Here's the speech delivered by Andrew Cripps:
Extract from Hansard Wednesday 17 August 2016 – Andrew Cripps, Shadow Minister for Natural Resources and Mines and Shadow Minister for Northern Development
Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 17 Aug 2016
Mr CRIPPS (Hinchinbrook—LNP) (10.32 pm): The introduction of this bill into the House on 17 March this year was an act of calculated political retribution. It was the culmination of a series of dishonest actions by the Palaszczuk government. In the five months since its introduction, Labor and the greens have mounted a concerted campaign of scaremongering, contrived misinformation and outright untruths. This legislation was conceived exclusively between Labor and the greens, despite the Palaszczuk government giving repeated undertakings to rural stakeholder groups that they would be consulted. That never happened. In the end, at the recent estimates committee hearings, we had the portfolio minister, the Minister for State Development and Minister for Natural Resources and Mines, shrug his shoulders with indifference about this lack of consultation.
Labor and the greens have spent the past five months vilifying Queensland's farmers and landowners, seeking to characterise them as cavalier vandals of the environment, when the truth is exactly the opposite. Labor and the greens have tried to influence the views of urban communities by trashing the reputations of our primary producers. This bill proposes amendments to Queensland's vegetation management framework that will take us back to the bad old days of unbalanced, punitive restrictions on farmers and landowners, where people's basic civil liberties will be denied and economic opportunities in regional Queensland, including for Indigenous Queenslanders, will be lost.
In responding to this bill on behalf of the LNP, I will be dealing not only with its provisions but also with the history of this issue, the facts about the important and overdue reforms implemented by the former LNP government in 2013, the Agriculture and Environment Committee report, the Statewide Landcover and Trees Survey report and other matters. Since European settlement, in Queensland the clearing of vegetation has been regulated on crown land. In the first 100 years of this state, the focus was on developing our agricultural sector and providing infrastructure for at first a growing colony and later a growing state. That development resulted in the lifestyle, opportunities and prosperity that we have today. Successive governments of all political colours supported that development, so much so that agricultural and grazing leases issued over state land actually had conditions requiring land to be cleared and developed to ensure that this time-consuming and costly work would be done. Failure to comply with those conditions would mean forfeiture of the lease.
Times have certainly changed and the unregulated clearing of vegetation in Queensland is no longer permitted. However, between 1999 and 2013, under both the Beattie and Bligh governments the escalation of regulations and restrictions in the Vegetation Management Act made the very wrong assumption that ecosystems are static and trees do not grow. Of course, that is not true; in fact, trees do grow. Across Australia, including Queensland, in the absence of widespread controlled burns previously undertaken for tens of thousands of years by Indigenous Australians, European settlement has in fact seen the widespread thickening of woody vegetation and, believe it or not, to this day trees continue to grow.
In 1994, the then Goss government introduced the first efforts to reduce rates of vegetation clearing on state owned land. That was to be achieved through the development of clearing guidelines on leasehold land. Landholders participated in good faith and contributed their own time and practical experience to develop common-sense guidelines. Those guidelines contained environmental requirements to protect watercourses, lagoons and swamps, which are now called wetlands, slope limits for clearing and limits on clearing certain types of vegetation. That demonstrates that landholders recognised the need for sensible vegetation management controls that protected the environment.
However, the working relationship between the government and landholders was abandoned by another Labor government, the Beattie government. In 1999, the Beattie government scrapped those guidelines and introduced the Vegetation Management Act, which was the first in a long line of politically motivated attacks on Queensland's rural industries and rural communities. In 1999, the VMA meant for the first time the management of vegetation on freehold land across Queensland was rigidly regulated. Of course, landholders reacted to this threat to the viability of their businesses and the erosion of their property rights with vocal opposition. Little did they know that that was just the start of more than a decade of political persecution by Labor.
During the 2004 state election campaign, Labor announced that it intended to end broad-scale tree clearing in Queensland. The then natural resources minister, Stephen Robertson, stated that the implementation of that ban signalled the end of Labor's interest in the agenda and that the amended laws provided much-needed certainty to Queensland's primary producers. Minister Robertson said that a line in the sand had been drawn, that Labor took the concerns of landowners seriously and that he had given them many assurances that regrowth would be exempt from those controls. We now know that statement from Minister Robertson was not truthful, just as undertakings from the current minister to Queensland landowners have not been truthful.
