Mr PERRETT (Gympie—LNP) (6.38 pm): I rise to speak on the Vegetation Management (Clearing for Relevant Purposes) Amendment Bill 2018. This bill aims to improve transparency and accountability in relation to unfair and restrictive laws. It makes commonsense changes and the LNP will not oppose the bill.
The bill aims to create an obligation on the chief executive to issue an information notice where an application for clearing, as assessed under section 22A of the act, has been rejected and to remove grazing activities from the definition of high-value agriculture clearing to ensure that it is considered a relevant purpose in the chief executive’s consideration of an application to clear under the act.
The first policy objective is to enable a reasonable appeals process, and I note that the second objective—to remove grazing activities—was ruled out of order. The committee noted that the amendment about the provision of an information notice is significant under this act as it triggers the internal and external review processes available to applicants. It recommended that the Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy examine the merits of providing an information notice to applicants under section 22A of the Vegetation Management Act 1999.
The government’s changes last year to the Vegetation Management Act are the most draconian, extensive and aggressive attack on rural and regional landholders. It has had two goes at railroading changes through the parliament. It was about the political appeasement of the activist green movement which is driving this government and holding rural industries hostage. Every time I get up to speak in this parliament, I have to say that this is yet another example of the lip-service this government pays to consultation. It pays lip-service to providing transparency in decisions.
The consultation on vegetation management changes of the Labor dominated committee was purely about going through the motions; it was disingenuous. At one time the minister told us, ‘I have repeatedly said that a key element of achieving this commitment will be through thorough consultation with a range of stakeholders.’ They were shallow words. The consultation process was a sham and farmers were completely ignored. It only highlighted Labor’s arrogance. Not a single recommendation from the committee was accepted, and landholders’ concerns were arrogantly disregarded. Many of the activist groups which have the ear of the government are anti agriculture, anti resources and anti economic development. In fact, as payback some of the worst offenders are now employed by the government.
Under the act, the provision of an information notice by the department’s chief executive triggers the internal and external review process. Section 22A of the act deals with situations where applicants can apply for a development approval to clear vegetation on land. Under section 22A, no such requirement to provide an information notice exists and consequently no review process trigger exists.
This means that rejected applicants have no remedy to internal review of the decision or an external review to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, or QCAT. In respect of the operation of the high-value agriculture and irrigated high-value agriculture provision of the act, AgForce noted— Despite following all criteria in the HVA/IHVA guidelines, some members have been refused a positive s22A determination and not been provided with an information notice, leaving them with no recourse to an internal review. Some members have communicated that they have had to go to extraordinary lengths with Queensland Government in order to receive s22A approval … In some instances, this has involved inordinate costs and extended timeframes with the engagement of lawyers in cases before the Planning and Environment Court and/or QCAT. A greater degree of transparency on s22A assessment and approval would have provided landholder applicants with a far better understanding of the prospects of their application being successful and most certainly would have reduced their need to resort to expensive court costs and legal proceedings simply to receive an answer from Queensland Government.
Farmers and graziers are trying to run their businesses with their hands being tied behind their backs. They work in an environment which is subject to conditions outside their control, such as the weather, international trade issues and the fluctuation of our currency. Government legislation and regulation should not make it harder for them to do their job. Labor has effectively locked up almost half a million hectares of agricultural land, while two-thirds of the state is still drought declared. As it removed the ability to self-assess for mulga clearing, it just added another layer of bureaucratic red and green tape to slow down the entire process. Farmers are true environmentalists and responsible custodians of the land. It always makes good sense for them to sustainably manage their land. Grant Maudsley of AgForce said last year—
… rather than being 100 per cent focussed on ecology the whole time, we have to do both. We have to grow food for this state and we have to look after the environment. We accept that and we are proud to do that.
The current vegetation management laws are a kick in the stomach for our hard-working farmers who put food on the table. They are a brutal and unprovoked attack on farmers, their families, their workers and farming communities right across the state. The LNP will continue to work with farmers, landholders and key stakeholder groups to deliver workable, commonsense solutions that allow farmers to get on with the job of managing their farms. I do not oppose the bill.