«Staff present: Mr R Hansen (Research Director) Mr P Douglas (Principal Research Officer) Mr K Holden (Inquiry Secretary) PUBLIC HEARING—INQUIRY ...»
Mr Boyland: I actually worked on the better management practice program that was funded by the previous government. It encouraged and went out to educate the people about the amendments to the legislation, which was the way to go. Unfortunately, with the amendments to the legislation last time, the education program did not go with it and it should not have because it was an absolute retrograde step. I could not understand why a wrecking ball was taken to the vegetation and conservation laws of Queensland by the previous government. I just could not understand it; I cannot understand it today.
Mr MADDEN: I want to talk to you about this provision in the bill that protects 50 metres of vegetation on each side of the watercourse. There have been suggestions made that that is a one-size-fits-all approach that does not really fit in with large holdings versus small holdings. You might have 100,000 acres on east Cape York but you might have 100 acres on the Mary River, so that 50 metres really cuts in. Do you think there should be some flexibility to the area that we protect?
Mr Boyland: I think it should be bigger, which is probably not the answer you wanted. In the vegetation management, there should be a certain size for drainage lines, there should be a certain size for creeks, there should be a certain size for rivers, and 50 metres is the absolute minimum that you need to compensate because things change. If we do not get the rain, you might not get the grass cover that you need.
Mr MADDEN: So you are saying that the buffer should vary depending on the type of watercourse?
Mr Boyland: Yes, unquestionably. The bigger the watercourse, the bigger the buffer. The 50 metres should be an absolute minimum for drainage lines.
CHAIR: Thank you very much, Des. They were very informative answers.
MACEY, Ms Kirsten, Campaigner, Queensland Conservation Council CHAIR: Welcome. I will just advise everyone sitting in front of the committee today that we are getting a little bit behind time. I ask that you make sure your answers do not drag on too much and that they are short and to the point. I also ask for your opening speeches to be reasonably short.
Would you like to make an opening statement?
Ms Macey: Thank you for inviting me here today. The Queensland Conservation Council provided a submission to the process and we are keen to talk further about this. QCC is the peak body in Queensland. We have over 60 environment organisations, with thousands of supporters from Cairns down to the Gold Coast and out west—some of whom you have already heard from in hearings where you have been going around the state.
My background is that I have been following the climate change issue for over 16 years now, working at local, state, national and international levels. I have also followed the United Nations negotiations on climate change for over 10 years, specialising amongst other things in the land use change and forestry area.
We know, of course—and you know this already—that land clearing is the single biggest threat to Queensland’s biodiversity. It exacerbates salinity, reduces water quality and scientists have found that droughts are worsened by climate change. Of course it contributes significantly to greenhouse and gas emissions as well. The laws to control land clearing were in large part enabled by the Howard government and also the previous Beattie government to meet the Kyoto target. That was very important by the federal Liberal National Party to meet the Kyoto protocol target. QCC has a long history working to try to control land clearing. We were there when former premier Beattie called for the moratorium on land clearing. In fact, we handed out flowers to politicians—Labor, Liberal and Independents—who helped pass this legislation.
In 2015 the Queensland Labor government made an election promise to act within its scope to reduce greenhouse emissions and also to control land clearing again, and we welcome that. We know that climate change is real and the impacts are being felt right across Queensland and Australia. We have seen the worst coral bleaching event in history. The agriculture minister said last year that 86 per cent of the state is now in drought. Farmers on the ground are also seeing these impacts. In 2004 I was doing a workshop with the Climate Action Network Australia working with farmers to talk about the impacts of climate change. I think more work actually needs to be done on the impacts of climate change for farmers and the rural communities out there. We are, unfortunately, seeing little action by the federal government on climate change. They have a very weak target to actually reduce greenhouse emissions. What we are seeing is the work that they are doing in terms of the Emissions Reduction Fund is likely to be negated by the emissions that are coming from Queensland’s land clearing. Of course, that is a key concern. I think it means that we need to be working in Queensland to reduce land clearing, but we also need to make sure that the federal government is involved in this issue as well because it does affect how Australia accounts for our emissions under the international negotiations.
We know internationally that Australia and the Queensland government both supported the Paris climate agreement in which 195 countries agreed to reduce greenhouse emissions and make sure that we come down to 1.5 degrees in global temperature rise above pre-industrial levels. I think everyone has felt the fact that winter has just started and we have had a very long, hot summer.
QCC’s goal is to make sure that we do keep under this level because if we do not, the Great Barrier Reef will suffer much more than what we are seeing.
We are concerned that greenhouse emissions from land clearing are contributing to six per cent of Australia’s total emissions because when the trees are left to rot and burn, that is when the greenhouse emissions are released into the atmosphere. We were quite concerned about the recent data coming out from the SLATS report in Queensland that in 2013-14 the emissions released were approximately 35.8 million tonnes. I was trying to figure out what this equated to. It is almost the equivalent to Uruguay’s emissions. This is an entire country’s emissions coming from just one sector in Queensland.
As I said before, land clearing is a significant factor in Australia’s recent drought and changing climate. Scientists have found that the importance of land cover change is a contributing factor to observe changes in climate. There are a number of studies out there that have said that the change in temperature can be attributed to land clearing. I think that it is important to recognise the scientific aspect of that. QCC commends this legislation as the first step. It is a first step to get back to where we were previously. In terms of consistency, we need to move on from here now. We cannot see any more retrograde actions in this area. This is 2016. We need to be moving forward and making sure that Queensland’s environment is protected for our future generations.
