Thursday, 28 May 2015

PRA: Landowner denied rights must not be repeated

Photo sourced - The Chronicle
Premier Palaszczuk’s election campaign launch speech promise[1] to reinstate the repealed Vegetation Management Act (VMA) could almost be forgiven as being ill informed but now after 100 days in office for the Premier to outline it as a priority task to be achieved is highly alarming. In a letter to the Minister for Natural Resources & Mines Anthony Lynham, the Premier gave the direction to,[2] "Re-instate the vegetation protection laws repealed by the previous government to reduce the clearing of native vegetation” 

Property Rights Australia is most concerned that senior members of the Palaszczuk government, including the Premier herself, have failed to grasp that the VMA was not repealed but amended[3] and amended modestly at that. Unlike the over the top approach taken in resource legislation, the Newman government amendments to the VMA were restrained, responsible and restored basic tenets of our legal system; civil rights that the wider community take for granted but had been denied to landowners. There have been many column inches devoted to the horror of the reversal of the onus of proof under the so-called “bikie laws”[4] including by the Labor party.[5] Qld was the first jurisdiction in Australia to reverse the onus of proof[6] and it happened under the Beattie Labor government’s Vegetation Management Act.[7]  We expect this type of attack on the Justice system not to be repeated 

The current government should be wary of pressure by various “green groups” which are continually being proved to be lacking in substance or in touch with real situations impacting real people in Queensland at this time.  Activists with an environmental agenda have lost no time in getting in the governments ear with the incorrect notion that the VMA had been repealed and landclearing is again out of control.  Published articles by a group of academics calling themselves “concerned scientists”[8] show little scientific integrity, deceptive selection of the facts and exaggerated conclusions.  WWF in its latest Living Forests report[9] devote a whole chapter with the use of “projections” to forecast a resulting deforestation from changes to environment legislation.  WWF believes that your brigalow suckers are “critically important” and without a word about compensation of production loss to the landowner states the desire to see brigalow regrowth to mature for 30 years to provide wildlife habitat. Typically Dr Tim Seelig, Queensland Campaign Manager for the Wilderness Society makes gross exaggerations,[10]

”The LNP substantially weakened land clearing controls in Queensland, resulting in a return to large scale clearing and an impending tree clearing crisis on a massive scale.”

In responding to questions in the Queensland parliament on May 13 from the Member for Warrego Ann Leahy, Dr Lynham said that,[11] “we have no plans to change those specific portions such as the self-assessment criteria.”  PRA believes to revert back to the old arrangements of a deadly slow time frame to obtain permits to harvest the self-regenerating acacia mulga crucial for drought fodder would defy logic.[12]  

With 80% of Queensland in drought it is most likely graziers concerned for the welfare of their livestock; feeding mulga will most likely be the greatest contributor to any increase in the area of land clearing.[13] Mulga is well known for its ability to re-establish itself.
Gidgee trees are notorious for encroaching
Photo sourced ABC Rural - New tree clearing laws in Queensland

Going by where the most fervour of the radical environmentalist is directed, provision of clearing for high-value agriculture[14] is the area most at risk for attention by the Palaszczuk government. Tim Seelig in his dedicated vehemence says,[15]

“The LNP approved at least five massive land clearing projects in northern Queensland, including at Olive Vale. Those five projects total 113,000 hectares. Other approvals include almost 60,000 hectares at Strathmore Station in the Gulf Country.” 

To provide some perspective Qld is a large state covering 1,727,000 square kilometres with over 200 national parks covering 6.5 million hectares.[16]  Most agricultural production essential to feed our population by necessity occurs off land that is thinned of its vegetation or a large percentage cleared.  Land has been set aside for different purposes and its time environmentalists reserve full conservation management to National Parks only and don’t transfer these expectations to agricultural production systems. The introduction of the VMA caught large tracts of north Qld under developed with landowners uncompensated for declining production.  

Recently the federal member of Leichhardt, Warren Entsch, gave some perspective of the clearing being undertaken at Olive Vale calling activists claims, “emotional clap-trap.”[17]  Mr Entsch owned Olive Vale up to the early 2000’s said that,

“He believed the area to be cleared – which represents less than 10 per cent of the station – was mostly open country with few trees. 

“There’s not a lot of agricultural opportunities in Cape York, but those areas that have been identified through the scientific process are areas where we should be going, giving an economic opportunity for people living in the area,’’
It is rather inconvenient for the environmental activists the recent release of the international scientific paper, ‘Recent reversal in loss of global terrestrial biomass’[18]  that showed vegetation in Australia has actually increased with the encroachment of trees into grassland a key factor. Dr Bill Burrows in a 2013 paper, “Bushland at risk of continued tree and shrub thickening in Queensland” wrote,[19][20]

“Many other land types were, and remain, subject to increased “thickening” of the over-storey or sub-canopy tree and shrub cover, or both, over time. Likewise trees are actively encroaching on some native grasslands . Examples of this changing structure and composition of the vegetation include mulga thickening in country east of the Warrego River, gidgee encroachment onto Mitchell grasslands , increased eucalypt cover in the Desert Uplands and Central Highlands/Burdekin Catchment  and tea tree invasion of grasslands in Cape York. Even National Parks and reserves abutting grazing land are subject to ongoing tree thickening e.g. the disappearing grassy balds of the Bunya Mountains, acacias invading grasslands on Moorinya N.P. and rainforest invading wet sclerophyll forest in the wet tropics.”

Rural Queensland does not need a repeat of the full extent of the poor archaic Beattie Labor government legislation that was enforced in a vindictive, punitive manner.[21] [22]

 As stated by Premier Palaszczuk in her directive to Dr Lynham,[23] “it is important to achive the best outcomes for Queenslanders” and “to make all decisions and actions in the public interest”.  To reverse the current strict guidelines already in place for tree clearing in Queensland will not deliver the best outcomes for Queenslanders and as seen in the past, replacing cooperation with coercion and heavy-handed administration creates more problems and is not effective or productive.
Another downgrade in crop yield is possible
Photo sourced ABC Rural - the hot issues as Queensland

PRA has been aware and is highly concerned that in recent months of DNR&M staff appear to have been given directives to find someone to hold up as an errant example to what would appear to be an excuse to review the current tree clearing legislation to appease election promises made to green groups.  Legal firm Ferrier & Co principle Tom Marland recently made the statement based on evidence from a number of clients who have been subjected to formal inspections last month that,[24]

“it was clear from the imagery and mapping that DNRM were not inspecting irregularities but were inspecting properties to support prosecutions.

“DNRM have sufficient information to determine whether charges should be laid. The purpose to inspect and speak with landholders is to falsely obtain a confession or some form of omission of guilt.”
PRA strongly advises landowners that if departmental staff approaches them on a land clearing matter to immediately seek legal advice. In these circumstances usual country hospitality and openness should not apply.

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