Peak agriculture and mining groups in Queensland have expressed outrage at the Bligh Government’s decision to extend Wild Rivers declarations to three inland rivers just days after a public submission process ended.
The Queensland Government announced on Saturday that the Coopers Creek, Georgina and Diamantina catchments will be protected from large dams and ‘unsustainable industrial development’ under the state’s Wild River’s legislation.
The protections place a range of controls on developments in the region, including preventing open cut mines, large dams, irrigation and gas and petroleum production in high preservation areas, which cover 3.6pc of the Lake Eyre Basin.
AgForce policy director Drew Wagner said the announcement came just 10 days after public submissions on the Georgina/Diamantina proposals closed, which smacked of a “government desperate to win green votes” in the lead-up to the early 2012 election.
“The government was supposed to ‘properly consider’ all public submissions to the proposed listings before making a declaration, and yet just days after the closing date Environment Minister Vicky Darling has rushed out a declaration,” Mr Wagner said.
AgForce believes the Wild Rivers declarations place an unnecessary layer of regulation over primary producers and fail to recognise the good land management practices of both traditional owners and rural landholders.
“We reject claims from Minister Darling that today’s declarations won’t affect grazing activities. Landholders in the Lake Eyre basin are now locked into a production time warp, with their ability to expand, intensify or diversify their operations now severely limited.”
Mr Wagner said property owners who have a high proportion of their country classified as a ‘High Preservation Area’ (HPA) will be unable to adapt their enterprises in response to changing markets or climate.
“Practically speaking, Wild Rivers’ declarations can limit the construction of fences and dams, the management of erosion and weed control efforts. Even more concerning is the potential for property values to be eroded which can harm the economic and social future of entire regional communities,” said Mr Wagner.
AgForce is disappointed the announcement makes no mention of a support package for landholders to control pests and weeds in areas that will be locked up under this declaration (or HPAs), and there is no commitment to a public 10-year review of the efficacy of Wild Rivers legislation.
“When will this government realise that the best environmental outcomes for all Queenslanders are achieved by incentive-based policies that encourage good land management, rather than blunt regulatory instruments that restrict development?”
The Queensland Resources Council said the decision to declare the Georgina and Diamantina Wild Rivers areas less than two weeks after the closing date for public submissions can only mean the Bligh government had no intention of taking any notice of industry and community views
QRC chief executive Michael Roche said the industry would be dismayed that the government had opted for politically-driven haste over due process.
“How can it be that a decision on the Cooper Creek took seven months following the close of submissions, but the huge Georgina and Diamantina areas could be decided in less than two weeks,” Mr Roche said.
“This Lake Eyre Basin region is equal to one-third of Queensland's land mass, is thought to be highly prospective for minerals and petroleum resources, but remains still lightly explored.
“The risk for the people for Queensland is that these declarations will lock away for all time hugely valuable resources and so deny the state investment, jobs and royalties.”
Mr Roche said that the Queensland resources sector supported the protection of the environmental values of Queensland rivers and remained of the view that this protection can be achieved under the Environment Protection Act and the normal environmental impact assessment process, which weighs up environmental, social and economic factors.
“What we have seen instead is huge disrespect for the views of the Queensland Resources Council and its member companies, which have a raft of projects in the affected areas,” Mr Roche said.
“There is no way that the minister and her department could have given proper consideration to industry submissions in just two weeks.
“We can only only conclude that this travesty of process is all about deals to help the re-election prospects of the Bligh government.”