As we now know, restrictions on the management of regrowth vegetation on freehold land were introduced after the 2009 state election. On that occasion, regulating remnant vegetation was no longer enough for Labor and the greens. By now, the agenda of the Bligh government and the greens had widened to expand vegetation regulations to regrowth on freehold land. Imagine trying to run a sustainable rural business when the state government continually changes the goalposts, keeps ramping up penalties and compliance, keeps limiting the availability of the resource that your business depends on and ties you up in so much red tape that you do not know which way to turn and you end up surrendering, exhausted, frustrated and depressed.
This is the very real and sad reality of what happened to rural communities, farmers and landowners across Queensland between 1999 and 2012. The development and expansion of a farm business is usually staged, reflecting the financial position of the landowner. Most farm businesses in Queensland are still family owned and in many cases are multigenerational. In most cases it is not a matter of clearing vegetation as quickly as possible, it is a matter of considering how the finances of the business are travelling and whether the enterprise can afford to expand its operation.
I believe deeply that there is a strong level of commitment to the land by people who purchase property with the intention of pursuing a farm business. Logically, the land is the principal asset in that farm business and it is clearly in the best interests of the landowner to look after that asset. Purchasing property is a significant financial investment and very often the land has vegetation on it. If they do not intend expanding the farm business the decision to clear vegetation can be a costly exercise for no return on that investment.
The point that I make is that it is a nonsense to suggest, as Labor and the Greens have done, that the clearing of vegetation is undertaken indiscriminately or without a reasonable expectation that a farm business will expand as a result. When people buy land there is an expectation that the clearing of vegetation will occur and bringing that land into production will occur as a result.
The landholder will invariably have a plan for the management of that property to be viable, sustainable and productive farm businesses in the long term. As a result, members can imagine how very concerning it would be for landowners to be told when they have made such a significant investment that their plans have been thrown into disarray by a government for political reasons.
Since the VMA was established in 1999 the LNP has always expressed considerable concerns about its impacts on the agriculture sector and on individual farms and landowners. In many cases landowners have been put in untenable positions as far as the viability of their enterprises are concerned, including purchasing land with the intention to develop it in good faith.
These were the circumstances in which the previous LNP government found the Queensland vegetation management framework in March 2012: laden with ideology, heavy on regulation, devoid of opportunity, breaching civil liberties and fundamental legislative principles and holding back the state's economy, particularly in regional and rural Queensland. I am proud to say that one of the most personally satisfying reforms was—
Ms Trad: Why did you lie?
Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms Farmer): Order! That is unparliamentary language. It is in an interjection. Could I ask the Deputy Premier to withdraw?
Ms TRAD: I withdraw
Mr CRIPPS: I am proud to say that one of the most personally satisfying reforms that I was associated with as the minister for natural resources in the former LNP government was our landmark reforms to Queensland's vegetation management framework. These reforms were balanced and responsible. They were implemented well and rigorously. That is notwithstanding some of the allegations that have been levelled at them by those opposite.
After more than a decade of constant ideological persecution by successive Beattie and Bligh Labor governments driven by several election preference deals with the Greens, the former LNP government's changes delivered some much needed relief to landowners and some common sense to the legislation. Firstly, our amendments addressed some longstanding matters in the VMA that were offensive to people's individual rights and established fundamental legislative principles of the Queensland parliament. This included correcting the reversal of the onus of proof, making mistake of fact available as a defence and removing the compulsion to give evidence against oneself.
Secondly, the LNP restored the right of landowners to manage regrowth vegetation on their freehold land. This was a property right that was removed by the zealous overreach of the Bligh government after the 2009 state election when the relationship between Labor and the Greens had reached an ugly symbiosis. Handing those property rights back was a big achievement for the previous LNP government.
The former LNP government also established a number of self-assessable codes for routine land management practices such as managing encroachment, managing regrowth on leasehold land, managing woody weeds, fodder harvesting and thinning. We eventually developed 15 self-assessable codes covering management activities in different vegetation bioregions. These codes have been very successful at reducing the time and the costs of complying with and administering the VMA for landowners and the Queensland government respectively. Unfortunately, the Palaszczuk government has already commenced a process to reduce the flexibility and usefulness of these codes which I will touch on in more detail later.
However, arguably the most important reform to the VMA was the new exemption to clear remnant vegetation for high-value agriculture and high-value irrigated agriculture. This mechanism provided a pathway for the sustainable growth of Queensland's agriculture sector that was not previously allowed for under Labor's prescriptive and inflexible VMA. A robust assessment process was established for HVA applications involving soil tests, financial viability tests and where irrigation was proposed a demonstration that the necessary volume of water entitlements were available. The HVA framework has been utilised to expand existing and create new high-value agriculture projects across Queensland.
