Split views on land clearing law
Queensland’s council lobby and farmers’ lobby are at odds about new land clearing laws.
The High Court has upheld the power of Queensland councils to control vegetation management on category X land.
It means that category X lands – which are described as “exempt areas” on state vegetation maps – are subject to local council planning schemes and may require a development permit.
But the ruling will make the process even more confusing for primary producers, according to farming lobby AgForce.
The court upheld the ruling on a case brought by South Australia-based developer Fairmont P/L against the Moreton Bay Regional Council, which was triggered by a dispute over land clearing for a housing scheme north of Brisbane.
Close to 33 million hectares of land is designated category X in Queensland, but the decision affects the near-20 per cent of the state's landmass covered by local planning schemes.
AgForce CEO Michael Guerin said the decision adds more regulation and exposes producers to fines of up to $600,000 per breach.
“This means that thinning or clearing of any vegetation on category X, previously exempt under the state's Vegetation Management Act, could now require planning approval from the local council, a process that can take weeks or even months,” he said.
“The ruling has made effective, legally compliant landscape management virtually impossible for most producers.
“Landholders now have to know, understand and comply with legislation and regulations by all three levels of government, much of which is contradictory.”
Local Government Association of Queensland spokesman Craig Johnstone says that councils engage with communities before making vegetation clearing assessable under a planning scheme.
“The state government ultimately approves the making of a planning scheme through the state interest review process,” he said.
“Local governments are committed to protecting, enhancing and maintaining natural assets and should be recognised as the sphere of government immediately responsible for land use planning and development assessment.
“The other important issue to note is that not all category X vegetation across Queensland will be made assessable development under local government planning schemes.
“It is up to each individual local government to make that decision to reflect community aspirations and the location of the vegetation and its significance to providing corridors for biodiversity.
“It is highly likely that in reality it is only a small amount of category X vegetation being considered assessable development across the state.”
Mr Guerin said the decision was made by out-of-touch people with no knowledge of the land or agriculture.
“This is a disastrous outcome for producers at a time when many need to urgently clear firebreaks ahead of a predicted brutal fire season, control weeds and invasive plants, and use vegetation as fodder for cattle starving due to the record drought,” he said.
“Every week we hear of producers who are fined for unknowingly breaching various state government vegetation management regulations simply because the legislation is both confusing and ever-changing.
“For many years, the state government has been telling producers that PMAVs are the only document they will need to manage vegetation on their properties, but this is clearly not the case.
“Between the VMA, protected plants trigger mapping and now local planning schemes, farmers simply don't know what they can and cant do on their properties.”