SPEECH – A Warning to the Queensland Government

4 May 2016

I rise to put on notice a progressive policy pursuit of the Queensland Labor government, which has recently been supported in policy and

in statement by the federal Labor opposition as we head into an election. This policy threat relates to vegetation

management issues in my home state. It is quite clear that the policy development has had a focus on politics

rather than being able to underpin it with an argument that it is environmentally motivated, because the facts

that are available to my home state government, the Labor government, do not bear out the measures that they

are proposing to bring into place.

In my home state, we had a moratorium on tree clearing for a very long period of time. Measures were only put

in place to allow landowners to clear land for specific agricultural purposes with the introduction of the LNP

government a couple of years ago. The legacy of that is there are now 59 landowners in Queensland who hold

permits to clear a bit over 100,000 hectares of country, much of it regrowth country that had been cleared before

and that was now populated with woody weeds—particularly in the brigalow belt; the return of brigalow—

making the land completely unusable unless the landowners were able to recover some of it for pastoral farming


The Queensland government went to the election indicating that they would initiate consultation with landowners.

Bear in mind that some 90 per cent of my state, in some part or another, relies on agricultural pursuits. I mean

98 per cent of the footprint of my state. In fact, west of the Great Dividing Range it makes up about 72 per

cent percent, and it is in these areas that it is absolutely essential that landowners are able to deal with sensible,

sustainable vegetation management issues.

The facts simply do not support Queensland Labor or the position of the federal Labor Party as we go into this

election. This is why this has become a timely matter. This is not about vegetation management; this is about

attracting the vote of Green sympathisers and supporters in metropolitan seats. The two major seats that are

affected by these policy settings in Queensland have never been held by Labor, and probably never will be held

by Labor. About 70 per cent of my state—and if you were to throw in the seat of Leichhardt, somewhere near

80 per cent of the state—is represented by seats where Labor will never have control and so therefore, from a

political point of view, they are of no value to them in terms of trying to attract the attention of the landowners

there. In fact, Labor candidates sometimes have trouble getting through those places and coming out without

being scalped, because some of the policies they apply impact on the livelihoods of these landowners.

What we are seeing at the moment is this: we have a statewide land cover and trees survey—called SLATS—that

produces scientific data behind the vegetation management and growth in my home state. These are the facts:

the state government’s own data flies into the face of when they put their argument to deal with some of this land

clearing. SLATS have been analysing and reporting on the change and loss of woody vegetation since 1988,

using Landsat imagery. The latest stats found tree coverage in Queensland has increased, almost to twice the

size of the ACT—to give you some sense of the size—in just three years. It shows that the vegetation increase

between 2012 and 2014 was some 437,000 hectares or, for the oldies in the chamber, of which I am one, nearly

one million acres. If you were to extrapolate that over the period since the data has been kept, we are talking

about an increase of a 10- to 12-million hectare area of vegetation growth in my state, as opposed to the 103,000

hectares that are the current subject of these 59 permits—that have been resisted by the Labor Party in my home

state. It was brought to my attention that the federal Department of the Environment, with no causal capacity,

decided to buy into these permit holdings in an effort to frustrate the landowners in my state from being able to

exercise their lawful right to clear land, which is a grave disappointment to me.

What the government are doing, because they simply do not care, or they do not understand the vegetation

management issues in a large part of my state, is they are trying to bring in a one-shoe-fits-all set of rules or

assessments for the management of vegetation right across the state—ignoring the fact that we have such a

diversity of vegetation. I listened to our colleague from the Greens, Senator McKim, talk about the diversity of

Tasmania. In my home state, that diversity is even richer: we have ocean hinterlands, we have large tracts of

rainforest up in the north-east, we have range lands, we have open savannah, we have pebbly downs—we go all

the way down into the channel country, through that and into the desert country. It is clear that the vegetation

management plans, the challenges and the issues that exist, vary from district to district, and sometimes within


So the state Labor government in Queensland is to now be supported by the federal Labor Party in what is truly

a political stunt—it cannot be described as anything else—to attract that soft Green support. I would not be

surprised if my Greens colleague here does not join me in bringing this to the attention of the voting public—

that is, this is just a grab by Labor to try to get large volumes of votes from people in the city who simply do not

understand issues to do with vegetation management; they do not understand the necessities to do with primary

production and agriculture.

I have been involved in primary production and agriculture all of my life. I am a fifth-generation farmer in my

home state; my family has an unbroken tie to the land. It was a fact that I declared upon my arrival here. I know

these men and women. Whilst there are—as is the case with everybody—people who will abuse circumstances

that are presented, for the largest part these people know and understand their land. They nurse their land and

nurture their land. My family currently run a couple of thousand head of cattle. We pay very close attention

to how land is performing through grazing on that scale, and often move cattle off properties to leave areas to

regenerate—sometimes for a couple of seasons. I know of one paddock that we have not had cattle on for over

12 months because the drought conditions brought additional pressure onto that land. We are now allowing it

to rejuvenate. We are promoting its rejuvenation, allowing it to rest and to come back. People on the land have

an acute sense of what is required. This is their livelihood. They are not about to do something that is going to

abuse the landscape so severely that it does not support their enterprise.

So I call on the Labor government at the state level to undertake and initiate the consultation they promised to

do with landowners and stakeholder groups. If they seriously sit down and have a listen to what is being said and

have a listen to how these industries collectively manage this, then I am certain that they will revisit the laws

they are intending to promote and will bring in a more sustainable management plan for vegetation, particularly

in the state of Queensland.