These positive steps forward for Queensland's vegetation management framework are under serious threat from the Palaszczuk government and yet another pre-election preference deal with the Greens. There is enormous angst in regional and rural Queensland that we are going back to the bad old days of the Beattie and Bligh governments.
The bill before the House was conceived illegitimately. Its life did not begin well because late last year we the saw Premier, under intense pressure from green activists, humiliate the natural resources minister by publicly stripping him of responsibility for this bill and handing it over to the Deputy Premier. That was certainly an ominous sign for farmers and landowners in Queensland.
The supposedly ironclad commitment Queensland's agriculture peak bodies and landowners had earlier received from the Minister for Natural Resources that Labor would only make changes to the vegetation management framework after a consultative roundtable process produced a report with recommendations lay in tatters when that happened, along with the credibility of the Minister for Natural Resources. Looking back now, we know the stakeholder round table met only once and never produced a report or any recommendations. We know that the extreme green groups refused to attend the roundtable discussions until their demands were agreed to. The complete failure of the Minister for Natural Resources' roundtable process laid the foundations for his political emasculation by the Premier.
Instead the Greens lobbied the Palaszczuk government directly, demanding that Labor implement their preferred changes to the VMA. This is a disturbingly familiar course of events for the agriculture sector and farmers in Queensland. For a government that committed itself to being accountable and transparent and to being open and consultative it seems that this only applies when it is convenient to Labor.
This bill is a good example of Labor's total indifference towards regional communities. In contrast, the LNP is committed to defending these sensible and balanced reforms that we delivered in 2013. As Labor gears up for another assault on the property rights of landowners in Queensland, we are absolutely committed to defending those property rights.
During the public debate on this bill since it was introduced on the 17 March this year, assertions have been made that the reforms implemented by the former LNP government gutted Queensland's vegetation management framework in 2013. In particular, the Deputy Premier has been prolific with this allegation. It is of course false and now I will outline why.
Under the current vegetation management framework in Queensland all remnant vegetation is protected under the Vegetation Management Act. Let me say that again slowly for the benefit of those opposite. Under the act and following the LNP's reforms in 2013 all remnant vegetation remained regulated. That is not a gutting of the legislation. The only circumstances in which a landowner or proponent may clear remnant vegetation is when the proposed activity is subject to an exemption, such as building a residential house or a piece of public infrastructure, a properly assessed and granted permit, such as for high-value agriculture, or a routine management practice under a self-assessable code.
In 2013 the LNP’s reforms did deregulate the management of regrowth vegetation that had been previously cleared on freehold land, returning property rights that had been taken away by the Bligh government in 2009. Again, this is not remnant vegetation. Indeed, the 2014-15 SLATS report shows this accounted for about 62 per cent of the vegetation clearing in that period. However, this regrowth deregulation did not extend to leasehold land, which covers about two-thirds of Queensland. As I outlined earlier, restrictions on managing regrowth on leasehold land extended back beyond the first VMA in 1999 to the Land Act reforms of 1994. The state retains a level of interest in this land that justifies the ongoing oversight of the management of regrowth vegetation. As I mentioned earlier, the self-assessable codes cover routine management practices such as woody weed control, fodder harvesting and thinning. Anyone who has even an elementary understanding of the management of a rural property understands the need to undertake these types of activities and would consider them uncontroversial—no gutting to see here.
Lastly, the key element of the LNP’s reforms was the new purpose to provide permits for high-value agriculture to sustainably grow Queensland’s agriculture sector. As I mentioned earlier, a robust application process was established which included soil and financial assessments and has been used to expand existing and create new HVA programs across Queensland. Furthermore, successful HVA assessments issued under the former LNP government routinely mapped riparian vegetation, areas covered by essential happen at the mapping, wetlands, areas of ecological concern and other environmentally sensitive areas out of permits issued for high-value agriculture. The assessment process was rigorous. Again, it is wrong to describe the legislation as having been guttered.
The release of the most recent Statewide Landcover and Trees Study, or SLATS report, has set off a fresh wave of protests amongst the green activists and prompted their political surrogates in the Palaszczuk government—the Deputy Premier and the Minister for Environment—to step up their attacks on Queensland’s farmers and landowners. As usual, we have seen a combination of the selective use of data and hyperbole to stir up public angst and fear about this issue. The Deputy Premier and the Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection in particular have been quick to use the total or global figures in the SLATS report to try to shock people but have spent little time genuinely exploring the details of the report.
