«Staff present: Mr R Hansen (Research Director) Mr P Douglas (Principal Research Officer) Mr K Holden (Inquiry Secretary) PUBLIC HEARING—INQUIRY ...»
CHAIR: Thank you. I want to touch quickly on self-assessable codes, and you did just touch on it briefly. We have heard today but we have not heard too much along our travels about the use of permits rather than self-assessable codes. Can you give me your thoughts on self-assessable codes and if a permit system would be a better approach rather than self-assessable codes?
Dr Taylor: Yes, we believe there is room for self-assessable codes if there is low ecological risk. In other words, if there is risk that there is a mistake in the execution of self-assessable codes, you do not suddenly get 4,000 hectares cleared—bulldozed—which includes endangered ecosystems, which has actually happened under the thinning code. Yes, we believe there is a scope for self-assessable codes if that scope is limited, and I believe we discuss that at length and made recommendations in our submission.
CHAIR: Thank you.
Mr PERRETT: Thank you, Dr Taylor, for coming in. I just want to touch on that compensation issue—and you have heard the questions previously—and get your thoughts in and around whether there should be a big stick approach or a carrot approach to this particular issue, so landholders being encouraged or required to retain certain vegetation on their property and whether there should be compensation or a mechanism that pays landholders to retain that vegetation in the broader community and world benefit, as you have indicated in your presentation today.
Dr Taylor: I thank you for the question. I think as has been mentioned before, the 2004-06 ban on broadscale clearing contained a very generous compensation package. Actually, it was an assistance package; it was not strictly compensation because there was no recognition then, as there should not be now, that there is any inherent right in being able to cut down native vegetation and cause degradation of the public interest in a clean environment. Nevertheless, at the time there was a substantial package of $150 million I believe. If the committee wishes I can table it, but there was a report at the time that the Beattie government had produced which estimated that the loss in agricultural value due to the pending ban on broadscale clearing was of the order of $180 million at the time. The Beattie government had a report done and the $150 million was pitched to be very close to that amount, but of course there was an additional consideration put into the mix which was that half a million hectares of broadscale clearing was allowed under ballot for properties that had to have had more than 30 per cent of their property in remnant clearing. There was ample opportunity made prior to the ban on broadscale clearing and as part of the package to assist landholders who would be adversely affected. I think all those considerations have been settled in the past. I do not think there is any doubt about that.
I remind you that we still have a policy of locking in exempt vegetation if it is mapped as exempt on a property map of assessable vegetation and there is 22 million hectares of Queensland, which is an area approaching that of the island of Great Britain, which is mapped as exempt on a property map of assessable vegetation. There is a presumed right associated with that—in other words, if you were to remap that vegetation as protected in some way, it would be a compensable right. There would be no doubt about it. Certainly, where such rights exist there would be a requirement for the government to compensate them and there are such rights that appear to be the case with PMAV X.
I note in addition that only about half, according to my analysis of the land use map of Queensland, of that 22 million hectares has actually been converted to sown pastures, crops, buildings, roads et Brisbane - 19 - 3 Jun 2016 Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill cetera. In other words, we have a very substantial area of Queensland—about half the area of the island of Great Britain—which is totally exempt, can be cleared at any time, mostly has probably scrubby regrowth on it and can be converted to agriculture if the landholder so pleases.
Mr PERRETT: As a supplementary to that, you obviously then support that right being locked in perpetuity into the future, because we have heard some concern from landholders as we have travelled around the state given the various changes to the legislative status of vegetation over the period since 1999 that they are fearful that that right that may exist today could be changed by government. I want to get your thoughts about that being locked into perpetuity and giving that confidence to landholders that there will be no further change into the future on that particular land.
Dr Taylor: In our submission I think we say we did not agree with that, that you should not have an absolute right to clear endangered vegetation or endangered species habitats. Nevertheless, the bill before the committee preserves that right. It does not change it. As far as I know, if the government tried to change it, it would face quite a considerable legal claim from landholders who would say, ‘No, you told me that was locked in as PMAV X, so you now need to compensate me.’ I will add in passing that we have done a very extensive analysis. We have been very active trying to help landholders who have regrowth on properties that are PMAV X that they have a right to reclear.
We are very active in helping landholders seek a grant from the Emissions Reduction Fund, the Commonwealth government’s Emissions Reduction Fund, if that regrowth fits some of the methodologies that are available for them and we have identified thousands of properties—we are cooperating with a carbon broker—and are trying to encourage those landholders to take advantage of the Emissions Reduction Fund so that they can seek a carbon benefit.
CHAIR: Thank you very much, Dr Taylor. As there are no further questions from the committee, we will break for lunch and the hearing will resume, because of this morning’s little hiccup, at 1.15 to hear from the next lot of speakers, the Queensland Farmers’ Federation.
Proceedings suspended from 12.52 pm to 1.14 pm
HENRY, Mr Ross, Project Manager, Queensland Farmers’ Federation KEALLEY, Mr Matt, Senior Manager, Environment and Sustainability, Canegrowers MURRAY, Mr Michael, General Manager, Cotton Australia WADE, Ms Ruth, Consultant, Queensland Farmers’ Federation CHAIR: Good afternoon. Welcome back to the Agriculture and Environment Committee’s public hearing in relation to its inquiry into the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill. I welcome the representatives from the Queensland Farmers’ Federation. Would you like to make a brief opening statement?
