«Staff present: Mr R Hansen (Research Director) Mr P Douglas (Principal Research Officer) Mr K Holden (Inquiry Secretary) PUBLIC HEARING—INQUIRY ...»
Dr Seelig: Queensland is blessed in that a lot of its vegetation will naturally regenerate and that may result in some thickening that occurs, initially because of the fact that it has been cleared and then regrown. Nature will restore its balances, if allowed to continue to grow. In terms of the fire issue, I think that is a really good question. I think fire management is a key opportunity under broad carbon farming that Queensland should be endorsing more of and should be looking as an opportunity to support Indigenous revenue streams and other rural land holders, so that they can derive incomes from protecting nature and protecting woodlands, rather than chopping it down.
Mr PERRETT: Thank you for coming along, Tim. Tim, you obviously take a very political stance with respect to this. You mentioned that with respect to the former LNP and also AgForce. As we have been travelling the state, we have heard a lot of direct testimony from landholders that opposes what you have said today, particularly on-the-ground experiences from people who are directly affected. One of the issues that has been raised is this: let us say for the community good and to benefit the measures you have mentioned around greenhouse gas emissions and detrimental effects to the Great Barrier Reef, these areas need to be locked up. There may be a loss of production on those properties and many, many landholders have indicated that there will be a loss of production in some form on these properties. Given that there is a greater community good, should not the taxpayers of this state, in the broader scheme of things—the people who do not have the ability to keep remnant vegetation on their properties, be it a town lot or elsewhere—compensate those landowners, for the greater community good?
Dr Seelig: There are a couple of points I would make in response to that. Firstly, when the Vegetation Management Act was amended in the mid-2000s, compensation was paid—effectively, compensation—to landholders. It was about $150 million. About $8 million went to AgForce to help them promote the changes. I think about $130 million or $140 million was made available to landholders through rural adjustment programs. That was effectively in recognition that the prohibition Brisbane -6- 3 Jun 2016 Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill of broad-scale clearing may potentially have an impact on a number of landholders. I should add, another 500,000 hectares was allowed to be cleared under ballot at the same time. That was done and endorsed by us, broadly because we believed that this effectively was a historical compromise to bring an end to broad-scale clearing.
I think the changes that happened in 2013 unpicked that. They undid that. I do not support further compensation, because I think it has already been paid. We do not actually know whether any of the people who have been clearing in the last two or three years were the same people who received money in 2006. I think the committee should be asking that first, before it starts thinking about further compensation.
Just to come to the issue of individual landholders, certainly I noted that a number of individual landholders have been paraded in front of the committee. I guess that is an attempt to try to personalise the effects of the bill.
Mr PERRETT: Excuse me: I dispute the fact that they have been paraded in front of the committee.
Dr Seelig: I say that because AgForce— Mr PERRETT: Please explain yourself with regard to that, because that is an insult to every single person who has come before this committee. They have not been paraded. They have come here under their own volition and, in a lot of cases, put a very emotional perspective to what we are doing and what the government is proposing to do. I ask you to withdraw that, please.
Dr Seelig: May I explain why I said that?
Mr PERRETT: I ask you to withdraw that, please.
Dr Seelig: I will withdraw the word ‘paraded’.
CHAIR: Thank you.
Mr PERRETT: That is unparliamentary.
Dr Seelig: The reason I suggested that was because I have seen the emails from certain individuals who have corralled individuals to turn up to your hearings and to make the very points that I think you are alluding to.
Mr PERRETT: I think that is a very strong statement to make.
Dr Seelig: I can show you the emails. Would you like me to take this as a question on notice and forward you the emails?
Mr PERRETT: If you want to do that you can do that.
Dr Seelig: Absolutely.
Mr PERRETT: I dispute the fact that they have ben paraded and corralled before this committee.
Dr Seelig: If I may take that question on notice, I will provide you with an email from Peter Spies— Mr PERRETT: You will not provide it to me; you will provide it to the committee.
Dr Seelig: Sure. What I was going to say was that if you look at the submissions, it is clear that there are also rural landholders and farmers who support this bill. I suspect quite a large part of the rural community has a silent view on this, because they are worried about sticking their heads up and supporting the bill. I think the reality is that we are not going to land clear our way through climate change, the Great Barrier Reef, loss of biodiversity. We have to realise that there are big issues at stake here. The future of the Great Barrier Reef is not a small matter. There are 60,000 people employed through the Great Barrier Reef. It is a $7 billion part of the Queensland economy. We are risking that. The Auditor-General last year flagged that the LNP’s changes to the Vegetation Management Act posed a direct threat to the reef through the loss of riparian vegetation, clearing and other practices in reef catchments. That is not us saying that; that is an official government body, an official government person—in fact, it is a statutory authority person—saying that same thing.
I understand that there are a number of landholders who feel aggrieved by this bill, but I think we also need to look at the big picture. We need to look at the future of the Great Barrier Reef. When you think about future generations that are affected by climate change and the loss biodiversity, I think this bill is an opportunity to draw a line under some bad policy, to get back to the program that we were on in the mid- to late-2000s and to start to have a much broader conversation about how we can place greater value on trees standing up rather than being knocked down.
Brisbane -7- 3 Jun 2016 Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill Carbon farming and regulation are key opportunities that I think the committee—we have recommended setting up something like a task force to look at this in more detail. I think that is an opportunity for the committee to further this issue, as well.
Mr PERRETT: You mentioned the compensation that was made available in 1999. There have been 18 further amendments to the legislation since then, with no further compensation payable.
Every time there is a further level of restriction on a landholder to retain more vegetation on their property, should not compensation be made available, at every legislative change that impacts the viability and profitability of rural landholders?
