Gympie farming families give thumbs down to state bill
A BILL before State Parliament has huge implications for a group of Gympie region farming families and land holders.
The Bill, the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016, proposes sweeping changes to the way vegetation is cleared across Queensland.
More than 100 people turned up at the Civic Centre on Wednesday evening to either address an inquiry about proposed changes to the Bill or to listen to submissions.
The general consensus among people who presented their written submissions and the 20 locals who made verbal submissions was that the proposed changes "go too far".
The first speaker, Michelle Daly, from Gympie Koala Action Group, said the Bill "failed our state, whose community expects vulnerable species will have optimum protection in any vegetation management framework".
She said the group supported the restoration of responsible and sustainable tree clearing laws that offer more protection to koalas, other wildlife species and the environment.
"I have great sympathy for many of the audience's concerns," she told The Gympie Times after the hearing. "We want the committee to find a way through all the complexities and come up with a balanced act. We do not want to antagonise farmers - some of us are farmers and farms care for koalas."
Other submitters were mostly farmers and land owners.
A common theme was that in areas where land had been cleared and then left - whether because of poor management, government intervention or laws, or any other reason - invasive weeds quickly became a problem which were then expensive and difficult to control and almost impossible to eradicate.
Ian McKay, chairman of the Mary River Catchment Co-ordination Committee, said their group was good at maintaining and protect productivity while protecting the environment.
"Stop using this issue as a political football," he said. "The wider community needs to have confidence in this (Bill). Governments come and go but the environment goes on forever."
A common concern among the submitters was a proposed 50m riparian strip, either side of any stream or river. Most submitters believed there needed to be flexibility built into that as every waterway had a different buffer zone requirement. And any land that was subsequently locked up, farmers should be rebated for that loss.
Another submitter, Brahman stud farmer Ivan Naggs, said graziers should be able to monitor and manage regrowth on their properties.
"We have to manage our land, otherwise as farmers, it is lost productivity, which is lost income and the land is degraded."
Gympie Beef Liaison Group president Jim Viner told the hearing "to have these laws thrust upon us is an insult to what we are trying to achieve."
The Bill also proposes to reverse the onus of proof, removing the defence of "mistaken clearing" and restore the presumption that a landholder is responsible for clearing on the property. That proposal was also slammed by most witnesses.
The Bill, if passed would be retrospective, commencing from the first introduction in March this year. The intention is to minimise panic clearing across the state.
And finally, there was a general consensus that maps used to define different land use categories were totally inaccurate. One farmer said his most productive land was in dry gullies, yet it was on the map as a river at the bottom of the gully. Therefore all his best land would revert to a riparian strip and he would not be able to use it.
"Our best land, best grasses will all disappear. Also gone is the possibility of rotation, and economically, the loss is not only great to us but affects everyone we deal with down the line."
Another submitter took a swipe at Jackie Trad, the minister who introduced the Bill in March.
Jan Mulholland said Labor's policy was all about not putting the Great Barrier Reef at risk.
"Their new laws are purely to satisfy that statement," she said.
"What scientific investigations have been undertaken to prove agriculture is causing bleaching? Why do farmers have to bear the blame?"
The inquiry, which is sitting at different towns and cities across Queensland, is chaired by Gladstone MP Glenn Butcher and includes Gympie MP Tony Perrett.