Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and  Other Legislation Amendment Bill

Extract from Hansard:  Thursday 18 August, 2016

Mr ELMES (Noosa—LNP) (9.39 pm): I rise to speak on the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill. I know one thing for sure about this bill and that is that its purpose is not evidence based. Rather it has been designed by the Palaszczuk government to appease the greens, notably those who live in the south-east corner of the state.

This amendment bill is premised on an emotional and sensationalised view that if the law is not changed Queensland will somehow become barren. That is simply ridiculous. The truth is that land clearing did not become out of control under the existing vegetation management laws. Rather the greatest swathe of land clearing occurred under the previous Labor governments. In fact, it was the LNP in 2014-15 that invested heavily in regrowth vegetation on previously cleared land.

This amendment bill is another example of a game of smoke and mirrors this government continues to play with the people of Queensland—claiming holier than thou policy positions where the devil in the detail reveals a slap in the face to hundreds of thousands of Queenslanders whose livelihoods depend upon agriculture and farming. That begs the question: who are the people in Queensland for which this bill is intended or, phrased differently, who are the people in Queensland this bill is designed to protect?

They are not Indigenous Australians in Cape York—the very people this Labor government claims to be working so hard for. Closing the gap is not a concept and it most certainly cannot be achieved by taking away the right to farm land, to build local economies, to foster self-reliance and to provide stability and a future for families. This bill raises more questions than it answers so I pose another question. What is the Palaszczuk Labor government’s minister for North Queensland actually tasked with if not to represent indeed address the needs of North Queenslanders?
Indigenous leader Ritchie Ah Mat, whom I have known for some years, was quoted in the Australian the other day as saying—
... a bill seeking to protect ‘remnant vegetation’ may make sense in the Southeast Corner of the State but not in the North with its pattern of underdevelopment ... this Bill would frustrate economic determination for Aboriginals who own about 30 per cent of Cape York.

As I said, I have known Ritchie for a long time. If there were two scallywags in North Queensland he would be both of them. He knows the people, he knows the country and he knows what is best in terms of development in that country. Ritchie should be heard by this government. The government should be taking notice of people like Ritchie Ah Mat when it comes to development in Cape York.
If it did not completely succeed, the LNP policies, including the proposed best practice model, certainly came close to striking that balance by making it possible to build roads and other essential infrastructure to make economic growth possible. Forget the scaremongering. Let us talk about some facts. Nowhere did the LNP’s Vegetation Management Framework Amendment Bill 2013 provide for nor was used for the rampant, unjustified destruction of land that, as the Palaszczuk government would have us believe, has laid waste to ecosystems and native habitat and will bring the final curtain down on the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef.

Queensland’s agricultural sector is probably worth around $11 billion. The LNP introduced sensible vegetation management legislation that defined high-value agriculture and legislated strict vegetation controls in reef water catchments based on the goal to achieve sustainable land management practices. We will never hear the extreme greens talk about that. It is contrary to their cause.

Where are the campaigners that we heard so much from in the last state election calling for additional support to Australian and Queensland farmers? We cannot hear them because the WWF and their allies have taken over the airwaves with a leg up from the Greens party and their Labor mates.

I have the great privilege of representing the Noosa electorate which is Queensland’s first designated biosphere reserve which supports sustainable relationships between people and their environment. Man can and must live within his local biosphere and environment. Our Indigenous heritage has taught us that living sustainably is achievable. We need a balanced approach. Forgive me for stating the obviously, but it is not the role of government to stifle the process; it must provide a way for it to be achieved. Extreme, ill-founded views have no place here.

There is a bloke whom I have a bit time for and am going to mention and who always gets a reaction. I speak of Nick Heath from the WWF. When I was the shadow minister for environment in 2010 I took the opportunity to spend two or three days with Nick. We went to Bundaberg, Mackay and up into the Burdekin to have a look at farming practices and how farming practices have improved, particularly in the cane areas of Bundaberg and Mackay because they are smaller farms and in the large farming enterprises in the Burdekin.

When we looked then at the improvements that were being made in farming in terms of the way the land was prepared, the way cane was actually planted in the ground, the way water and fertiliser was applied the result of these better practices was that the amount of water used and run-off into our waterways and the amount of fertiliser used was significantly reduced. I do not know whether the Deputy Premier or the environment minister have taken a trip with Nick, but I am sure that he would take them to some of those farms in those areas and show them the sort of farming practices that can be achieved by talking to farmers, engaging with farmers and working with farmers rather than turning them into criminals.

Over the past 10 years that I have been in public office I have enjoyed working alongside hundreds of conscientious, level-headed, hardworking conservations who must not be grouped with or assumed to be aligned with the mad greens—a small minority that twist the truth for their own agenda.

The Greens candidate in the Noosa electorate—I call him ‘Mad Joe’—suggests that the future of this legislation rests entirely in my hands. Indeed, he has been quoted in local media as saying that if I do not support the bill I will singlehandedly be responsible for the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef.

We can achieve an outcome that guarantees the future of the Great Barrier Reef and we can achieve a balance that will allow for a sustainable future for agriculture in this state. These things can only be achieved if those people who are truly interested in the issue educate themselves rather than listen to extremists who are only interested in preference exchanges between the Labor Party and those whom I believe are a few degrees even worse, the greens.