Queensland’s Vegetation Management Act, 1999 was constituted to address growing concerns over the effects of broad-scale clearing of native vegetation, but also to encourage the ecologically sustainable use of land and maintain regional biodiversity. The Act largely dictates the aegis under which land clearing can occur by regulating clearing of vegetation communities (mapped as “regional ecosystems”). Due to historical land clearing, 224 of Queensland’s 1,383 regional ecosystems are listed as endangered (less than 10% of original vegetation cover remaining) and 569 are listed as of-concern (10-30% of original vegetation cover remaining). Many of these regional ecosystems occur on fertile soils, where extensive land clearing for agricultural development has occurred.
In 2013, the Newman Government passed the Vegetation Management Framework Amendment Bill, 2013, lifting a previous ban on broad-scale clearing (or broad-acre cropping). Since the passing of the amendments, clearing rates have soared, greenhouse gas emissions have doubled, and water quality in the Great Barrier Reef’s lagoon has deteriorated. A government report found that between 2013 and 2014, 290,000 ha of remnant vegetation was cleared per year, almost double the amount between 2011-12 (153,640 hectares per year ).
The Conservation Planning Lab is currently assessing scenarios of land-use change under varying policy frameworks to investigate the potential impacts of changing legislation on land clearing. We found that over 9 million ha of remnant vegetation are available for renewed clearing following the 2013 amendments. We also found the amendments allowed for 2,125,000 ha of remnant vegetation on watercourses to be available for clearing.
Following an election promise, the Palaszczuk Labor Government introduced the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill, 2016 on 17 March 2016. The objectives of this Bill were to reinstate effective clearing policy, reduce clearing rates, protect vegetation adjacent to water bodies, and reinstate environmental offset requirements. This Bill was debated in Parliament on 17-18 August 2016, and the proposed amendments under the Bill were not agreed (44 to 42). Consequently, no changes to the 2013 amendments will be implemented and very extensive areas of Queensland’s native vegetation remain vulnerable to clearing.
The Palaszczuk Government has committed to passing its reinstatement legislation if re-elected with a majority, and these controls will be crucial to meeting Australia’s climate change targets and maintaining the Great Barrier Reef’s World Heritage status, as well as protecting Queensland’s remaining biodiversity.
WWF Drone footage and satellite imagery shows thousands of hectares of cleared vegetation in Central Queensland.