In Queensland vegetation management is primarily governed by the Vegetation Management Act 1999 (VMA) and Sustainable Planning Act 2009 (SPA). The vegetation management framework has been criticised as not only being too restrictive but also too confusing and complex to operate under.
The Vegetation Management Framework Amendment Act 2013 has recently been passed by Parliament to simplify the operation of vegetation management controls and support economic growth, particularly in the areas of agriculture and construction, whilst maintaining protections for important native vegetation.
Key changes made by the Act include:
- introducing new clearing purposes for ‘high value agriculture clearing’, ‘irrigated high value agriculture clearing’ and ‘necessary environmental clearing’;
- removing high value regrowth regulations on freehold and indigenous land while retaining regrowth control on leasehold land for agriculture and grazing purposes on reef water courses;
- introducing provisions that allow the Minister to establish self-assessable vegetation clearing codes for routine management activities such as for the clearing of weeds and pests, fodder harvesting and environmental clearing;
- replacing the current mapping system with one map (defined as the ‘Regulated Vegetation Management Map’) which consolidates information previously located on the regional eco-system map, the remnant vegetation map and the re-growth vegetation map;
- requiring the Court to apply the existing sentencing provisions under the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 to provide a more equitable and consistent approach to the sentencing of unlawful clearing by removing penalty provisions in the VMA; and
- removing unfair enforcement and compliance provisions such as the reversal of the onus of proof and reinstating the ‘mistake of fact’ defence.
Effect on landholders, businesses and government
The reforms should simplify the operation of vegetation controls under the VMA and SPA and provide greater flexibility to clear native vegetation in some circumstances. The new mapping should in particular assist land owners and others determine when approval is required to clear native vegetation.
However, it should be noted that strict controls still apply to the management of native vegetation. For example, stringent requirements must be satisfied when applying for a ‘high value agriculture clearing’ or an ‘irrigated high value agriculture clearing'.
Significant penalties also continue to apply to unlawful vegetation clearing.