«Staff present: Mr R Hansen (Research Director) Mr P Douglas (Principal Research Officer) Mr K Holden (Inquiry Secretary) PUBLIC HEARING—INQUIRY ...»
With respect to the second amendment, legal security, the bill provides the ability to legally secure offset areas for Commonwealth imposed offset obligations using the tools of the Queensland framework. An offset area must be legally secured to ensure its ongoing protection. Legal security requirements under the Queensland framework may be simpler and cheaper for proponents to achieve, especially where they have both state and Commonwealth obligations.
The third amendment removes the current impediment to a proponent making financial payments for Commonwealth offsets into the Queensland offsets account. As I said, a proponent can financially settle an offset obligation and pass the obligation to the state, who retains it, and that can happen with respect to Commonwealth and state obligations. What this does is that it enables a Commonwealth obligation to be paid into the state account. Again this amendment aims to have a streamlining and simplifying effect for proponents whose development affects matters that are in Queensland but may be of national environmental significance. This has been advocated for by industry since the current environmental offsets framework was introduced in 2014; for example, Brisbane - 53 - 3 Jun 2016 Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill payment into a single account where permitted by the Commonwealth rather than the requirement to locate and arrange a land based offset for Commonwealth matters may be simpler for some proponents.
Incidentally, this amendment also serves to promote better environmental outcomes as it enables placement of both state and Commonwealth financial settlement offsets into the state’s offset account. One benefit of this is that it enables integrated conservation outcomes to be achieved in Queensland through the pooling of resources.
I will now speak a bit about what stakeholders said about the bill. With respect to the notion of significance, there was general support for this amendment amongst conservation groups who made submissions to the committee, from some scientific organisations and from members of the public, who see it as likely to lead to improved conservation outcomes. The amendment was opposed by the property development industry as well as, we have heard, the energy and resources sectors. Property industry stakeholders submit that the amendment is unjustified and will lead to increases in the cost of housing. I would like to introduce some comments on that by saying that the extent of those implications remains the subject of discussion between the department and industry, so the department is assessing now the urban area of vegetation where this change has the potential to increase offset obligations; for example, in respect of property development. Notwithstanding discussion that has been had about the accuracy of maps, where the amendments are likely to have most impact in urban areas we are talking about less than one per cent of the urban area in South-East Queensland, so we are not talking about the entire urban area and we are not talking about potential costs applying to all housing in the urban area. We are talking about a small part of that area.
While this area of vegetation is relatively small and may be considered not to be sufficiently large or important to retain, it is in the most endangered category of regional ecosystem and is considered vulnerable to extinction, as some other submitters pointed out this afternoon. The environment department and the planning department are also currently examining a number of case studies that have been provided to us by the Urban Development Institute of Australia on likely cost impacts, and the institute made a submission to you just now on those. We each are at a disadvantage in that we have not had the opportunity to finalise the analysis of those case studies, and while they are ongoing I can say that the department is of the view that on face value the impacts anticipated by the institute in its case studies are not likely to derive from this bill.
Discussions with the property development sector are also ongoing regarding implications of the bill for the ability of local governments to require offsets for matters where the state does not.
Likewise, the department is working with the resources sector to examine the concerns that it has raised and to clarify the government’s intent.
With respect to agricultural activities, the department is in discussions with AgForce, including today, on the implications of this bill for the provisions of offsets under the framework. Until such time as residual impact—which is the standard that will now exist in the bill—has been defined, it is not possible to accurately quantify those impacts, so that is still ongoing. The framework does not apply to all clearing due to exemptions from clearing approvals. The fact is that many activities are undertaken in accordance with self-assessable vegetation clearing codes where the offset framework is not triggered.
Finally, I would like to note that a guideline that will provide guidance to assessment agencies on how offsets should be assessed and imposed will be developed in consultation with stakeholders before the bill is debated. The department has given that undertaking to the industry representatives it has met with, and this will continue the dialogue that has occurred between the department and industry since the bill’s introduction. That is the matter of significance.
With respect to legal security, this amendment—that is, the ability to legally secure a Commonwealth offset obligation using the state framework—is broadly supported by the conservation sector and the property sector. The Property Council of Australia, however, has raised an issue with the department in relation to this provision. The concern is that the wording of the bill leaves some ambiguity in relation to enforcement provisions, and the department is in the process of clarifying this matter directly with the Property Council.
With respect to the third amendment, that is, financial payments for Commonwealth matters and the ability to pay financial obligations into the state account, based on submissions this provision is broadly supported by the conservation sector, by industry and by other submitters because, as I said, it has the potential to simply offset arrangements for developers. Although some submitters did note concerns about the environmental effectiveness of offsets per se, some of the environmental Brisbane - 54 - 3 Jun 2016 Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill groups, for example, questioned the outcomes that are achieved from environmental offsets per se.
That is outside the scope of the bill. The property sector raised two specific concerns with these provisions, both of which relate to concerns about potential outcomes of ambiguous wording rather than policy intent.
