In this contributed opinion piece, North Queensland cattle producer Greg Brown, a former Cattle Council of Australia president and AgForce Cattle board chair, argues that farmers and environmentalists should bypass Governments and work together to find agreed long-term solutions to Queensland’s tree laws.
WATCHING the management of the pre-legislation changes to the Vegetation Management Act has left me wondering why we are dealing with this important issue the same way that has failed to achieved results over the last three decades.
I am left wondering why we have not realised a different approach is desperately needed.
Opponents and supporters both front up with the same patently false assertions that we are all going to starve if we can’t clear more country or that if we do clear trees the Great Barrier Reef is going to be inundated with sediment.
Certainly nobody is going to starve if trees aren’t cleared but there is a very good case for substantial areas to be cleared and developed into productive grazing or farmland.
Fundamentally we are an export nation. Expanding our productivity in a sustainable way to satisfy current and emerging markets just makes good sense.
Clearing trees also increases moisture availability and pasture growth which in turn increases infiltration and reduces runoff and erosion. Thick timber reduces groundcover which results in high soil movement. Science must be observed at all times.
The opposing and supporting arguments in relation to tree clearing have been used by the two political parties as election issue for many years. Maintaining these polarised views into the future will be to the detriment of our rural industries.
The ‘High Value Agriculture’ (HVA) concept is totally flawed as it allowed people to clear large tracts of country without any staging process.
During the term of the Beattie government the bio-regions were given the opportunity to define sustainable tree clearing guidelines.
These regional groups consisted of producers, environmental groups, government departments, aboriginal groups and community representatives plus invited technical experts.
After many meetings and vigorous debate consensus was reached. It was agreed a certain percentage of appropriate soils on a property could be cleared on a staged basis.
Being able to continue to clear was based on proof that the clearing (and post management clearing) was at a high standard after inspection by a panel of suitably qualified people.
Unfortunately the incoming government called a halt to all tree clearing.
Another flaw with HVA process was the exaggerated land suitability, productivity and economic claims made by some people charged with the task of putting the HVA applications together.
An independent review prepared by Mr W P Thompson for the government identified major flaws and cast serious doubt on the information provided in one particular northern tree clearing application.
A permit to clear substantial areas of unsuitable soils was granted based on this flawed application and approval process.
The fact remains the Greens have a great deal of influence in relation to this debate.
I would suggest that the bush and the Greens should, as a matter of urgency, meet and come to some sort of agreement independent of the government.
Relying on absolute misinformation as a means of influencing two political parties will mean there will be no outcome for common sense for years to come.
At Beef Australia in 2015 Agforce invited a representative from the north American timber industry to present their experiences with environmental lobby groups.
From a history of enormous conflict the issue was resolved to the satisfaction of both parties.
This presentation was enthusiastically received by the audience and one would wonder why we can’t replicate this process.