Amendments to Queensland’s Vegetation Management Act 1999 are being heralded as significant reforms which will promote new Agribusiness opportunities in the far north Queensland to meet the Government’s goal to “double Queensland’s food production by 2040”. This is particularly so with the introduction of a new concept of vegetation clearing in ‘high value agricultural’ areas.

The proposed amendments also will benefit landowners, mining (e.g. Aurukun bauxite leases) and infrastructure companies by introducing a number of vegetation clearing reforms.

The Vegetation Management Framework Amendment Bill (“Vegetation Bill” or “Bill”) was referred to the State Development, Infrastructure and Industry Committee for consideration after its first reading in Parliament on 20 March 2013. Public consultation has not taken place for the Bill however public submissions may be made to the Committee by 10 April 2013.

Overview of the Vegetation Bill

The main policy objectives of the Vegetation Bill are to reduce red tape and simplify the vegetation management framework for landholders and relevant stakeholders, support Queensland’s key economic pillars of “construction, resources, agriculture and tourism” and to maintain sustainable vegetation clearing practices to protect native vegetation.

The Deputy Premier introduced the Vegetation Bill by indicating that the Government “is determined to bring positive change for the …communities of Cape York” and to remove the locks from ‘productive development’ in the area. Key features of the Vegetation Bill are discussed below.

‘High value agricultural clearing’

The Government’s proposed amendments reveal a significant strategy by it to grow high value agriculture areas by cutting vegetation clearing red tape. The Vegetation Bill will permit vegetation clearing applications to be assessed to promote the development of new areas of land for 'high value agriculture' and 'irrigated high value agriculture'.

The Bill sets out the parameters for making an application for ‘high value agricultural clearing’ and ‘irrigated high value agriculture’ and to identify the matters the Chief Executive may consider. 'High value agricultural' clearing will be supported for annual and perennial horticulture as well as broad acre cropping but not to create grazing pastures or plantation forestry. In contrast, 'irrigated high value agriculture' will permit clearing for pasture (e.g. for dairy farms) but not for plantation forestry.

Matters relevant to a decision on a clearing application for 'high value agriculture' include whether the relevant land is suitable for cropping, whether there is no suitable alternative site that has been cleared, and for 'irrigated high value agriculture', that sufficient water can be secured and generally that any restrictions imposed in ‘high value agricultural areas’ are observed.

Importantly, the Bill also proposes to give the Minister increased power to make a ‘high value area declaration’ to manage 'high value agricultural clearing' in key areas. Restrictions may be placed on the use of land in high value areas including restricting types of crops and placing, limits on the size of land that can be subject to vegetation clearing applications.

The Deputy Premier has indicated that mango orchards, grain growing and other ‘high value agricultural’ operations have been earmarked, “but it won’t be open slather.”

Even with the amendments, in order to undertake any ‘high value agricultural clearing’ of a certain scale or intensity it will still be necessary to develop essential support infrastructure (e.g. water and transport). Obviously this requires a substantial level of investment and will make rapid change a challenge.

Repeal regrowth regulations on freehold and Indigenous lands for high value regrowth

The Bill proposes to repeal regrowth regulations on freehold and Indigenous lands for high value regrowth but to retain regrowth controls for leasehold land and in reef watercourses. Landowners have long sought the ability to remove simple regrowth where the regrowth quality is poor.

Self-assessable vegetation clearing codes

The Bill proposes to increase the Minister’s power to make self-assessable vegetation clearing codes exempting various activities from the need to obtain vegetation clearing approvals. Some key situations when self-assessable codes will apply are:

Click here to view table.

A single regulated vegetation management map

A new single map is proposed to replace the current 3 vegetation maps regulating native vegetation. The map will consist of 5 different vegetation category areas A, B, C, R and X.

A significant change to the mapping process will be the fixing of all non-assessable vegetation as category X at the commencement of the Vegetation Bill. The result being that category X areas will only be remapped as remnant vegetation if they are involved in offsetting arrangements or are subject to restoration/enforcement notices or unlawful clearing. The Government is hoping that this will create greater certainty for clients when they undertake property planning.

Make a submission?

The Bill has been referred to the State Development, Infrastructure and Industry Committee for consideration. If you would like us to assist you in making a submission to the Committee about any aspect of the Vegetation Bill by 10 April 2013, please contact Matthew Austin or Holly Monks. The Committee’s report will be tabled on 14 May 2013.