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Property Rights Australia supports the intent of the Regional Planning Interests Bill (RPI) and its approach of how to effectively enforce the protection of priority agricultural areas (PAA), priority living areas (PLA) and strategic environmental areas from resource activity. However to be effective the bill requires many amendments as PRA has covered in detail our submission. PRA also cannot give a blank cheque approval of the bill when many details will be in regulation that is yet to be revealed.
The RPI bill has much power as it overrides various acts including all resource acts, the Environmental protection act (EPA) and the Water act. PRA is concerned that the bill is unclear if landowner rights will be lost by the RPI overriding the EPA and thereby Environmental Authorities that afford protection from the likes of dust and noise. Also the Water Act where protections are offered by the likes of ‘make good’ provisions to loss of underground water from coal seam gas activity.It’s important not to lose sight of the big picture; this bill will be in effect for all of Queensland. The Newman LNP government has a policy aim of doubling agricultural production by 2040 and for this to be possible full protection needs to be afforded to the most productive agricultural areas. When you get right down to what we must protect, it is the better soil types; whether it is currently being cropped or has a future potential for high value agriculture capable of various commodity production.
|Photo: Darling Downs plan may place farm land in CSG firing line|
This hearing located in Toowoomba which is on the edge of the Darling Downs where the high quality cropping land covers a wide area without a break beyond any individual boundary. This bill has to be also relevant to all parts of Qld where good soils are often much more fragmented. The soil types will change not only within a district but also within an individual property.
The Newman LNP government also sought to support new areas available for high value agriculture in the reforms to the Vegetation Management Act especially in the less developed regions far away from the more settled south east.
At the time of the reforms to the vegetation management act eminent rangeland scientist Dr Bill Burrows wrote in the paper, Bushland at risk of tree & shrub thickening:
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…..”Development of these zones can often turn a marginal enterprise into an acceptable living area.”
It is these pockets of viability throughout the state that must also be protected by an amended ‘workable’ Regional Planning Interests bill
Crucial in determining a regional interest for the protection of the best land, living areas and environmental areas are the various Regional Plans. The PRA submission details the complexities of the various land classification systems to be used with the Strategic Cropping Land trigger maps and soil criteria to be retained from the to be repealed SCL Act alongside the PAA’s as revealed in the Darling Downs and Central Qld Regional Plans. There is no recognition of the decades of work by the old Department of Primary Industries and the Lands Department in the collection of data and the development of the Good Quality Agricultural Land soil classification system. There is neither any mention of the expertise of the current Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
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It is like retaining a series of old band aids that never quite satisfactory served their full function. The inadequacies of the PAA’s in the Regional Plans are such that it makes one nostalgic for the Strategic Cropping Land soil criteria that PRA was doubtful of its value when introduced.
PRA makes the following recommendations to the parliamentary committee:
· That it refers to an expert committee to recommend a single, straightforward, cohesive soil classification system to use in the RPI bill to determine a regional interest.
· All good quality agricultural land no matter its current use should be considered as a regional interest; not just land that is currently cropped.
· The uncertainty of protections afforded to landowners under the EPA and Water acts be rectified and assurances given that these rights are retained.
· Where an exemption comes into effect via agreement with the landowner, full disclosure should be made to the landowner and that the resource company must be required at completion of the activity to restore the land to full productive capacity.
· Clause 50 (2) must be amended that it is not automatic that the chief executive “must give effect” to the recommendations by the accessing agency. PRA fully endorses the comments made on this point by Peter Shannon on behalf of the Basin Sustainability Alliance to the hearing.
· That throughout the bill that it refers not only to owners of the land but also occupiers and that the definition of owner is amended.
PRA respectfully asks the committee to refer to the submission for further comment and recommendations.
************************************The above was written from dot points from which I spoke from for the opening statement at the parliamentary committee hearing in Toowoomba on January 30 2014. It won’t be an exact copy of what was said but that the transcripts will be made public soon.