Labor and the Greens consistently and conveniently ignore key facts that are spelt out in black and white in the SLATS report. For example, in 2012-13 more than 260,000 hectares of vegetation was cleared in Queensland under laws put in place by the Bligh government. This clearly demonstrates that vegetation management rates have not blown out following the LNP’s reforms in 2013. The Palaszczuk government is now arguing for the content of this bill which will restore those very same rules, claiming they will protect the Great Barrier Reef. Yet the SLATS report shows that the arrangements that Labor and the Greens are arguing for lawfully allowed for the clearing of more than 260,000 hectares of vegetation in the financial year 2012-13 reporting period.
The key to understanding the SLATS report is to put an effort into understanding what type of vegetation management activities were undertaken, where and for what purpose. Quoting a global figure to manipulate a public debate is just base politics. The Deputy Premier and the Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection have been doing just exactly that. For example, in their public commentary, and indeed in the SLATS report, they have deliberately failed to differentiate fodder harvesting in severely drought affected areas and selective thinning to maintain tree densities from other vegetation management activities, instead classifying them as broadscale clearing, which is both inappropriate and inaccurate.
Another important statistic in the SLATS report, as I mentioned earlier, is that 62 per cent of all vegetation management activities in the 2014-15 reporting period involved regrowth vegetation on previously cleared land. This is not pristine or untouched vegetation or endangered ecosystems. This is vegetation that has previously been cleared for whatever reason and has regrown over a period of time. Fancy that—examples of trees growing again! Furthermore, in relation to the remaining 38 per cent of vegetation management activities involving remnant vegetation, all of those activities, as I have outlined earlier, occurred with an assessed and approved permit, involved activities that were subject to a self-assessable code or had an appropriate exemption such as a house or a piece of public infrastructure.
The 2014-15 SLATS report also states clearly that woody vegetation covers about 51 per cent of Queensland and that the vegetation management activities reported in that year accounted for about 0.3 per cent of that woody vegetation. Less than one per cent—less than half of one per cent—of woody vegetation in Queensland was impacted in the 2014-15 reporting period. Logically, if that is true, given woody vegetation covers about half of Queensland, it means that the area on which vegetation management activities were undertaken in the 2014-15 reporting period was about half the area the SLATS report says was disturbed—about 0.15 per cent of the state of Queensland, a very modest footprint across the whole state of Queensland when it is put into proper perspective.
I therefore submit that the accusation that the former LNP government's 2013 reforms resulted in an unsustainable escalation in vegetation management activities is untruthful and misleading. A proper assessment of the SLATS report and an objective analysis as to the purpose and the nature of vegetation management activities in Queensland reveals the truth. The former LNP government's 2013 reforms of Queensland's vegetation management framework were sensible and they were balanced. Labor and the Greens would prefer to debate this issue in an idealistic vacuum, pretending that real people in real communities based on real industries will not be hurt if this bill succeeds, but the reality is that this assumption is very, very wrong.
It was not long after the January 2015 state election that the Palaszczuk government began to demonstrate how two-faced it intended to be regarding Queensland’s vegetation management framework. The Minister for Natural Resources even issued a media statement reassuring farmers and landowners that it was business as usual in Queensland regarding the VMA. The minister promised, as he did so often in 2015, consultation with the agriculture sector before any changes were proposed. I said at the time that the minister’s statement was disingenuous and deceptive. Labor had violently opposed the sensible changes that the LNP had made to the vegetation management framework in 2013, and the Deputy Premier in particular was vitriolic during the debate.
Since then we have seen the deep green bias that controls the ALP exposed. I have no doubt that rural industry groups pleaded with the Minister for Natural Resources to try to save the sensible and balanced reforms that the LNP made to the Vegetation Management Act from being overturned in the face of rampant lobbying from the Greens. That media statement from the Minister for Natural Resources was obviously designed to try to calm people down, to calm anxious farmers and landowners down, in the face of clear undertakings by Labor in opposition that they would seek to overturn the LNP’s reforms.
What we have seen unfold since then would indicate that the Minister for Natural Resources has been misleading people deliberately. Even at this very early stage the natural resources minister was promising to consult with industry, with farmers and landowners but was failing to come clean with the facts that Labor had already done a deal with the Greens. It was certainly reminiscent of previous experiences that regional communities and the agriculture sector had had regarding consultation with the Labor Party on this issue.
