«Staff present: Mr R Hansen (Research Director) Mr P Douglas (Principal Research Officer) Mr K Holden (Inquiry Secretary) PUBLIC HEARING—INQUIRY ...»
I have a problem with proposed category C. It is classified as an endangered species. I looked up endangered species in the dictionary. It says it is a plant or animal at serious risk of extinction. We have the situation now where we have certain landowners who have a piece of paper—that is, a PMAV—and who were locked in five years ago which basically says under the law that they are allowed to destroy that endangered species, but a person living next door who does not have a piece paper not allowed to destroy it. I guess it is bit like being a bit pregnant—it is either endangered or it is not. A piece of paper should not allow you to say I can destroy it or I cannot.
I suppose that is really it in a nutshell. I am concerned that paddocks where we clear on a regular basis—for example, every decade—all of a sudden is deemed to be stopped. It is a major concern to those of us who have a lot of money invested in rural agriculture. That is my assessment.
Thank you very much indeed.
CHAIR: Thank you very much, Mr Driscoll. We appreciate your time today.
WILLIAMS, Ms Jen, Queensland Deputy Executive Director, Property Council of Australia CHAIR: Good afternoon. Would you like to make a short statement?
Ms Williams: Good afternoon. Thank you very much for having me here today. I know that over the past few days and weeks the committee has heard a lot from the agricultural sector and from different environmental groups, not surprisingly given the intention of the legislation is around reducing carbon emissions and protecting the Great Barrier Reef. One sector that has been missed a lot in this conversation is the property industry. That is why I am here today.
The Property Council definitely supports action to protect our natural environment. However, we believe that stakeholders should be working together to look forward to better ways to do so, rather than seeking to reinstate policies that fail to provide a strategic, holistic view of protecting environmental matters of significance.
You all have a copy of my submission so I will not go through that in any detail, but there are two points that I would like to make. Firstly, urban land is very different from agricultural and mining land and should be treated as such. Secondly, this legislation is not a reinstatement and nor should it aim to be a reinstatement. Resources land is typically based where resources are found, which is very different from urban land which has been through a rigorous planning process undertaken by often several levels of government to figure out where it should be placed. This planning work always involves community consultation and through stakeholders working together to balance out social, economic and environmental outcomes together they have determined that urban is the highest and best use of that given land.
The removal from the offsets act of the threshold to determine significance of an impact threatens to add exorbitant costs to the delivery of new housing. An example I came across this morning when I was going through the mapping showed that, where you removed the term ‘significant’ on a site zoned for low-density residential property in Brisbane, it had the potential to add $197,000 to each dwelling. This is despite the development site going through a comprehensive planning framework and formally being identified in the planning scheme as a site desirable for housing.
I turn to my second point regarding reinstatement. You cannot unscramble an egg. Prior to the development of the offsets act, there were five separate and often conflicting environmental offsets policies here in Queensland. To achieve consistency across all of these, the Environmental Offsets Act was created. To align with the terminology used by the Commonwealth, the term ‘significant’ was included and that provided a necessary test of the materiality of any given impact.
When introduced, the offsets act also provided a framework for local governments to introduce offsets into their own planning schemes. The majority of high-growth local government areas now have their own offsets policies and associated revenue streams which operate in addition to state and Commonwealth offsets. It would therefore be impossible to reinstate the former arrangements as the current provisions are now entrenched into local government planning schemes. Given the complexity and the poor environmental outcomes we saw from the previous five policies, reinstatement should not be a desirable intention.
The legislation before us has far-reaching and unintentional consequences for urban development. The Property Council would encourage the committee to consider exemptions for urban land and in the longer term to work towards a more holistic view of environmental protection such as working with the Commonwealth government to deliver a strategic assessment of environmental matters.
CHAIR: Quite a few landholders and farmers today and on our regional tour asked why they are separate from urban development. I am not into urban development or planning. What is happening now in the urban development process where the environment is taken into place and what would change under this bill? Could you explain that to me?
Ms Williams: In Queensland there are several layers of the planning framework. We have the state government which does the state planning act. From there we have the state planning policy which outlines the state’s intentions. Then we have regional plans—for example, the South East Queensland Regional Plan, which provides a map that has an urban footprint which says, ‘This is where urban land is going to be located to cater for our growing population.’ From there it is reflected into local government planning schemes.
In terms of how the environmental impacts work with that, once we have been through all of these different layers and the feds have had a look as well then the environmental stuff comes in underneath. Once we have been through all of the community conversations and everyone has Brisbane - 32 - 3 Jun 2016 Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill decided the highest and best use of this land is for urban development, then we have legislation like this that comes in underneath it. Some of the legislation—for example, the Vegetation Management Act—has some exemptions for urban areas. However, the way that they are drafted they do not pick up a lot of the new urban areas. The interaction between different levels of planning is such that the state sets the urban footprint in the regional plan which is then reflected by local governments. The exemptions, unfortunately, sit with how the local governments have reflected that regional plan.
In the past we have seen that takes up to 10 years to do so and the market is not going to sit and wait for that. That means our urban areas are developed ahead of that. They still seek their approvals through the local government—a slightly different process—but they do not get the benefit of the exemptions that sit in the Vegetation Management Act. On top of all of that, even where we have decided that these exemptions do not exist the offsets act will apply. If you clear in urban areas, you can still be liable for offsets.