Dr Seelig: Firstly, the compensation was paid in 2006; not in 1999. Secondly, no, because I do not think government can feel responsible to pay compensation to every affected individual on every policy change it ever makes. If it did that— Mr PERRETT: Even if it is in the community benefit, as you mentioned?
Dr Seelig: I would be a very rich person if I got money every time the government changed the planning laws, for example.
Mr PERRETT: So property owners can suffer loss based on a change of legislation without compensation being payable? Is that what you are suggesting?
Dr Seelig: If we are talking about landholders who have owned land for quite some time— Mr PERRETT: Some for only short periods of time.
Dr Seelig: I am not going to answer hypotheticals because that is not fair. I do not know exactly what the specifics— Mr PERRETT: Land changes ownership on a daily basis in this state.
Dr Seelig: If someone bought land three years ago, let us say, and had a serious business plan over the next 20 years to undertake agriculture, the first thing they would have done would have been to apply for a PMAV, presumably. If they had vegetation locked up in a PMAV, then they have no complaint. If it has been an idea they have been kicking around for the last few years and now the government is proposing to change the law, there is no substance to their plan other than it being an idea being kicked around. I do not think the government should feel obligated to compensate in that particular case, because it does not compensate you or I when the government changes planning law or other land use law. I think that is a can of worms that no government— Mr PERRETT: This is based on community benefit.
CHAIR: I think he has answered the question, Tony.
Mr PERRETT: No, he has not answered the question.
CHAIR: I think he has answered the question to the best of his ability.
Mrs GILBERT: I want to go back to land clearing. I do not know whether you have the knowledge around this. As we were visiting different properties they showed us areas that have been locked up where they cannot do any thinning at all and where once upon a time there was grass growing in between the trees. Then they showed us that as the trees got taller the canopy became thicker and there is no longer any ground cover. The surface soils are washing off into the creek and it is silting up. The farmers were saying that if they could do a bit of thinning to let the grass grow that would be better for the environment and for the creeks. They were very concerned that the one-size-fits-all provision in the bill was not allowing them to make some decisions on their properties.
Do you have any thoughts on that silting and thinning?
Dr Seelig: Firstly, thinning is not affected by this bill, as Revel said earlier. For better or worse, this bill does not affect the self-assessable codes for thinning or any of the other ones.
Mr PERRETT: This is category R areas.
Dr Seelig: If it is proposed now to be in category R, that means it is in a riparian area of a Great Barrier Reef catchment river.
Mr PERRETT: That is what the member is talking about—category R.
Dr Seelig: Again, it is hard to answer a hypothetical. If you know more information about the property than I do— Mr PERRETT: This is not hypothetical.
Mrs GILBERT: It is my question.
Brisbane -8- 3 Jun 2016 Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill Mr Seelig: If it is in a category R area, it is not really thinning; it is a question of whether you can still clear in a riparian area in the Great Barrier Reef catchment area. I do not think you should, no. If it is broadly about thinning, there was an independent review of the thinning codes conducted at the end of last year by Cardno Chenoweth—and that is available publicly—that flagged there were abuse problems with both the thinning and the fodder harvesting codes. Whilst it is not a focus of this bill, I would be thoroughly recommending the government have a god look at those codes and see where they could be tightened up.
Mr SORENSEN: One of the problems I see in the Gympie area with the cat’s claw in the riparian areas is that, if you are going to take that out of productive areas for farmers, they are not going to look after it. Who is going to be responsible for the invasive weeds that wipe out vegetation anyway?
Mr Seelig: I would have thought a good progressive landholder would be undertaking weed management on their property regardless of— Mr SORENSEN: But you are taking a 100-metre strip up every gully and he is not going to get anything out of that land because he cannot produce anything off it.
Mr Seelig: Again, that is why I think our thinking is so limited at the moment. Perhaps they are areas that in future could be identified as carbon farming opportunities. I think a lot of policy work needs to be done and a lot of hard grind between the state and the Commonwealth governments needs to be done to work out exactly how this is done and done properly— Mr SORENSEN: You cannot expect the farmer or the landowner to go to his expense for community benefit and lock up these areas where these noxious weeds are. No mug is going to do that. Somebody has to do it.
Mr Seelig: As Tony Jones would say, that sounds more like a comment than a question.
Mr SORENSEN: Take it whichever way you want it, but at the end of the day farmers are not going to pay for something that they cannot get a benefit from while it is locked up. They will leave this cat’s claw grow and it will take over all the trees. I was on the Mary River Catchment Coordinating Committee years ago and we tried to do a lot to eradicate it, but it is an environmental weed and it takes out big timber. It is not just little bushes. It grows up the trees. Who do you expect to do that— either the government or the landowner at the end of the day?
Mr Seelig: If you are asking me that formally, the landholder. But I think we also have a slightly perverse situation here where we are saying that the only way we can encourage landholders to undertake weed management is to allow them to do large scale clearing.
Mr SORENSEN: I did not say that— Mr PERRETT: No, he did not say that.
Mr SORENSEN:—I said if they have not got any productivity coming out of that area. It is mostly cleared, grassed and has nice trees on it, but if you are going to restrict those people 50 metres either side of the bank— Mr Seelig: Again, if you can provide me with the specifics. It is hard to answer a hypothetical question on a particular property that you know more about than I do.
Mr PERRETT: This is not hypothetical; it is fact.
Mr SORENSEN: There are a lot of creeks. It is not just one property.
Mr MADDEN: Tim, thanks for coming in today. I want to clarify something in your submission regarding the definition of high-value regrowth vegetation. I am finding it hard to follow. It is on page 5 of your submission, paragraph 4, to assist you, so you know what I am talking about. I am simply seeking clarification.