Within a few months, the natural resources minister had caught himself in a trap. He was stuck between a Labor election commitment to reverse the LNP's changes to the legislation and a commitment that he gave during the 2015 estimates committee hearings that the work of the stakeholder roundtable group appointed to review the VMA would be unfettered. Indeed, the natural resources minister clearly stated that he believed it would be improper of him to place any parameters around the outcomes of that roundtable review process. Frankly, I was surprised that the minister made such a commitment, especially with the Greens in charge of Labor's policy.
I certainly asked him on several occasions at that estimates committee hearing how he would resolve the inconsistency between his commitment and Labor's policy to repeal the LNP's changes to the VMA. The minister could not explain how he would reconcile Labor's election commitments to repeal the LNP's changes with the roundtable review process. The reality is that, regardless of the commitments that were given by the Minister for Natural Resources, this roundtable process was always going to be a sham because the intentions of the Palaszczuk government regarding the Vegetation Management Act were always predetermined. Again, we see a pattern of misleading and deceptive behaviour from Labor.
However, it was late in 2015 that the Minister for Natural Resources suffered his humiliating political defeat when the Premier stripped him of his responsibility for handling the development of Labor's changes to Queensland's vegetation management framework, handing it over to the Deputy Premier. At that time the Palaszczuk government also announced that it would introduce legislation into the Queensland parliament to amend the vegetation management framework in early 2016, violating a commitment that the Minister for Natural Resources gave in September to rural stakeholders in Queensland about the consultation process that would occur. On 15 September last year Minister Lynham told the Queensland parliament—
I have repeatedly said that a key element of achieving this commitment will be through thorough consultation with a range of stakeholders. As such, a vegetation management community roundtable process will be used to achieve this outcome through participation from representatives from the agricultural and conservation sectors, the natural resource management collective and Indigenous interests. Once I receive the report from the round table, the government will carefully consider the recommended actions in the context of our election commitments.
By the time the Premier sin-binned the Minister for Natural Resources in late 2015 we know that the vegetation management round table had met only once and had not provided any report or any recommendations to the minister or to the Palaszczuk government. The bottom line is that there had been no consultation at all with Queensland's farmers and landowners. These details about how this bill came to the House for the consideration of all members during this debate is important because of the first remarks that I made when I commenced my contribution to this debate.
Members will recall that I said that the introduction of this bill into the House on 17 March this year was an act of calculated political retribution. I said that the bill was the culmination of a series of dishonest actions by the government and that in the five months since its introduction Labor and the Greens had mounted a concerted campaign of scaremongering, contrived misinformation and outright untruths. What I have submitted to the House so far has been all about demonstrating the accuracy of that statement. I said when I commenced this contribution that this legislation was conceived exclusively between Labor and the Greens, and despite the Palaszczuk government giving repeated undertakings to rural stakeholder groups that they would be consulted this consultation never happened. Indeed, I have previously outlined these concerns to the House.
On 15 March this year, with rumours of the imminent introduction of the bill into the House, I gave notice that the LNP opposition would move to protect the rights of Queensland's farmers and landholders to responsibly manage vegetation on their properties by voting against the introduction of any bill to change vegetation management laws on its first reading. I explained to the House that the LNP would do this because of the dismal failure of the Palaszczuk government to consult with the key stakeholders that would be severely affected by this legislation.
Suddenly and subsequently there was some mock outrage expressed from those opposite that no member had ever voted against the introduction of a bill into the Queensland parliament on its first reading. To be quite honest, I have never followed up on whether or not that accusation is true. If it is, quite frankly, I do not care. I will not apologise for calling out what I consider to be a blatant case of a minister making commitments, making undertakings to directly affected stakeholders that they will be consulted and then the government and the minister doing exactly the opposite of what he committed to do.
That is why I say that this bill is illegitimate. That is why I argued that it ought not be read for the first time and that I divided on its introduction into the House. On 15 May this year I clearly outlined the evidence that the Minister for Natural Resources had not once, not twice, not thrice but on four separate occasions given clear commitments and undertakings during the proceedings of this House that have not been honoured. I pointed out that the Palaszczuk government had promised to be a listening government. We were told the Palaszczuk government would be accountable and that it would consult with Queenslanders on the public policy issues that it made decisions about.
I pointed out that the natural resources minister appointed a community round table for consultation purposes, and I tabled four extracts from the Record of Proceedings of this House. They were from the estimates committee hearing of the Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources Committee from 19 August last year when the minister outlined his commitment for that consultation process to occur before any changes to the vegetation management framework would come into the House; from 15 September 2015 when this House debated the estimates committee report from that committee when the minister said, `Once I receive the report from the round table, the government will carefully consider the recommended actions in the context of our election commitments’; from 27 October last year when the minister repeated his commitment to that roundtable process; and from 24 February this year when in a motion the minister reiterated that the Palaszczuk government and he, in particular, would focus on the consultation process involved in that roundtable process before any changes would be made.