Really importantly, in its current drafting the offsets act has a measure of significance. There is a materiality test in there. A lot of urban sites will fall under that threshold, but by removing that significance test it means that all of them will be brought into it. The site that I looked at this morning is probably seven or eight kilometres from Brisbane’s CBD. It is zoned for low-density residential housing, but because it has category B vegetation on it, while it has not been affected by the vegetation management changes, the removal of significance means that that entire site could potentially require offsetting.
The way that our offsets framework and the calculator associated with it works is that it is based on the underlying cost of the land. In Brisbane City Council you can imagine that offsetting 12½ hectares will cost you a pretty penny. That is then added onto the cost of the housing. If you look, for example, at mining or agricultural land, the underlying cost of that land is a lot cheaper. It means that delivering the offsets is also a lot cheaper, whereas in urban areas, by definition, they are more expensive and there is a premium associated with them.
CHAIR: That is a very thorough answer. Thank you very much.
Mr PERRETT: Thank you for coming in. It is enlightening to hear that because that is of significant concern. We talk about housing affordability, and there is a fair bit of mention of it and first home buyers in the current federal election campaign. What you are saying is that the bill in its current form has a very real prospect of significantly increasing the cost of housing to not only first home buyers but to any buyer of a new home in a new urban development?
Ms Williams: That is correct. In its current drafting, there is no materiality threshold in terms of the impact. It basically says that any impact will have to be offset. That impact may be one single tree. That one single tree then means it has to be offset at a rate of typically four, and the cost of that will go to the first home buyer. One of our concerns with the offsets framework is that typically it is a societal issue protecting our environment and we all have a role to play in that. However, under the current arrangements it means that it is generally the first home buyer on the outskirts of our cities who is paying to offset for the benefit of the broader community.
Mr PERRETT: Given the state’s growth projections over the next 20 to 30 years—I think the current population is about 4.6 million, predicted to grow well over six million in that period of time— do other states have the same regulatory impositions through the Vegetation Management Act on new housing developments? Are you aware of that?
Ms Williams: I am. I am very aware of that. Last year the Property Council took the Deputy Premier to Melbourne to look at how they deal with this very issue, because they are a perfect example of how to take a holistic approach to the protection of environmental matters and how to provide for the growth of the community and in a way that keeps housing a lot cheaper. We have been asking for a strategic assessment of environmental matters, particularly within areas like the SEQ where we are expected to see a lot of growth. That would mean all of the levels of government work together and they look at where are the environmental matters that we 100 per cent want to protect and where are the people going to go.
We all know that the koalas are not benefiting from this framework at all. They did not benefit from the old one and they do not benefit from the current one. We need to look at what they are doing interstate where they say, ‘This is where the people are going to go. This is where the koalas are going to go,’ or whatever types of trees are going to go. It does not mean there will not be green spaces in amongst where the people are, but it means there is certainty and it is dealt with in a single holistic view. When offsets are provided, for example, they are provided in that area which we are seeking to further protect rather than having a piecemeal approach and little trees kept here and there that are not forming corridors or allowing the populations to continue.
Brisbane - 33 - 3 Jun 2016 Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill Mr PERRETT: So Queensland will be disadvantaged compared to other states?
Ms Williams: Correct.
Mr PERRETT: And the Deputy Premier is aware of that?
Ms Williams: Correct. The government is currently undertaking a review of the South East Queensland Regional Plan, and it is my understanding that they are looking at undertaking a strategic assessment as part of that which we 100 per cent support. In light of that, we see that this piece of legislation undermines the regional plan and the work that should be going on in that space.
Mr MADDEN: Thank you for coming in today. Was there consultation with the government departments and the Property Council prior to the bill being presented to parliament?
Ms Williams: No, there was not.
CHAIR: Thank you very much.
BUNN, Professor Stuart, Director, Australian Rivers Institute, Griffith University, Queensland Environmental Scientists CATTERALL, Professor Carla, Professor of Ecology, Griffith School of Environment, Griffith University, Queensland Environmental Scientists MARON, Associate Professor Martine, ARC Future Fellow and Associate Professor of Environmental Management, University of Queensland, Queensland Environmental Scientists POSSINGHAM, Professor Dr Hugh, Director, ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions and Director of the NESP Threatened Species Hub and ARC Laureate Fellow, Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science, University of Queensland RESIDE, Dr April, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Threatened Species Recovery Hub, University of Queensland, Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science, University of Queensland CHAIR: Good afternoon. Would you like to make an opening statement?
Prof. Maron: Thank you for the opportunity to appear. We are here on behalf of a group of 28 senior environmental scientists from institutions across Queensland. Collectively we represent a very broad range of expertise that is relevant to this bill and we are internationally recognised in those fields. Our group includes 14 full professors, three ARC laureate fellows and the directors of eight research institutes and centres that are focused on environmental science around terrestrial, marine and freshwater ecosystems, carbon accounting, remote sensing, conservation and natural resource management.
The aim of the Vegetation Management Act is to protect native vegetation biodiversity, manage ecosystem processes, avoid land degradation and reduce carbon emissions, but instead the current version of the act is seeing over 100,000 hectares of native ecosystems being cleared each year including endangered ecosystems. Run-off from terrestrial land uses is reducing water quality and increasing the stress on the Great Barrier Reef. Biodiversity is continuing to decline and opportunities for the recovery of threatened species and ecosystems are being foreclosed.