«Staff present: Mr R Hansen (Research Director) Mr P Douglas (Principal Research Officer) Mr K Holden (Inquiry Secretary) PUBLIC HEARING—INQUIRY ...»
Mr Seelig: When the Vegetation Management Act was extended to include what was classified as high conservation value regrowth it adopted a cut-off date of 31 December 1989.
Mr MADDEN: Are you talking about our bill?
Mr Seelig: No, I am talking about the previous government’s changes—the Bligh government I think it was at that stage. It used that cut-off for a couple of reasons. One, it fitted in with Kyoto Protocol accounting, but it was also a time at which it meant that regrowth was at least 20 years old, so there were established woodlands effectively. All we are saying here is that, rather than keeping Brisbane -9- 3 Jun 2016 Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill the 1989 cut-off point, we should be moving to a 20-year cut-off point, because that means that for high conservation value regrowth that is established woodland again but is in that gap between 1989 and 1996 protections should be extended rather than sticking with a 1989 cut-off point, because if that is perpetuated that is going to become a diminishing pool of high-value regrowth that could be protected.
Mr MADDEN: Why have you chosen 20 years?
Mr Seelig: Because that was the rationale at the time.
CHAIR: Thank you very much, Tim. Can you have that question on notice to us by close of business Friday 10 June?
Mr Seelig: You will email me reminding me of what that is?
CHAIR: Yes, we will get it to you.
BOYLAND, Mr Des, Policies and Campaign Manager, Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland CHAIR: Mr Boyland, would you like to make a short opening statement?
Mr Boyland: I thank the Agriculture and Environment Committee for the opportunity to appear and offer comment for consideration. I am appearing on behalf of Wildlife Queensland. Wildlife Queensland is a long-established and respected wildlife focused Queensland conservation group.
Broadly speaking, our objectives are to protect wildlife by lawful means, influence choices, and engage and educate communities. With over 6½ thousand supporters, we are a strong voice for our wildlife.
Wildlife Queensland welcomes the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016. The bill addresses and corrects, in part, amendments enacted by the previous government that set aside the intent of the Vegetation Management Act to regulate the clearing of vegetation in Queensland by weakening a number of provisions. The rate of clearing escalated under those amendments and, among other things, the loss of biodiversity and remnant vegetation occurred. Highly valued conservation regrowth was no longer protected, and land and water degradation resulted due to loss of native vegetation.
The bill does not prevent clearing but virtually restricts broadscale clearing, again protects high conservation regrowth and contributes to the enhancement of water quality of the catchments that feed the Great Barrier Reef. The bill is a significant step in the right direction. The retrospective regulatory powers to minimise panic clearing is a wise precaution, a lesson well learnt from the introduction of earlier vegetation management legislation in the early 2000s.
Compliance and enforcement criteria have been strengthened. However, additional amendments are required to further escalate the likelihood of arresting the decline in biodiversity.
Matters of concern for Wildlife Queensland include the continued reliance on self-assessable codes instead of the need to obtain permits. The unintentional inappropriate use of self-assessable codes may lead to clearing of significant habitat for wildlife or the destruction of vulnerable or endangered flora. The definition of thinning in the act needs to be reviewed having due regard to all the scientific data available. Other issues also need to be addressed and, undoubtedly, they will be highlighted by various other organisations.
While Wildlife Queensland would prefer the bill to be strengthened, the enactment of the bill will be a positive step towards our wildlife and its habitat. Wildlife Queensland appreciates that for the common good there is a need for a balance between development, society and community needs as well as the environment. Unfortunately, the correct balance is yet to be achieved, with the environment being the big loser. This bill, if enacted, will commence to rectify the current imbalance.
From Queensland’s perspective, this bill is the first step in reinstating a responsible vegetation management framework. Habitat loss is certainly one of the biggest threats to our wildlife, and this bill will address that issue. Furthermore, the bill will contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions that result from decomposing vegetation and fires—the aftermath of clearing activities. It is well established and underpinned by science that greenhouse gases play a significant role in climate change, which is of course a threatening process to our environment and wildlife.
This bill will contribute to the battle to save the iconic Great Barrier Reef by protecting the riparian vegetation in the catchments, reducing sediment loads that will enhance water quality that flows to the reef. While the World Heritage committee of UNESCO elected not to list the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area as in danger, it is on a watching brief with reports required on the progress of delivering the 2050 long-term reef plan back to UNESCO in 2017.
Any actions that lead to improving water quality and assist in addressing climate change, both of which this bill will do, will be received well by the international community and the World Heritage committee. This is an opportunity to demonstrate to the broader community that the Queensland parliament cares for our environment and appreciates that a healthy environment and healthy people go hand in hand. Vegetation clearing is not being stopped. The bill merely restricts inappropriate methods, activities and reasons for broadscale clearing and reinstates, in part, an appropriate vegetation management that will benefit our environment and its wildlife. Wildlife Queensland strongly advocates that the committee consider the benefits that will flow to our environment—iconic natural wonders such as the Great Barrier Reef and our wildlife—during your deliberations and in arriving at your recommendations.
CHAIR: Can you explain more about your concerns with the self-assessable codes compared to a permit system? I see you mention you would rather a permit system than self-assessable codes.
Can you explain how that will protect wildlife?
Brisbane - 11 - 3 Jun 2016 Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill Mr Boyland: I believe the permit system will work to the benefit of the landholder. It will give certainty that the vegetation that he is addressing is in fact the area and allowable to be cleared. Our knowledge of vegetation is reasonable; it is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. There can be endangered species in that area that should not be cleared. Unfortunately, the owner of the land would not know that.