Ms Wade: Thank you, Chair. We are represented here today by three of our industries that made submissions to the committee. The Queensland Dairyfarmers’ Organisation also provided a written submission. Our position is quite simply that the legislation in its current form should be rejected. We do not believe that we have been properly or appropriately consulted, contrary to the government’s wishes to be consultative on this process.
We have some specific issues that are of concern, but those concerns are shared by everyone in the agricultural sector. We are very keen to sit down and talk about what options there might be.
We believe we can contribute to a sensible and reasonable debate about where we need to get to to ensure there is a sustainable vegetation management framework in Queensland so that farmers can manage their properties into the future.
CHAIR: I go back to your opening statement about consultation. Are you saying that there was no consultation with any of your group in the federation at all?
Ms Wade: Chair, there was early consultation but since Christmas there has been virtually no consultation, and that has been difficult because the Queensland Farmers’ Federation has not been front and centre in terms of the running of this issue. We were probably as disappointed and surprised as others to see the form of the legislation when it finally hit the parliament. We had been having discussions about what the middle ground might look like or what was really important for us to maintain in terms of being able to manage vegetation into the future. When we saw the legislation and saw that high-value agriculture, high-value irrigated agriculture and any other structures that might allow a sensible and responsible management framework into the future had been deleted we were not aware that that was where we were going to end up.
Mr Murray: From Cotton Australia’s point of view, I am completely unaware of any discussions between our industry and government on this legislation.
Mr Kealley: From Canegrowers’ point of view, we were involved in some roundtable discussions before the end of last year. They did not go anywhere. Now when we stand here is when this information has come forward. We would like to have a discussion on how we can make it better.
CHAIR: Other than high-value agriculture, what are some of your biggest concerns with the proposed bill?
Mr Murray: For our industry it is the high-value irrigated agricultural land and the high-value agricultural land pathway. From the cotton industry’s view, there are certainly opportunities in Northern Queensland for further development. We have seen the government make available about another 350,000 megalitres of water for irrigated agricultural development in places like Richmond and Gilbert. It would seem to us strange that you would take away this pathway which is probably the most highly regulated pathway that was in the existing legislation because it was regulation so that could be changed by going through an application and assessment process. If people wanted to, you could change the criteria over time if you thought they were inadequate. It takes away some flexibility.
When I canvassed our growers, particularly in the Richmond-Gilbert, the response has been that it probably will not affect us because we have enough land that we can clear under the self-assessable codes, but I know Bill is affected. What we would like to think—and, as an industry, we pride ourselves on our best management practice program—is that if you were to do any development for agriculture you would do it at the very best level of practice. That may involve some clearing of native vegetation; that may mean significant offsets, but at the end of the day you would get something that was best for the state of Queensland as a whole and best for agriculture. It seems really foolish to take that away.
The other area that has been spoken about a lot is the removal of the mistake of fact defence.
I must admit that I have not spent a lot of time pouring over the maps, but out of interest I did open up a map over the Theodore irrigation area and found some R protected land that was running right Brisbane - 21 - 3 Jun 2016 Public Hearing—Inquiry into the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill through the middle of irrigation fields. I am not too sure what software did the mapping interrogation.
Maybe they picked up a channel or something, but I can assure you that there is no creek, river or stream running through that particular field in Theodore.
You will hear later, if you have not already heard, from the Queensland Law Society and they can go into the details around this, but at the very least until there is absolute confidence in the mapping removing that mistake of fact defence seems very dangerous to me.
Mr Kealley: From Canegrowers’ point of view, we have the same concerns about high-value agriculture and high-value irrigated agriculture. How do we open up the north with opportunities for new cane areas under the current bill? How do we effectively manage the category R 50-metre setbacks, particularly in the cane industry? A lot of our remnant vegetation is along watercourses and along those areas. How is that tied back into reef regulations and the reef programs that are trying to improve water quality and practice changes on farm. We need some certainty about this bill and what the future holds for growers, because it seems to keep chopping and changing. They cannot make longer term decisions on how to effectively manage their lands. That is a longer term view.
My view on ecosystem services is that growers potentially have some opportunities into the future, depending on how they manage their land, which can bring some value back to their farming business, whether it is looking at offsets, greenhouse gas, carbon abatement and those types of opportunities. We would like to see those explored more effectively and not just say, ‘This is locked up; you can’t do any more about that.’ Ms Wade: Can I come back to the reef? We chair the Reef Alliance, which is an alliance between industry, WWF and NRM groups. We work intensively with all sorts of government agencies on how to protect the reef in the long term. The water science task force report was released I think last week. It recommends voluntary retirement of marginal land from production. We recognise that potentially there are some areas along the reef catchments that potentially should not be. We would argue that this will not be able to occur under this legislation. People will lock in place their current footprint. They will not be prepared to allow anything that is currently in production to be taken out of production even though there may well be evidence that there is an alternative and much more sustainable area that can be developed. We think there are some perverse outcomes in terms of legislation and recommendations that government is dealing with that are not consistent.
Mr PERRETT: Thank you for being here today. You may all be able to answer this. I want to touch on the issues around economic development in regional Queensland and job opportunities that are linked to that by the expansion of agriculture. I cite specifically, and this is with regard to canegrowers, MSF Sugar in Maryborough, which had planned an expansion of their operation to provide not only a broader economic base within that region but also job opportunities. The member for Maryborough and the state Treasurer made certain comments around that. Do you think this bill will either enhance or stifle—and I say that in the fairest possible way—job opportunities within agriculture across Queensland?