On 15 March this year I referred directly to what most people in this place already knew: what was really behind this bill was a letter of demand from September 2015 to the Premier from the Wilderness Society demanding that the preference deal that was agreed to between Labor and the Greens be honoured. The Greens were demanding their quid pro quo in return for delivering Greens preferences at the 2015 state election which delivered seats like South Brisbane, Mount Coot-tha and others to Labor, with Queensland farmers, landholders, our regional communities and our agricultural sector paying the price with reduced property values, lost production opportunities and lost regional jobs.
I know that the affected stakeholders who have been deceived by the Palaszczuk government feel very strongly that the so-called consultation process was a complete joke and a very bad one at that. No-one is laughing in regional, rural and remote Queensland about how Labor has doublecrossed people who live and work in the agriculture sector. In a press release on 28 November last year, AgForce Queensland stated that the Premier had turned her back on farmers battling Queensland's worst ever drought and turned her back on the government's own consultation process. The Palaszczuk government is not a listening government or a consultative government. It is dishonest and it is false. Equally, the Minister for Natural Resources has not honoured the commitments and undertakings that he gave to AgForce and others about the consultation process on this bill. As I said on 15 March in the House this year, he should consider carefully what this complete failure means for his reputation and try to understand what the consequences have been for the people that he has misled. The minister reacted negatively to questions about his integrity on this matter at recent estimates hearings. However, if a minister stands up in this House four times and gives a commitment to something, isn’t it a legitimate question to scrutinise him about that issue and demand that he explain himself, which he has failed to do?
With respect to the inquiry undertaken by the Agriculture and Environment Committee, the Palaszczuk government has missed an opportunity to save face and amend its unfair and unnecessary proposals to change Queensland’s vegetation management framework. Labor continues to refuse to listen to the wave of angry objections coming from regional communities. The report from the Agriculture and Environment Committee was an opportunity for Labor to acknowledge its failure to consult the bill’s unjustifiable content and abandon its attack on farmers and landowners. The committee report recommended the removal of the reversal of the onus of proof provision. This was no surprise, given it was almost unanimously condemned by every single submission that was received by the committee during its inquiry.
However, I was surprised that the committee failed to recommend the equally offensive provisions—withdrawing mistake of fact as an available defence and the retrospectivity of the bill to 17 March 2016—also be removed. In my view, these provisions are no less objectionable to the civil liberties of individuals and violate the fundamental legislative principles of the Queensland parliament.
Nevertheless, the Palaszczuk government appears to be unable to accept even this minor level of direction from the Agriculture and Environment Committee, despite MPs on the committee having the opportunity to travel extensively across Queensland, hearing evidence from affected farmers and landholders. Instead, Labor has put politics ahead of good policy outcomes. The Palaszczuk government is so beholden to the Greens that Labor MPs on the committee ignored all the evidence about the responsible work being done by farmers and landowners and the sustainable expansion of the agriculture sector in this state. The committee instead handed down a series of bland and unremarkable recommendations asking ministers for more information.
One redeeming feature of the report was the statement of reservation lodged by the deputy chair, the member for Gympie, which dealt comprehensively with the flaws in Labor's bill that were exposed through the extensive evidence considered during the committee hearings. It is a pity that the Labor MPs on the committee did not pay more attention to the member for Gympie. Even at this late stage in the public debate on this issue, I would encourage those members opposite to pick up the committee report and consider the well-articulated points made by the member for Gympie in his statement of reservation. I would also point out that the committee could not provide a recommendation to the House that the bill be passed, which all members should also consider. I repeat: the committee did not provide a recommendation to the House that the bill be passed.
Nevertheless, the Palaszczuk government appears to have defied the unanimous recommendation of the parliamentary committee to withdraw the reversal of the onus of proof provision from their proposed changes to Queensland’s vegetation management framework. This decision is obviously very arrogant and shows a dreadful level of contempt for the parliament.
Labor’s decision to try and ram this bill through unchanged demonstrates its bloody-mindedness on the issue of vegetation management in Queensland. This is a clear message that the whole process has been driven by ideology, with the Deputy Premier and the Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection determined to steamroll these draconian provisions through the parliament to satisfy the Greens.
