RED TAPE: Graziers are furious over a decision by the Queensland Court of Appeal exposing landholders to fines of more than $500 million for managing their vegetation.
RED TAPE: Graziers are furious over a decision by the Queensland Court of Appeal exposing landholders to fines of more than $500 million for managing their vegetation. Adma Sargood

Mulga madness: Bush bites back on land clearing laws

KRISTY Cornford has lived on the land her whole life, but until the vegetation management laws were introduced, her livelihood had never been put in jeopardy.

For the past 12 years Mrs Cornford has owned a property southeast of Charleville, seven of them drought declared, and if it wasn't for unforeseen rain she said it would've been the end.

Leading up to the April rain, the Cornford family was at the stage where funding feed for their cattle was unsustainable and fodder-harvesting mulga was the only option.

However, current Queensland vegetation management laws restrict them from accessing fodder growing on more than 30 per cent of their land.

"If it wasn't for the rain in April, we would've run out of mulga that what we are legally allowed to harvest," she said.

"Our supply would've been diminished: It would've been the end of us."

The Queensland legislation outlines how trees can be cleared and protected, with graziers requiring approval to clear select trees on their properties which, if evaded, could result in fines of more than $500,000.

During the recent federal election, the Australian Labor Party made a promise to roll out the legislation nationwide, if elected.

Mrs Cornford said the fact the ALP was going to impose the laws nationwide stopped her from voting for them.

"Every regional Queenslander would've been in the same boat: Vegetation management doesn't just affect the mulga lands, it affects all environments and landscapes Queensland- wide, even the sugar cane farmers in Mackay," she said.

Mrs Cornford's description of the unpopularity of the laws is no understatement: In 2018, when the State Government imposed the Vegetation Management Bill, it was met with protests of thousands who attended six hearings in regional Queensland with more than 13,000 submissions of disapproval.

Blind to the bush

AS REVIEWED on April 1, 2019, the Queensland Government Long Paddock report showed a total of 30 councils and five part-council areas were drought declared.

These declarations represent 65.2 per cent of the land area of Queensland.

With two-thirds of the state declared to be drought, Liberal National Party Queensland vice-president Cameron O'Neil said it was no surprise Kristy Cornford was among 43.9 per cent of Queenslanders who voted to have a government that didn't put in jeopardy the livelihoods of rural and regional Queenlsanders.

"Labor's archaic vegetation laws are causing undue pressure on people that are doing it tough already," Mr O'Neil said.

"The commentary coming out of the federal Labor party in the lead-up to the election was that they were going to universally introduce vegetation management laws right across Australia based on the Queensland legislation.

"It wasn't a good message to rural producers outside of Queensland, let alone inside of Queensland, that these archaic laws could put their businesses - businesses I believe they sustainably manage - and livelihoods in doubt.

"One size doesn't fit all and grabbing a universally unpopular law in Queens- land and trying to sell that across Australia was a poor, poor move on their behalf - the federal election result clearly illustrated when you put the lives of regional Queenslanders in jeopardy they will send you a fairly distinct message."

A case of 'over-governance gone mad'

A DECISION by the Queensland Court of Appeal exposed Queensland landholders to fines of more than half a million dollars for disregarding vegetation laws.

Land earmarked 'Category X' is exempt under State legislation but certain councils now require landholders to secure approval before clearing trees, even removing a few trees for fence posts.

AgForce CEO Michael Guerin described the decision as "governance gone mad".

"What we have here is a gross contradiction between areas of land the State Government says are exempt under the Queensland Vegetation Management Act but could end up costing some landholders their livelihoods," Mr Guerin said.

"Fines of up to $600,000 are beyond most of us.

"Imagine removing trees growing in your own back yard because they are damaging your pipes or foundations, then being told years later that you weren't allowed to do it and, worse, you now have to pay a massive fine - a fine that might be worth more than the value of the land itself."

Mr Guerin said farmers weren't "mass clearing land in football field sized blocks as often misreported in the media", but rather managing thickening vegetation on their properties to restore the land.

"Management of the land and control of regrowth is what the vegetation needs to be healthy and regenerate. Locking up land and preventing active management causes vegetation to thicken rapidly, often choking healthy ecosystems," Mr Guerin said.

"Councils that impose these requirements offer no compensation for landholders who want to effectively manage their land - they simply strip away any rights they have.

"What this decision by the Court of Appeal does is further stifle landholders and the land they're trying to manage with more over- governance."

 

The ALP did not respond to questions about the impact vegetation management laws had on its results in rural Queensland.