New vegetation management laws pass
WHO SHOULD READ THIS
- People who are planning to carry out land clearing in Queensland.
THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
- Major changes to the Queensland’s vegetation management and land clearing regime were passed last week.
WHAT YOU NEED TO DO
- Reconsider whether your land clearing activities are authorised.
- If you had planned to rely on the high value agriculture exemptions for land clearing, you will no longer be able to.
- Check your vegetation mapping.
Despite a media blitz by farming peak bodies, after almost three days of parliamentary debate the Vegetation Management and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2018 (Qld) (Amendment Act) was passed late on Thursday, 3 May 2018. The Amendment Act amends the Vegetation Management Act 1999 (Qld) (VMA), Planning Act 2016 (Qld) (Planning Act) and the Water Act 2000 (Qld) (Water Act).
The Palaszczuk Labor Government has now been able to act on one of the key commitments it took to the 2015 election, having failed in August 2016 due to insufficient cross-bench support. The changes unwind farmers’ powers created under the Newman LNP Government to obtain clearing permits for high value agriculture and irrigated agriculture.
What you need to know
The Amendment Act has:
- removed the ability to obtain clearing permits for high value agriculture and high value irrigated agriculture
- amended section 22A of the VMA, which has effectively stopped the grant of clearing permits in areas mapped as Category C or Category R
- extended existing protections of regrowth vegetation near watercourses (Category R vegetation) to the Burnett-Mary, Eastern Cape York and Fitzroy catchments. Previously, only the Burdekin, Mackay-Whitsunday and the Wet Tropics catchments had this protection. This reflects a 2015 election commitment of consistent vegetation management laws in all of the Great Barrier Reef catchments, and
- reintroduced into the Water Act an obligation for landholders to obtain Riverine Protection Permits works for clearing in a watercourse.
So what has changed?
The VMA protects Queensland’s native vegetation, which includes regrowth vegetation. Before 8 March 2018 (the date the Amendment Act was introduced), clearing of native vegetation for either cropping (high value agricultural) or irrigation (high value irrigated agriculture) could be authorised under the VMA. Clearing of native vegetation for these purposes is now prohibited – this was enacted by these categories losing their ‘relevant purpose’ status under the section 22A of the VMA whilst gaining a specific prohibition under the Planning Act.
Under the pre-amended VMA, the concept of High Value Regrowth Vegetation (Category C vegetation) only applied to vegetation the subject of an agricultural lease under the Land Act 1994 (Qld) – where that area has not been cleared since 1989. The Amendment Act now applies Category C to vegetation on freehold land, as well as indigenous land that has not been cleared for at least 15 years (since May 2003).
Protection of regrowth vegetation within 50 metres of a watercourse (Category R vegetation) has also been extended to the remaining Great Barrier Reef catchments (Burnett-Mary, Eastern Cape York and Fitzroy). This means that clearing of native vegetation is prohibited within 50 metres of a watercourse in a Great Barrier Reef catchment.
The mapping has already been amended, with some areas previously categorised as Category X now being categorised as Category C and Category R. Being mapped as Category X has the benefit of meaning that the VMA does not apply to activities – usually because it does not contain native vegetation. A preview of the new mapping is available on Queensland Globe – we recommend you review this, particularly if:
- you are in the Burnett-Mary, Eastern Cape York or Fitzroy catchments given that the Category R protection has extended into these areas, or
- your property is freehold and therefore was not mapped as Category C previously – this may have changed.
Self assessable clearing in Category C areas can still be carried out provided it meets the requirements of the new Code, which commenced on 8 March 2018. This Code requires all landholders to notify the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy (DNRME) prior to the commencement of clearing in Category C areas regardless of any previous notifications. Clearing in these areas is prohibited from commencing without DNRME’s written confirmation that the notification has been made.
As mentioned above, Riverine Protection Permits for clearing under the Water Act have been brought back. Under section 218 of the pre-amended Water Act, these were only required to excavate or place fill in the watercourse but have now been extended to clearing native vegetation.
This publication covers legal and technical issues in a general way. It is not designed to express opinions on specific cases. It is intended for information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice. Further advice should be obtained before taking action on any issue dealt with in this publication.