Furthermore, the Palaszczuk government has given Queensland’s agriculture sector an insight into their future under Labor’s new vegetation management framework. Last week Labor tried to placate Queensland’s farmers and landowners by suggesting that everything they could do now they would still be able to do after the repeal of the LNP’s 2013 reforms. The Palaszczuk government suggested that farmers and landowners would still be able to use the self-assessable codes to undertake a range of vegetation activities, go through the Coordinator-General to clear vegetation to expand the agriculture sector, and that Indigenous people could use the Cape York Peninsula Heritage Act to pursue new opportunities.
Unfortunately, we already know that Labor has moved to reduce the flexibility and usefulness of the highly successful self-assessable codes for routine management activities. It is clear that Labor’s plans for these self-assessable codes will drive up the costs and reduce the productivity outcomes of Queensland’s agriculture sector with unhelpful and rigid regulations.
Under the Palaszczuk government, it is clear the only pathway for expanding high-value agriculture anywhere in Queensland will be through a full-blown, expensive and time-consuming Coordinator-General's process under the State Development and Public Works Organisation Act—legislation that is usually reserved for huge projects of state significance. This arrangement will favour large corporate agriculture proponents that have the finances and resources to make such applications. However, these arrangements will not be accessible and will be far too expensive for the overwhelming majority of farming businesses which are owned by farming families, and many of those have been operating for generations.
I would be very surprised if many of the Labor MPs opposite have spent much time considering the fact that this legislation will favour large corporate agriculture at the expense of family farming businesses. I ask them through you, Madam Deputy Speaker: is this your intention; does that sit well with your values; have you read the bill; do you know what is in it; and, if you missed this, what else have you missed?
Finally, Labor has moved to reassure Indigenous communities on Cape York Peninsula that they will be able to rely on the provisions of the Cape York Peninsula Heritage Act to manage vegetation and deliver future economic opportunities. This is despite the poor reputation of this legislation as being inflexible and rarely used over the last decade for that reason. I noticed that the Deputy Premier touched on the availability of the Cape York Peninsula Heritage Act and indicated to the House that in fact it has not been accessed by Indigenous communities on Cape York Peninsula to provide any job opportunities since it has been in place over the last decade.
Instead of Labor MPs blindly lining up behind this bill, it would be worth asking the Deputy Premier, the natural resources minister and the environment minister straight out how many times the provisions of the Cape York Peninsula Heritage Act have actually been utilised over the last 10 years to create jobs on Cape York. Indeed the member for Cook might be interested to know the answer to that question.
When the Deputy Premier introduced this bill on 17 March this year, she proposed a ridiculous committee inquiry period of only one month and wanted the committee report to come back by the middle of April—no doubt with a view to rush that legislation through the House as soon as possible with a minimum of parliamentary and public scrutiny. I am glad that the Labor Party did not get their way in March because it has allowed the people of Queensland—especially those who will be adversely impacted if this bill is agreed to—the opportunity to become aware of the outrageous, unfair and unnecessary changes to the Vegetation Management Act that is proposed in this bill. I have certainly been participating in that process myself.
The committee has travelled and they have taken a large volume of evidence. There is no recommendation to pass the bill in the committee report. We have a committee report but it is of limited use because the Labor MPs on that committee are toeing the party line. The committee hearings were very well attended. Everywhere that the committee went, it was very well attended, yet the report suggests just one amendment to the bill—albeit an important one.
When I spoke in the debate on 17 March this year, I pointed out that the bill did not just contain amendments to the vegetation management framework that would reverse the reforms put in place by the LNP in 2013; the bill in fact goes much further. Certainly, that is the case with respect to the expansion of category R vegetation management restrictions to the Fitzroy, Burnett-Mary and eastern Cape York Peninsula catchments. As such, this bill is more punitive and more restrictive and impinges on the property rights of more landowners in Queensland than the vegetation management framework that Labor had in place prior to the amendments put in place by the LNP in 2013. It does so again without any compensation being provided to affected landowners despite the fact that their property values, their income-earning capacity and their job opportunities will be reduced as a result.
Since 17 March I have travelled extensively to raise awareness about the implications of this bill for regional communities. I have spoken at community forums at Lakeland on Cape York, Bowen, Gympie, Beaudesert, Aratula, Kingaroy, Toogoolawah, Augathella, Roma, Clermont, Rockhampton and Emerald. I am happy to admit that in a very first for me, I marched in protest rallies in Gordonvale, in Townsville, in the Brisbane CBD and in Bundaberg. I have done this because the community, in particular those stakeholders who will be adversely impacted by Labor's proposed changes to the Vegetation Management Act, have not been properly consulted by this government. Their industry leaders and their representatives have not been consulted. They are as angry about being ignored as they are about the bill itself. For those who could not attend a forum or could not march at a rally, for those who could not make a written submission to the parliamentary committee or appear in person to give evidence, we established a petition for those people to support so they could send a message to the Palaszczuk government that they did not support this assault on Queensland's farmers and landholders. More than 8,700 Queenslanders signed that petition. It articulated the petitioners' concerns in respect of the negative impact of this bill on landholders' property rights, agriculture sector productivity and jobs in regional communities and called on all MPs not to support the Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill.
