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Sunday, 2 June 2013

Campbell Newman Takes an Axe to the Queensland Environment

Part of the area added by Labor to Mapleton National Park on the Sunshine Coast -  Campbell Newman may revoke  Labor's park declarations
Measures being implemented in Queensland by Premier Campbell Newman amount to the greatest rollback of environmental protection in Australian political history.

A small coterie of Nationals in the Liberal National Party Government ministry, backed by the LNP’s Nationals-dominated organisational wing, is overseeing the systematic dismantling of key environmental laws. Newman, supposedly a Liberal moderate, is turning a blind eye to the Nationals’ escapades in the interests of maintaining LNP unity.

The passage of the Vegetation Management Framework Amendment Bill undermines Labor’s tree-clearing laws, opening up two million hectares of bushland to the bulldozers. The consequences will include loss of biodiversity across the state, further shrinkage of remnant areas of native vegetation and increased levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

Queensland is set to return to the days of having one of the world's highest tree-clearing rates
Newman broke a pre-election promise to keep the laws. Vegetation once protected can now be cleared if land is deemed of “high agricultural value” - an open-ended definition. The protection of regrowth vegetation has been dispensed with. It is easier to bulldoze bushland along watercourses. If land-holders clear specially protected vegetation, the onus of proof is reversed so they can merely plead ignorance to avoid prosecution.

Before Labor’s laws were enacted in 2006, Queensland had one of the world’s highest land-clearing rates; those days are returning although there is less bushland left to clear. Natural Resources Minister Andrew Cripps boasted when foreshadowing the move that he was “taking an axe” to the laws. And so he did: most bushland remaining on private and leased land is up for grabs. Cripps is one of three right-wing Nationals in the ministry – along with Agriculture Minister John McVeigh and State Development Minister and Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney - who have Newman’s blessing for the new environmental agenda.

Eungella Honeyeater - under threat from a new logging licence. Picture by Trevor Quested
McVeigh opened up to 30,000 hectares a year of state forest for logging.  Logging was stopped by Labor as part of a shift to greater use of plantation timber. The “forest wars” that were once a feature of the political landscape are returning: conservationists are outraged by a logging licence granted over rainforest in Crediton State Forest near Mackay - the habitat of the endangered eungella honeyeater.

Seeney is implementing a development blueprint that includes the scrapping of wild river declarations on Cape York. The Government aims to scuttle the proposed World Heritage Listing of Cape York, one of Australia’s outstanding wilderness areas. Seeney has declared that Cape York is open for mining and agricultural expansion.

Mulga woodlands in western Queensland - among the habitats threatened by new tree-clearing laws
Seeney’s plans mirror those of Cape York Aboriginal powerbroker Noel Pearson, who argues that environmental protections stymie indigenous economic opportunities. His opponents say preserving wilderness affords greater opportunities. They point to benefits for indigenous communities that result from protecting World Heritage-listed Kakadu and Uluru-Kata Tujta in the Northern Territory.  Wild river declarations were intended to protect the few watercourses that remain in pristine condition. Murrandoo Yanner is among many indigenous leaders who back wild rivers; they are angered by Pearson’s presumption to speak on their behalf.

Campbell Newman has thrown open two million hectares of bushland to the bulldozers
Cape York aside, declarations of three south-west Queensland rivers in the Lake Eyre Basin are being amended to facilitate mining and agricultural development: guidelines provide “greater efficiencies for petroleum and gas companies”. The move is opposed by an alliance of Aboriginal leaders and farmers. They fear the expansion of controversial coal-seam gas projects and cotton-farming in a region that is too arid to sustain it, and that Lake Eyre will suffer from the diversion of water that in good years would flow to it.

The Wenlock River on Cape York - one of several wild river declarations ditched by Campbell Newman
Newman is reviewing Labor’s national park declarations, signalling that many will be revoked. The protection of national parks is supposed to be set in stone, otherwise there is no point in having them. Queensland’s already small national park estate will contract, and in the process the sanctity of national parks is ditched. Newman has bowed to the Nationals’ demands to allow grazing in national parks - a move with potentially serious consequences for the fragile ecology of arid zone parks.  Newman insists this will save the lives of starving cattle but they will be slaughtered soon in abattoirs anyway; the objective of graziers is to fatten cattle to boost financial returns, not to save their lives.

Wongi State Forest - one of many formerly protected state forest opened up for logging
 A handful of Liberal moderates in the LNP Cabinet harbour reservations about the rollback. However, LNP unity is Newman’s paramount concern, at the price of caving into the Nationals on environmental (and a raft of social) policies. History repeats itself: as with former state coalition governments before the Liberals and Nationals merged in 2008, weak-kneed Liberals are browbeaten into submission by Nationals.

Wallum heath - fewer protections now for coastal vegetation
Newman’s environmental agenda is more destructive than that of former National Party Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen, who at least protected national parks and launched initiatives to preserve the wilderness values of Cape York. Newman has signalled that 12.5 million hectares of land under government control is under review, with assurances only that “pristine” areas will be protected.

