It is important that land owners intending to clear vegetation on their property in Queensland in the near future take note of potential changes to vegetation management laws.
Prior to the 2017 Election, the State Government promised to reinstate restrictive vegetation management laws that were repealed by the Newman government. This commitment was to be met through the reintroduction of a draft Bill, similar to the repealed Vegetation Management (Reinstatement) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 (the repealed Bill), which proposed drastic changes to Queensland’s land clearing laws.
Specifically, the proposed changes would:
- Restrict a number of existing land clearing and land use rights by:
- removing provisions which allow high value agriculture and irrigated high value agriculture to be included as a purpose for which an application for vegetation clearing can be assessed;
- limiting the clearing of riparian vegetation, especially in the Great Barrier Reef catchment;
- providing for the retrospective invalidation of any Property Map of Assessable Vegetation (PMAV) made after the introduction of the earlier Bill that classified an area as Category X vegetation;
- Re-instate the “reverse onus of proof”, requiring land owners accused of a vegetation clearing offences to prove their innocence; and
- Eliminate land owners’ ability to rely upon “mistake of fact” as a defence to vegetation clearing offences
Despite the defeat of the repealed Bill in August 2016, labor has again indicated that it will reintroduce similar land clearing laws. In a media statement on 5 October 2017, it was stated that a re-elected Labor Government would “deliver real, balanced environmental protections” and implement changes in order to address the State’s “increased and excessive tree clearing.”
Considering Labors’ strong intention to reintroduce the repealed Bill, it is critical for land owners to understand the potential impacts that these changes may have upon their land use.
What does this mean for Queensland land owners?
Existing PMAVs will remain valid. However, if the Bill is reintroduced, it may include retrospective conditions to prevent panic clearing and an overflow of applications during the interim period. The Bill may also render PMAVs made after the introduction of the Bill invalid. As such, we recommend Queensland land owners consider exercising any rights that may be affected by a new Bill prior to its likely introduction. This may help avoid unlawful clearing allegations and related punitive consequences in the future.
We will provide a further update if the Government reintroduces the repealed, or a similar, Bill.