Today, more than 400 scientists and four scientific organisations have issued yet another dire warning to Australian governments regarding the impact of land clearing. The major focus is on Queensland and New South Wales.
Thirteen years ago, scientists from across the world expressed their grave concern about ongoing high rates of forest and woodland destruction in Queensland. In 2004, the Queensland Government lead by Peter Beattie introduced laws to stop broad scale clearing in the state. As a result, the rate of clearing was greatly reduced. However, the Liberal National Party government, which came to power in 2012, greatly weakened controls on land clearing. As a result, clearing doubled with 300,000 hectares of land now cleared each year.
In March 2016, the Queensland Government (Labor) introduced legislation to reinstate land clearing controls. The legislation has passed through an extensive consultation process and is due to go to parliament in the near future.
The proposed changes to land-clearing laws, while strongly supported by today’s statement from eminent scientists, has sparked a campaign led by lobby group, AgForce. Chief executive Charles Burke claims the status quo is sustainable saying “We want to talk about the science, we want to make sure we stick to the facts and make sure it’s not caught up in, sometimes, the conservation rhetoric.”
In New South Wales, the government has proposed scrapping existing legislation including the Native Vegetation Act and the Threatened Species Conservation Act and replacing that legislation with new legislation that will to a significant extent put vegetation management in the hands of landholders. Niall Blair, Minister for Primary Industries, said: “Our farmers are our frontline environmental custodians and it makes sense to give them the flexibility to manage and protect the land…”. The new legislation depends heavily on offsets where areas of land are protected to supposedly compensate for the loss of currently protected vegetation.
Today’s declaration by eminent scientists notes that “between 1998 and 2005 an estimated 100 million native birds, reptiles and mammals were killed because of destruction of their habitat in NSW” and “in Queensland, the estimate was 100 million native animals dying each year between 1997 and 1999.”
In 2014, the Federal Government launched the 20 Million Trees Programme to be completed by 2020. But the scientists’ statement points out that 20 million trees are cleared every year in Queensland alone.
The future of the proposed legislative changes in Queensland is difficult to predict. The Labor government does not have a majority in the parliament. The proposed changes are opposed by the two Katter Party members and the government will be dependent on the votes of independents Rob Pyne and Billy Gordon who will be heavily lobbied by AgForce and the LNP.
Today’s declaration by scientists can be found on the web site of Society for Conservation Biology Oceania.
For more information on the Queensland legislation amendments, go to Environmental Defenders Office.
You can help
In Queensland, email the following asking them to support the legislation changes:
Rob Pyne: Cairns@parliament.qld.gov.au
Billy Gordon: Cook@parliament.qld.gov.au
Peter Wellington: firstname.lastname@example.org
In New South Wales, sign the petition at Stand Up for Nature.