One of the low points in the public debate on this bill from the Palaszczuk government was when the Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection criticised Queensland's farmers and landowners for planning a rally in the Brisbane CBD against Labor's proposed changes to the Vegetation Management Act ahead of the start of the recent Royal Queensland Show because it was too political. This was another shocking display of how disconnected Labor is from regional Queensland. As I said at this time, you cannot have the Ekka without Queensland's farmers and landholders and the fact is the Royal Queensland Show has always been the week that the city meets the country in Brisbane. The farmers and landowners of Queensland should not have to leave their opinions at the farm gate to be allowed into town. This smacks of hypocrisy from the Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection because he is more than happy—
Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms Farmer): Order! Please do you not use that word.
Mr CRIPPS: This smacks of double standards from the Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection because he is more than happy for his mates in the union movement to march through the streets and rally outside the Queensland parliament. However, when farmers and landowners from across Queensland want to send a message to this arrogant government, oh no, it is too political to allow them to hold a street march in the Brisbane CBD. What a load of nonsense!
While the Minister for Environment lashes out at farmers and landowners for wanting to have their say, surely the Premier needs to be asking herself the question: why are Queensland's agriculture sector and rural communities marching in the streets of Brisbane? The Palaszczuk government is out of touch with regional Queensland and the Ekka was, in fact, a perfect platform for urban residents to hear a message loud and clear from the bush that Labor is threatening our livelihoods, our jobs and our communities.
To conclude, in 2013 as natural resources minister in the former LNP government, I was proud to deliver balanced, common-sense reforms to Queensland's vegetation management framework. After more than a decade of being attacked and persecuted by Labor, the LNP provided some relief, some confidence and some hope to Queensland's farmers and landowners. Sadly, the latest preference deal between Labor and the Greens has seen the Palaszczuk government move to repay the political debt by seeking to overturn these reforms. Labor's proposed changes strip away property rights, they reduce property values and they compromise the future opportunities of hardworking farming families across regional and rural Queensland. Labor and the Greens have dishonestly painted Queensland's farmers and landowners as environmental vandals and misrepresented statistics about vegetation management activities in Queensland to frighten people in urban communities about the survival of wildlife and the Great Barrier Reef when, in fact, their campaign is a political and an ideological one.
Queensland's primary producers are some of the state's leading conservationists. The malicious scaremongering by Labor and the Greens suggesting that they cannot be trusted to manage vegetation responsibly on their own properties is disgraceful and, quite frankly, disrespectful. This issue is critical for future economic development opportunities in regional and rural Queensland.
There are many complex issues associated with the debate about vegetation management in Queensland. However, the vexatious hyperventilation being undertaken by the Deputy Premier, the environment minister and their extreme green activist mates has been irresponsible and dishonest. I hope, I pray, that the majority of good, hardworking, decent Queenslanders can see through their
nonsense. As the LNP shadow minister for natural resources, I am absolutely committed to defending Queensland's primary producers and the sensible reforms undertaken by the LNP in 2013. The LNP remains steadfastly against Labor's proposed changes to Queensland's vegetation management framework and we will continue to advocate and defend the merits of the reforms that we undertook in 2013.
During the debate when this bill was introduced on 17 March this year, I said that I would oppose this legislation vigorously. Although the Deputy Premier said in her introductory speech that it was her responsibility to see this bill passed through the parliament because she had been to Bonn, I oppose this bill because she has never been to Barcaldine, she has never been to Biloela, she has never been to Bundaberg, she has never been to Bamaga, she has never been to Bowen, she has never been to Beaudesert, she has never been to Bollon and she has never been to Babinda to talk about the impact that this legislation will have on farmers and landowners across the state, and that is the key difference between Labor and the LNP. The Deputy Premier might have gone to Bonn with her little lap-dog, the environment minister, but she has not been out into regional and rural Queensland and talked to the real people of this state about the impact that this legislation will have on their lives and on their livelihoods.
I oppose this legislation vigorously. This legislation should not be supported by any member in this House.
Debate, on motion of Mr Hinchliffe, adjourned.