Hundreds of farmers have voiced their anger at the Queensland government over proposed new land and tree clearing laws.
Protesters yelled “no farmers, no food” outside the Central Queensland Livestock Exchange near Rockhampton, before moving inside for the first of five parliamentary committee hearings in regional Queensland.
At one point in the hearing, the committee chairman threatened to clear the ring if the crowd did not quiet down.
Grazier Josie Angus said the proposed legislation would de-value her family’s property by more than $3 million.
“It has been a game of attrition, you know, each set of vegetation management laws has taken more and more and more,” she said.
“At some point in time, we have to say enough is enough.”
The proposed reforms were an election promise of the Palaszczuk government and were introduced to Parliament a fortnight ago by Natural Resources Minister Anthony Lynham.
Some aspects of the laws are already in effect.
Among the proposed changes are broad-scale bans on clearing remnant vegetation for agriculture, requirements for farmers to obtain approval to thin vegetation and expansion of high value regrowth areas.
Mapping called into question
Speaking after the hearing, Ms Angus said there were a number of different areas of concern for farmers, but landholders were not given enough time to properly respond to the draft bill, with written submissions only open for a week.
“Our family have 162,000 hectares, only 17 per cent of that has been developed and this legislation strips away 10 per cent of our developed country,” she said.
“It is our highest value country, that’s why we developed it,” she said.
Some farmers estimated the losses would equate to 8 per cent off all farmland ever developed in Queensland.
Ms Angus said the mapping was highly inaccurate.
“We’ve got roads that have existed for 200 years that are mapped as remnant vegetation,” she said.
“A lot of that is simply for the reason that we’ve been conservative.
“We’ve had country that we developed last year and because we left shade across it, it’s been mapped as high value regrowth and we can’t ever manage that land again.”
Ms Angus said she was not confident the committee’s findings would result in changes to the proposed legislation, but farmers needed to continue to fight.
“Our landscapes rely on this government getting it right, it’s not just about numbers,” she said.
“We really can’t take any more. We really can’t be the whipping boy for green or legislative whims.”
She said she hoped her submission at the hearing would at least have some impact on the way the committee members voted in Parliament.
Committee report due
Parliamentary committee chairman Chris Whiting said the government had received more than 14,000 submissions on the draft legislation.
“We’ve said we would go up and down, around the state, to listen, consult and hear people’s opinion for what is shaping up to look to be a fairly reasonable and balanced bill,” he said.
The committee’s report is expected to be tabled in six weeks.
“I’m sure that we’ve got enough time to produce that report and it’ll be a very informed report. Yes we can do it.”
All of the witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing in Rockhampton spoke against the legislation.
The only speaker in support of the bill was expected to be Capricorn Conservation Council co-ordinator Michael McCabe, but he was not present when called by the committee.
He said he did not receive the invitation in time but the group had made a written submission.
“It’s a challenge because for 20 years the laws have been changing, changing back and then changing again,” he said.
“I guess it’s been on the books for a while but at the end it always seems like a rush.”
Mr McCabe said the group supported the majority of the amendment.
“At the end of the day, our submission focused on the fact that almost 400,000 hectares were cleared in the previous financial year – that’s unsustainable,” he said.
“The Great Barrier Reef, landscapes, our soils can’t cope with that level of clearing and biodiversity in Queensland and in central Queensland in particular, is on a very steep decline.”