Cooper Creek - one of several south-west Queensland wild river declarations being watered down
 For all his defects, Bjelke-Petersen kept an environmental leash on extremists in the Nationals' ranks. Not so Newman. Now it is open slather.

This article was published in The Weekend Australian of 1-2 June, 2013


7 comments:

  1. This is just goddamn awful!!! It is taking us back to pioneering days. Don't these nerds have any brains at all??? Absolute banana republic tactics,. just another way of creating more deserts and pollution. I cannot understand the thinking of these people, obviously no further than their own pockets, without realising that that sort of clearing affects the weather of the whole wold let alone Q'ld or just Australia. Sorry I am ranting but reading your article has me absolutely rampant.
    Thanks for the info. There is only one way to fight this, a massive world wide media campaign on the global implications of this to shame the polies into submission. This is commensurate with logging of rain forests in S.America, Indonesia and Africa, just wilful destruction of the lungs of the world.

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  2. This all makes for infuriating reading. Right-wing economic rationalism is taking hold of the world at present, and even something as pure and noble as a National Park is now expected to "earn its keep." Our society now measures these places in terms of their dollar value and lifestyle offerings alone, when the original purpose was for the benefit and conservation of our unique wildlife. Hopefully your excellent article reaches fresh ears and changes a few minds!

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  3. Liked your article Greg . Did you efer get a response from the Government ??

    Kevin

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  4. Kevin, yes a response from the Queensland Premier here:

    Let's get facts on LNP and rural land
    BY:CAMPBELL NEWMAN From: The Australian June 08, 2013 12:00AM

    GREG Roberts appears to have accepted without question in last weekend's Inquirer the environmental movement's skewed assessment of my government's genuine efforts to restore balance to Queensland's natural resource management laws and create jobs and economic opportunities in regional Queensland.

    The Queensland Liberal National Party government stands united in creating laws that allow farmers to get on with running their businesses without being vilified for routine vegetation management activities such as weed control and clearing to build fences.

    We made it clear before our election that legislation such as the Vegetation Management Act 1999 was stifling productivity and drowning farmers in red tape. It suited the previous Labor administration to have primary producers painted as environmental vandals as it struck grubby Greens preference deals and imposed layer upon layer of onerous vegetation legislation on agribusinesses.

    In contrast, the LNP government believes sustainable agriculture and protection of the environment can go hand in hand, and that well-supported landholders are our most effective and committed environmentalists.

    Green groups won't tell you more than 80 per cent of Queensland consists of remnant vegetation and native grasslands, testament to the responsible stewardship of the state's landholders. They are offended by the implication they are hell-bent on destroying the land that supports them and their families.

    Roberts ignores the significant environmental protections my government has maintained in amending vegetation laws, including the retention of buffer zones along watercourses in sensitive Great Barrier Reef catchments to support natural ecosystems.

    There will be no changes to the controls on vegetation management in wildlife habitats contained in the Nature Conservation Act 1992 and the Sustainable Planning Act 2009. Additionally, 1.3 million hectares of koala, mahogany glider and cassowary habitat is mapped as "essential habitat" under the Vegetation Management Act, demonstrating my government's commitment to protecting endangered species.

    Roberts is also wrong when he says "most bushland remaining on private and leasehold land is up for grabs". We have maintained a ban on the clearing of regrowth on the 60 per cent of the state that is leasehold land and, on freehold land, farmers will need to abide by codes of conduct when undertaking routine activities and notify state government staff before doing so. Practices that show no regard for the environment will be detected through satellite monitoring and penalties will apply. Unlike Labor, however, we have made amendments to the Vegetation Act that ensure defendants facing tree-clearing charges are presumed innocent until proved guilty, as is the general rule in criminal prosecutions.

    It's true these laws offer the opportunity for sustainable agriculture to expand in areas suited to high-value cropping, creating jobs and opportunities particularly for indigenous communities. However these amendments will not allow indiscriminate clearing of vegetation and farmers and graziers will have to provide sustainable business cases to create these new areas.

    I encourage Queenslanders to see through emotive claims and view our commonsense reforms as promoting rather than stifling economic growth and allowing farmers to get on with sustainably producing food and fibre for us all.

    Campbell Newman is the Premier of Queensland.

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    1. Campbell is misrepresenting the truth here. A closer look at the ammendments to the VMA will show that there are so many exemptions that yes the Act is now pretty worthless as a means of regulating poor land management and there is not a clearly defined ban on the clearing of regrowth. Cambell goes on to contradict his own statements here when on the one hand we are told landholders clearing illegally will be detected and penalised based on satellite monitoring yet he also points out the change to the act which is that perpetrators are presumed innocent and what he fails to add is the Act now requires on-ground photographic proof of the actual landholder in the act of clearing. All of these changes also show a complete disregard for the precautionary principle which is so relevent to these times of change.

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  5. I like the info about the Queensland weather and the environment. I hope that the soil of Queensland will become fertile again soon.

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  6. Was camped in Wongi State Forest on Tuesday only to be asked to move camp so they could put a logging track in. Sad the beautiful trees and that seemed to contain many hollows and nests are now about to be bulldozed. Sad!
    Regards
    Alison
    www.4wdaus.com

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