In an attempt to correct what it called a swing too far towards “extreme green politics”, the Queensland Government has made changes to the State’s vegetation management laws that commenced on 2 December 2013. The new laws permit clearing in certain circumstances where it was formerly impossible or heavily regulated.

New permissible clearing

Going forward, landholders will be able to apply to clear remnant vegetation and regulated regrowth vegetation for high value agriculture, irrigated high value agriculture and certain necessary environmental purposes.

Approval can be sought to clear for broadacre cropping (including sugar cane), annual horticulture, perennial horticulture and irrigated pastures. As part of the application, a landholder must demonstrate that the proposed clearing meets the Department of Natural Resources and Mines’ guidelines for high-value agriculture, that the land is suitable (having regard to the suitability mapping available on the Department’s website), that there is no suitable alternative site for the clearing, that the development is viable and, in the case of an irrigation project, that the landholder has access to enough water.

The State Assessment Referral Agency offers pre-lodgement meetings to assist landholders to better understand application requirements.

Removal of regrowth regulation on freehold land

In late 2009, the former Queensland Government introduced additional restrictions on the clearing of certain “high value” regrowth on freehold land not cleared since 31 December 1989.

These restrictions have been removed except for vegetation within 50 metres of identified watercourses in the Burdekin, Mackay–Whitsunday and Wet Tropics Great Barrier Reef catchments.

New mapping

The Government has attempted to simplify the State’s vegetation mapping to allow landholders to more readily identify which areas are subject to clearing regulations.

Of primary importance to rural landholders is an exemption that allows areas of regrowth mapped as Category X on the new Regulated Vegetation Management Map to be cleared without restrictions under the Vegetation Management Act (although, as is the case with all clearing, it may be subject to other laws).

All landholders should obtain copies of the new vegetation maps for their properties. They are available at no cost from the Department of Natural Resources and Mines’ website – please click here.

Self-assessable vegetation clearing codes

Generally, only clearing that is exempt, conducted in accordance with a self-assessable vegetation clearing code or an area management plan or undertaken pursuant to an approval is permissible. The Government has attempted to streamline the laws by introducing new self-assessable codes for most of the purposes for which clearing is permitted.

“High value” regrowth on leasehold land not cleared since 31 December 1989 is shown as Category C on the Regulated Vegetation Management Map. Under the self-assessable code for managing Category C regrowth, vegetation classified as “least concern” on the Department’s supplementary mapping can be cleared for any purpose in most circumstances. “Of concern” and “endangered” vegetation can be cleared in more limited circumstances.

Other self-assessable vegetation clearing codes allow clearing for purposes including necessary infrastructure such as yards and water facilities, weed control, fodder harvesting in western Queensland and improving the operational efficiency of existing agriculture.

Before clearing under a self-assessable code, landholders are not required to obtain a permit but must submit a clearing notification form, identifying the area to be cleared with GPS coordinates, to the Department of Natural Resources and Mines. The form can be submitted online at the Department’s website or in hard-copy, no fees apply and the notification is valid until the ownership of the property changes. When clearing, the rules in the relevant code must be followed.