One of the most personally satisfying reforms of the former LNP Government in the Natural Resources portfolio was our landmark reforms to the Vegetation Management Act (VMA). After more than a decade of constant ideological persecution by successive Beattie and Bligh Labor Government’s (driven by several election preference deals with the Greens), the LNP’s changes delivered some much needed relief to landowners and some common sense to the legislation.
Firstly, our amendments addressed some long standing 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 from the Act. Regrettably, we rarely heard any civil libertarians going into bat for Queensland farmers.
Second, the LNP restored the right of landowners to manage regrowth vegetation on their freehold land and also established a number of self-assessable codes for routine land management practices such as managing encroachment, regrowth and woody weeds, fodder harvesting and thinning. These codes have been very successful at reducing the time and cost of complying with and administering the VMA for landowners and the Queensland Government respectively.
Arguably the most import reform to the Act was the new exemption to clear remnant vegetation for High Value Agriculture projects. This mechanism provided a pathway for the sustainable growth of Queensland’s agriculture sector that was not previously allowed under Labor’s proscriptive and inflexible VMA. A robust assessment process was established and 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 Labor Government and yet another pre-election preference deal with the Greens. Labor has promised to introduce a bill into the Queensland Parliament in early 2016. Left faction boss, Deputy Premier Jackie Trad, has humiliated the Natural Resources Minister, Anthony Lynham, by seizing control of this process – an ominous sign for landowners.
Minister Lynham’s supposedly iron clad commitment to Queensland’s agriculture peak bodies and landowners – that Labor would only make changes after a consultative roundtable process produced a report with recommendations – lies in tatters. The roundtable met only once and has not produced a report, or any recommendations. Reportedly, the extreme green groups refused to attend the roundtable discussions, underlining the political emasculation of Minister Lynham.
Instead, the extreme 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. Labor’s total indifference towards regional communities is once again on display. The LNP is committed to defending these sensible and balanced reforms, as Labor gears up for another assault on the property rights of landowners in Queensland.