I am a botanist by profession and actually a vegetation mapper. In fact I have mapped about 12½ per cent of Queensland. It all depends on the scale you are mapping. That is some of the problems with vegetation mapping—it is not done at an appropriate scale to get the accuracy that is actually needed. You do not have to go any further than night parrot. It was considered extinct and now there is a colony on an area, which has been released in newspapers, not far from national parks. In fact, they border national parks in the west, yet no-one had a clue that the night parrot was even there. Our knowledge of our flora is reasonable. Our knowledge of our fauna is abysmal and it needs to be worked through. Some of these areas that people will intentionally think they are doing the right thing in clearing could in fact be the home for threatened species. Let us face it, Australia has got a lot of good reputations, but unfortunately we are one of the worst killers of our native vegetation in the world. It is not a title we should be very proud of.
Mr PERRETT: I want to touch on a similar question that I put to Mr Seelig earlier with regard to the retention of this vegetation on these properties for threatened species or habitat and the like.
Should the government be considering a method to either compensate or pay on an annual basis, as has been put to this committee, for the retention of this vegetation on this land for the specific purposes that you mention?
Mr Boyland: This is very difficult but I have got to be truthful. Wildlife Queensland for a long time has in fact been advocating changes to what is deemed to be the protected area estate in Queensland. Acquiring national park is a very expensive exercise, and management is even more expensive.
Prior to my engagement with the Wildlife Preservation Society, I actually worked for 23 years associated closely with national parks; in fact at one stage I was director of national parks et cetera.
We appreciate that the current system is not working. Biodiversity is in decline. Wildlife Queensland has in fact proposed new methods for a protected area estate; in fact we have briefed both sides of parliament on this issue. Part of that is moving to a scheme where—provided it is well established, highly protected and that sort of thing, and it is for in perpetuity—in certain places farmers and graziers would be far better off actually being compensated to manage sections of their area. They could be paid a certain number of dollars per hectare to keep the ferals and the species out of it.
Mr PERRETT: It sounds like you are suggesting that, rather than the big stick approach that is advocated by some, the carrot incentive would be much better—that we work with landholders through a considered process that provides some financial incentive to landowners to do exactly what you are saying.
Mr Boyland: Yes. It has to be done on a scientific basis, it has to be done on a planned process and it has to be for in perpetuity—on title, cannot walk out of it if you sell the block or anything like that. They are some of the ways we believe we need to change to address that. We also need to work with our traditional owners et cetera, but I think this is getting a bit away from the actual purpose of the bill.
Mr PERRETT: I was just interested in your comments around that because we have heard that from people who are on the ground. We have been for visits on to properties. We have had testimony to this committee that suggests that, rather than the big stick approach that is advocated by some, an incentive process could be far more advantageous. That is why I was keen to get your opinion in a considered and responsible way around those issues.
Mrs GILBERT: My ears pricked up when you said you were a botanist. Some of the graziers were talking to us recently about the mulga vegetation. They said they were considered to be a woody weed and now they are classed as a tree that is protected. They were saying that, when they are thickened, nothing grows in amongst them, not even the birds. Have we got some species in the wrong categories?
Mr Boyland: Mulga is certainly not a woody weed. It is in fact a living haystack. I must admit to the committee that back in about 2006 I was engaged jointly by the government of the day and also AgForce to prepare a paper on the use of the mulga lands in Queensland because both governments had it wrong and they have still got it wrong today. If they want to know how to use the mulga lands, they should go and talk to Bean Schmidt in Western Queensland. Mulga does not grow in little rows. You cannot regulate it. I mapped most of the mulga lands; that was the area I specialised in—arid and semi-arid Queensland.
Brisbane - 12 - 3 Jun 2016 Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill Unfortunately, mulga can grow to the thickness and biodiversity declines. That is an absolute fact. There is no question about that, but there is a way to do it properly. The whole trouble with the mulga lands—which is the most unstable natural land system in Queensland, by the way—is the mulga land blocks were chopped up in the 1950s, which was the wettest decade this century. Wool was a pound a pound. A grazing family underestimated the carrying capacity by a figure of about 600 per cent or 700 per cent. They were allocated 5,000 acres. They thought a sheep could have 1:5, which is absolutely ridiculous—it is 1:25—and they were cut up so small. You can push over 1,000 hectares of mulga, provided you have got 200,000 hectares and you can leave it to come back. Also, with the living haystack, silly animals will not eat each tree you push down. They are very selective.
They will eat one, they will move on, they will pass one. I must confess that I still do not believe they have got it right.
Mr SORENSEN: One grazier we were talking to said that Land for Wildlife has dropped off the horizon at the moment. Do you think that is a good way to go with the landowners as well? It was pretty popular about 10 or 20 years ago. This gentleman is so upset with the way he is being treated he is wanting to take it off the records again. What are your thoughts on that?
Mr Boyland: Land for Wildlife?
Mr SORENSEN: Yes. Land for Wildlife projects.
Mr Boyland: We try to encourage people to enjoy wildlife. A lot of that Land for Wildlife, which is basically more in the urban areas and that sort of thing, can be a positive thing for wildlife. There is no question about that.
Mr SORENSEN: Do you think that is a better way to bring people together, rather than the big stick approach?
Mr Boyland: There needs to be both. I learnt a hell of a lot from graziers. In fact I dedicated my master’s thesis to one grazier—Herb Rabig out at Cuddapan, which is between Birdsville and Windorah in case you do not know where Cuddapan is. Most graziers try to do the right thing. You would be surprised to know that a number of our 6,500 supporters are in fact graziers and farmers.
We have quite a lot of graziers and farmers. You need carrot and stick; there is no question about that.
Mr SORENSEN: You cannot have one without the other.