: The other question I had just quickly is around mapping. We have obviously had many, many representations to the committee about the inaccuracy of mapping. We have heard from the department that the mapping interacts directly with the law, and we had that direct testimony.
Whether it is accurate or inaccurate it is up to the landholder, as I understand it, to prove the department wrong with respect to that. If they do not, it is considered to be accurate. As I understand Brisbane - 28 - 3 Jun 2016 Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill it, whether that is tomorrow, five years or 10 years, if it goes unchallenged it remains in place until it is proven otherwise. What are your members saying about the accuracy of the mapping and how that interacts directly with the proposed legislation and ultimately prosecutions under the reverse onus of proof and mistake of fact?
Dr Leach: Consistently from these case studies, from our submission and also from Bruce Wagner, who is with us today, there is a very strong disagreement with a lot of the science behind this. The regional ecosystem mapping was actually never intended for the Vegetation Management Act as a legal instrument. Vegetation in Queensland is quite complex. It is a wonderful gesture. There has been a lot of good action to map regional ecosystems. However, consistently the mapping has proved to be extremely wrong.
Bruce, who is here today, is a timber clearer from South-East Queensland—a dozer operator— is a student of vegetation management and says he consistently finds that the properties he is involved with have quite wrong mapping. He wanted to invite the committee to come on a bus tour of the Burnett to see how wrong it really is.
Ms Finnegan: I would back that up. It has just cost me $15,000 to have my REs corrected.
That is a big bill. That is going to take me a long time to get a pay back on that.
Mr Maudsley: We consistently have to pay the cost for the change in those maps.
Ms Finnegan: The reason I did that was not because I was concerned about being challenged by the department, I was actually concerned about how I am supposed to manage an RE when I do not know what it is. I knew that my REs are incorrect because I have a science background. It made sense. If I want to start to look at things like biodiversity offsetting from a market perspective then I need to know exactly what it is I am offering up as an offset.
The big problem with the regional ecosystems is that a large majority of them lack ground truthing. The SLATS report itself makes a statement in terms of its limitations that any area that is identified as clearing within that reporting period is completely unvalidated. It is a retrospective validation process.
I did an internship with Remote Sensing down at the ecoscience precinct so I understand how SLATS works. I also worked in carbon labs at the UQ in terms of the carbon side of things. I think that these broad sweeping claims around annual clearing rates, carbon loss and all of that are misrepresentative at best and probably a lie at worst. I think it skews the debate unnecessarily. I think it alienates farmers and pushes farmers even further into a corner. Farmers generally feel quite victimised by broader society. It is about time we actually started to get behind our farming families a little more than we have done in the last 20 or 30 years, I would argue.
Mr KATTER: The suite of new laws in 2009 would have dramatically changed the behaviour of farmers and created a lot of apprehension among farmers. They would have said, ‘I am going to be apprehensive when I touch anything and I am not really up to date with a lot of this technology and the internet. I will park all of that.’ There were some changes made a few years ago that lightened some of that, but fundamentally you still had all those sweeping changes from 2009. We are having more changes now.
My interpretation of the events historically was that from 2009 there would have been a cutback in a lot of clearing activity because it is difficult to get permits and it is so technical and people do not want to do the wrong thing. Even though some people argue that technically you can do it, I want to get a sense from you practically on the ground about this. From what I am picking up, I would say it is near impossible from here. Practically you will have most people walking away saying it is too tough.
Mr Maudsley: The only way you can really do that is via the self-assessable code or manage your category X on the PMAV. The PMAV is the only planning tool we have in terms of what you can do—lock in the white and control the regrowth when you can afford it or when it needs doing or do not touch it at all for that matter, which a lot of people choose to do—surprise, surprise.
You are right that you need good advice to be able to manage some of the thickening processes. Back in 1999 I leased a property that is 10,000 hectares and 75 per cent is locked up.
Half of it is remnant and untouchable. Another 25 per cent of it was caught up as high-value regrowth under Anna Bligh. That leaves 25 per cent of the property available for livestock production which is what agricultural land is actually supposed to be for. There is no market for that. It is regulated. I cannot sell any of the 75 per cent for carbon. Recent valuations of that property suggest it is worth $100 per acre and my property is worth $300 per acre. It gives you a good idea of the lack of value and the lack of capital available for some properties. Multiple iterations of the vegetation management laws have a multiple impact all the way through.
