Vegetation Management Framework Amendment Bill

Hon. GW ELMES (Noosa—LNP) (Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Multicultural Affairs and Minister Assisting the Premier) (3.36 pm): I am pleased to support the Vegetation Management Framework Amendment Bill. The Queensland government is committed to closing the gap in life outcomes and opportunities between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and non-Indigenous Australians. The current vegetation management framework contributes to this commitment by enabling housing and basic facilities as part of the National Indigenous Reform Agreement for closing the gap. The existing vegetation management framework specifically allows clearing on Indigenous land for constructing Indigenous housing and associated buildings or structures. This also includes clearing for housing support staff; providing educational, health, police or other community services to Indigenous communities; and encompasses buildings such as schools, health clinics and police premises. No application or approval is required to clear vegetation for these purposes. The bill does not change this.

There are also specific provisions in the Cape York Peninsula Heritage Act 2007 that allow clearing for a special Indigenous purpose such as agriculture, animal husbandry, aquaculture or grazing on Indigenous land within the Cape York Peninsula region. The ability to apply to clear for grazing activities in particular is unique to Indigenous land in Cape York, recognising the importance of providing economic development opportunities for Indigenous Queenslanders. In addition to these specific provisions, the current vegetation management framework allows clearing for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people for activities such as native forest practice or an ongoing native forestry business

The reforms contained in this bill will further contribute to closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. It will do this with the proposals to introduce self-assessable codes; allowing clearing for high-value agriculture and irrigated high-value agriculture; and removing restrictions on clearing high-value regrowth vegetation on Indigenous land. These reforms will reduce the amount of red tape required to facilitate economic development on Indigenous land. They will also build on existing provisions in the Cape York Peninsula Heritage Act 2007. Allowing vegetation clearing for high-value agriculture and irrigated high-value agriculture will specifically provide further opportunities for Indigenous economic participation by paving the way for sustainable development of new agricultural precincts in Queensland’s Gulf Country and also on Cape York Peninsula.

Agricultural development has come to a standstill in these areas and it will provide jobs and an economic base for Indigenous communities into the future. Opportunities of high-value agriculture will be provided where applicants can demonstrate economic viability, land suitability and whether there is already unconstrained land available for development. Proposed developments will also need to demonstrate whether impacts from the clearing will be minimised and mitigated and where irrigation is required, of course if there is sufficient water for the land proposed for clearing. These new purposes will also promote the government’s commitment to doubling the value of Queensland’s food production by 2040 by expanding agricultural development across the state, which in turn will promote economic growth and employment opportunities. This can promote Indigenous economic participation throughout Queensland by supporting alliances with the rural industry, building the skills of individuals and enhancing community capabilities. 

The Deputy Premier in his contribution made particular mention of Hope Vale and the banana farm that the people of Hope Vale have been developing over the last 12 months or so. It would serve everyone in this parliament a great degree of good to go to Hope Vale to see what the mayor and the councillors and the community of Hope Vale have done in promoting a sustainable industry for the future. As I understand it, something like 60 people are employed on the Hope Vale banana farm. That is exactly the sort of thing that we are talking about promoting in this legislation. 

The implementation of self-assessable codes is also proposed as part of these reforms to the vegetation management framework. These codes will save landholders time and money, as clearing permits will not be required for low-impact clearing such as native forest harvesting, the thinning of thickened vegetation and weed control. This will provide particular benefit to the rural sector and agricultural businesses by providing a simple and streamlined means of conducting important property management activities. 

Like the introduction of new clearing purposes, self-assessable codes will contribute to Indigenous economic participation by growing jobs and business opportunities in the rural sector that could promote partnerships with Indigenous communities. As part of its commitment to closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, the government seeks to ensure access to and management of land and sea for Indigenous Australians for wellbeing and cultural affirmation. The vegetation management framework supports this commitment by having a longstanding exemption for the undertaking of traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural activity. This bill will provide further economic development opportunities for Indigenous communities across Queensland. It will ensure that development is undertaken in a sustainable way and it will ensure that key environmental protections remain in place. 

Economic development and the support of local enterprise in Indigenous communities are at the heart of what is needed to redress Indigenous disadvantage. The Newman government’s Indigenous agenda is focused on ensuring that state government programs and funding are directed towards improving the stability and sustainability of Indigenous communities. Queensland’s Indigenous communities are not looking for charity. They want practical, meaningful assistance and sensible legislation that promotes better economic opportunities. That is what they are getting from this government. I commend the bill to the House.