Brisbane - 14 - 3 Jun 2016 Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill There are some provisions of the bill that we support, including the ability to apply for permits for high-value agriculture clearing and irrigated high-value agriculture clearing. We support the restorations of protections for ecologically important regrowing of woodlands on freehold and Aboriginal lands. We welcome the proposal to extend the protection of regrowth along watercourses into all reef catchments. This is particularly important because of the government’s commitment to protect the reef. That is already under threat not only from climate change, as we have seen, but also from water quality. That is welcomed. We support the provision of the reinstatement of the requirement to obtain a riverine protection permit to destroy vegetation in watercourses, lakes and springs. This is important for not only the reef but also agriculture, infrastructure and other property.
From our perspective, the bill still remains a significant compromise. There are loopholes that we believe should be closed in terms of exemptions, in particular, in the urban area. This leaves important vegetation in urban areas that are vulnerable to clearing. This is an important issue that needs to be looked at. As others have already mentioned before me, the reliance on self-assessable codes has been retained, which we would like to see going back to a permit system. I support the statements made by my colleagues who have said that that makes it much clearer. There are 22 million hectares of bushland made exempt on property maps of assessable vegetation that will continue to be open to repeated clearing regardless of whether this vegetation falls in stream buffer zones or compromises endangered ecosystems. It would be good to have a look at how we can limit that and continue to ensure protection for our biodiversity.
Mining is also exempt. We are about to see thousands of hectares of endangered and vulnerable black-throated finch habitat destroyed by the Adani Carmichael coalmine. That has been exempt. We need to look at this with a whole-of-government approach. In our submission we have raised the issue that there seems to be a competition between land uses. On the one side we have approval for a coalmine expansion on strategic cropping land in the Darling Downs. This is only for an expansion for another 13 years. It will destroy 1,300 hectares of strategic cropping land. Then on the other hand, we have land clearers wanting to clear woodlands and native vegetation for agricultural purposes. It seems to me that we are missing the bigger picture here. If we are allowing the coalmine on strategic cropping land and we are clearing native woodland and vegetation for agriculture, there seems to be something going wrong. We need an approach to land that works within the landscape rather than seeking this ‘dominate and destroy’ culture and an attacking culture that is causing an ‘us and them’ approach, which I do not think is helpful. QCC would really like to see all sides coming together to protect Queensland. Thank you very much for the time.
CHAIR: Just a quick question, I took note that you mentioned high-value agriculture and you actually supported that. Is that because of what is being replaced by the high-value agriculture? Do you deem that as being sufficient to help with emissions to the atmosphere and the like?
Ms Macey: Sorry, can you please repeat that?
CHAIR: You said in your comments that you supported high-value agriculture and irrigated high-value agriculture. I want to get an understanding of why you made that commit.
Ms Macey: For the permits to clear that. We are wanting to make sure that remnant woodlands are protected. It is basically reinstating provisions that existed prior to 2013 for remnant vegetation protection.
CHAIR: You do not support high-value agriculture or irrigated high-value agriculture, just the protection of the timber land?
Ms Macey: The protection of remnant woodlands in terms of if you were clearing these remnant woodlands for agriculture.
CHAIR: Just to clear that up for myself, if land is cleared for high-value agriculture and they have put a crop in, basically you are saying that you support the crops they are replacing are sufficient for the climate and the like? Is that what you are saying?
Ms Macey: In terms of carbon benefits, cropping land is a measure used in the international negotiations to store carbon. In terms of a crop land, it is a temporary benefit. What we need to see is long-term storage of carbon. We need to see carbon being stored long-term so it acts as a carbon sink so that it can regulate and take those greenhouse emissions out. In terms of crop land, it is shortterm, so it is not effective as long-term storage.
Mr SORENSEN: You talk about the cropping lands. We had one farmer out at Roma or Charleville who said that he had his soil tested some years ago and he has had it tested recently and the carbon was a lot higher in the soil at this point. Do you take that into consideration when you are measuring the carbon loss and carbon sinks?
Brisbane - 15 - 3 Jun 2016 Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill Ms Macey: In the international reporting and accounting that the Australian government has to do, they go out and do those kinds of things. There are farmers out there who are improving their soils, and if you see an improvement in soil you can actually increase the carbon in your soils.
Mr SORENSEN: That is what this guy is doing, but do you take that into account?
Ms Macey: He is clearly doing practices that are improving the— Mr SORENSEN: Is there any measurements of that?
Ms Macey: That is the very difficult question about whether or not you need measurement because you actually need to go out there and be doing the testing. That is really an Australian government issue. My understanding from the experts in the UNFCCC, who review the reports of the Australian government, is that there are only eight sites in Australia where they do soil carbon. That was my understanding in 2009. That is an issue that you should raise with the Australian government.
Mr MADDEN: I have a question with regard to your submission. You would have heard today and in other hearings that we have held that there has been considerable discussion about the reversal of the onus of proof and the removal of the right to rely on mistake of fact. That reversal of the onus of proof has often been taken to mean the removal of the right of silence. With all that, I wonder if you would clarify what you meant in the final page of your submission where it says that one of your concerns with regard to the act is the ability to withhold incriminating evidence of illegal clearing for prosecution is retained. Given that the act removes the right of silence, why are you saying that there is some evidence that the act itself will allow the withholding of incriminating evidence?
Ms Macey: I would have to take that question on notice. Our submission was drafted by a number of colleagues in the organisation and I would have to refer that to them.
Mr MADDEN: If you could take that on notice that would be good.