Brisbane - 29 - 3 Jun 2016 Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill Dr Leach: In terms of the technology and our ability to use it, the mapping that is provided for a regulated vegetation map is a 1:100,000 scale. For a dozer operator working at a much bigger scale and, in many cases, an inability to use GPS technology and be able to translate the GPS technology from the map that is printed out to the hand held GPS, it is nigh impossible.
Ms Finnegan: Well, you cannot, because there are no GPS points on those maps. They are PDF printed format. The other big problem with this is how you can establish a firm boundary on something when you do not actually have a GPS coordinate to back that up. We use precision agriculture for cropping and yet I cannot go in there and say with certainty that if I drop a point on a map that that is exactly where that X country and where the remnant begins—so the category B. I battle with that all of the time because the resolution of the map is way too low.
Mr SORENSEN: For the lady up north who was asked for offsets of $3.5 million do you have any answers as to how they came to that figure?
Mr Maudsley: I am actually not across the environmental offset bills. I thought it was an absurd piece of policy.
Ms Finnegan: I have contacts in the commercial biodiversity offset space. One of the issues I have heard with regard to this is that the DEHP have a set of modelling software and they put in their data. It works on a value of $250,000 per hectare, particularly for koala offsets country. That is the value. The commercial value of that would probably be about $24,000 a hectare if that was something that a commercial biodiversity offsets type arrangement in the private or voluntary system. The assumptions built into these models are wholly incorrect.
Yes I agree that we have to place an economic value on these things. That is the basis of environmental economics. You have to make sure that the numbers are fair and reasonable. That is not fair and reasonable.
CHAIR: Thank you for your time today. If you would like to table your case studies you mentioned we are willing to take them on board.
Ms Finnegan: On behalf of the Scenic Rim farmers, this book has been put together with the assistance of the Scenic Rim council. It is a collection of stories and recipes from local farmers. I want to leave each of you with one. There is one there for Deputy Premier Trad. I think it is a really good reminder of the fact that this is about families and this is about families into the future and not just now. It is a really nice book and there are some great recipes in it.
CHAIR: We will take advice on whether we can accept them as a committee.
DRISCOLL, Mr Mark, Private capacity (via teleconference) CHAIR: Welcome Mr Driscoll. Thank you for your time today.
Mr Driscoll: I appreciate your time. I am the managing director at Driscoll Pastoral Co. I have 35 years experience with brigalow regrowth control in Central Queensland.
Thank you very much. I will not take up much of your time. I know you are very busy. I am going to start off as being one of the cast of thousands talking about the maps. I will add one more to your list. The maps are not accurate. If your department was making aeronautical maps you would have crashes every day of the week. It would be a horrendous situation.
The problem with the maps is that there are a lot of areas of Central Queensland where the maps are so wrong. There is thick regrowth there that you guys want to keep in the system but the maps show they are completely clear. I have a lot of evidence of panic clearing. These maps are not working either way. They are working at one end of the spectrum, but it is being taken off at the other end, if that makes any sense to you. There is panic clearing out here because these maps are nowhere near accurate. They should be a lot better than they are.
I have areas of regrowth which I have cleared three times since 1989. It is like your lawn in Brisbane in summer time. Every Saturday it has to be mowed. It is an ongoing thing. It is a maintenance issue. It is not cheap, but it is something we have to do. The brigalow grows on our best grazing country. Our best beef comes off that type of country.
I had a chemical application three years ago. That chemical application did not work. The contractor came in three months ago and agreed it did not work and was prepared to redo it. The 17 March proposed legislation now says that the contractor cannot come in and redo his contract. This lets the contractor off the hook and puts me in a position where I cannot do any more thinning. It does not allow me any tax deductibility for this financial year, which is very ordinary.
Under the new assessable code for thinning regrowth in category C, I am not allowed to use any chemical clearing from the air—that is, aerial application. I am allowed to do mechanical clearing on the ground. In my situation I have spasmodic weed outbreaks of giant rat’s tail grass. I understand a few of your committee members will understand what giant rat’s tail is.
If I put two machines in there to thin this country I am going to spread all these weeds even further. I have spent the last seven years walking these paddocks and riding these paddocks on horses looking for individual plants of giant rat’s tail grass to eradicate them. I have just about got there now. They are like trying to find a needle in a haystack. It is a dreadful weed. I am not game to put a machine into this ground. If I do I will disturb it. If I drag a chain I will drag any ungerminated seeds all over the paddock, and that will put me back 15 years.