The first of these is a concern that the state may be able to require offsets from proponents in addition to those required by the Commonwealth for the same matters. The legislation currently does not allow that, and the bill will not affect that. It is not the intent of the act as amended. The act will continue to provide effective provisions to avoid or remove double dipping for offset provisions. The second concern that was raised with the department in relation to this amendment is in relation to the state’s ability to refuse to accept financial payment for Commonwealth matters. Committee members may recall that there is provision in the bill such that notwithstanding that the Commonwealth may permit a financial offset to be paid into the state offset account, if the state’s view is that that financial settlement payment is insufficient to meet the financial obligation which would transfer to the state, the state under the bill effectively retains the right of refusal to accept that payment into its account.
Related to that, representatives of the property sector raised a concern that the state might be in a position to—rather than simply reject the Commonwealth payment—in fact require it to be increased to meet the state’s standards, if you like. I can confirm that the state legislation will continue to prevent this from happening. Nonetheless, with respect to that relationship between the state and the Commonwealth frameworks, the department will continue to discuss this with industry as required in the interests of gaining that clarity. That concludes my opening remarks.
CHAIR: We have heard a fair bit about the 50-metre riparian buffer zones and water catchment areas. We received a document during some of our hearings called Understanding Floods in Queensland. There was some information saying that they are going through a study at the moment, and barriers between 30 to 50 metres wide along the banks of waterways have been trialled in South-East Queensland. The report says it has merit. We have heard that the one-size-fits-all 50-metre barrier seems too harsh for those people with smaller lots. Is there any other information you can provide to the committee about that? Potentially is it something for the committee to look into regarding smaller zones for different areas, as we have heard?
Mr Lazzarini: With the category R areas there are a few points to make here. Firstly, that 50-metre buffer either side or the 50-metre zone is like a trigger area. That is the area where you can apply the self-assessable code. The first point is that if there is crops there now or if there is no native vegetation, then there is no effect on activities. There are some perceptions out there that it is a lockup of that area and we have to replant that area, but that is not the case. It is about if you have, as I said, native woody vegetation in there then you can apply the self-assessable code. That code has then, when you apply it, different areas and differ buffer zones that you can clear within depending on the size of the watercourse, so that is already built in to the self-assessable code.
CHAIR: Even in riparian zones you can have a self-assessable code to clear?
Mr Lazzarini: That is right. It allows some clearing to occur in those zones. Depending on the size of the watercourse, there are different buffers that come into play.
Mr SORENSEN: One lady up in Cairns was asked to make a contribution of $3.5 million to assess that one.
Mr Weinert: I do not believe that we did assess that. As I understand it—and I may be mistaken—the person in question may have made that assessment themselves.
Mr SORENSEN: No, the department made the assessment that the offset would be $3.5 million, as I understand it, at the meeting and the department asked for $3.5 million for the offsets. How do you come to that figure?
Mr Weinert: Offsets in this instance are assessed using a financial calculator, and information is put into a calculator about the scale of the impact and the nature of the environmental matter that the impact will happen to. My understanding is that the environmental offsets calculator, if used in this case, would have come up with a figure significantly less than $3.6 million. In the order of $1.4 million. So I cannot comment, I am afraid, on how the proponent may have arrived at this figure.
I can say that the environmental calculator, if used in relation to that matter, from the understanding of the department, would have come up with a different figure.
Mr SORENSEN: At the end of the day the property is only worth around $700,000. How can it be worth more than the property itself?
Mr Weinert: The cost of the offset includes a number of things; that is, to achieve replacement of an equivalent environmental value—what is called a conservation outcome—that is the cost of managing land to achieve that conservation gain to offset the impact, the cost to the department in Brisbane - 55 - 3 Jun 2016 Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill this case of administering that and a landholder incentive such that a person who is prepared to have an offset on their land. In the interests of maintaining that offset they obviously have some foregone other use of that land. Those are the three components of the cost.
Mr SORENSEN: I am still not with it, because it would still be cheaper if you just went and bought the property and they would make a profit out of it.
Mr Weinert: It may be.
Mrs GILBERT: Can I just ask about how the watercourses are defined? When some landowners got their maps they had watercourses marked on them which are flat ground where they say they have only had water on that area when it has been flooded and it has come across flat ground, so they do not know where the banks actually start and finish. How do you define the watercourses on those maps?
Mr Lazzarini: Those category R maps are developed using Australian Government Geoscience Australia one to 100,000 watercourse mapping. I would say in those situations there would have been some sort of drainage line prior to farming and laser levelling, or whatever has happened in that cropping area, but it still indicates that on the map. Our category R areas are developed using that information. I think I said last week in the mapping briefing that it is not based on whether there are trees there or not; it is based on that watercourse mapping. Again in this case if there is no watercourse there, the map can be amended by a PMAV process or, if it is an obvious error, removed free of charge and it has no impact on that cropping area.
CHAIR: We are due to finish but we will continue a bit longer. We have a few more questions we want to ask.
Mr PERRETT: Thank you to all the departmental officers who have come along today to assist us with this process. I would like to get a couple of clarifications probably from Mr Lazzarini around the mapping. I know we have had a very detailed briefing that is on the public record, but I just wanted to get some further clarity around how the mapping interacts with the law. Given we have had some very strong testimony today with respect to the Law Society around various aspects that they are limited to, I want to get some clarity around the mapping. There have been many landholders that have indicated inaccuracies, and I know there are processes to rectify that, albeit in some cases— some evidence has been presented to this committee—very expensive to go about changing that mapping. How does it interact with the law? The map as it stands today unchallenged informs the law; is that the way it is considered?