Tree clearing debate to be a key political battle as Queensland Parliament resumes for 2016

Changes to tree clearing laws in Queensland are shaping up to be a key battle for the State Labor Government in 2016.

Prior to last year's election, now-Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk committed to reintroducing strict vegetation management rules that were relaxed by the previous LNP administration.

Twelve months on, the State's peak agriculture lobby group AgForce is calling on Labor to present its planned changes.

"It's certainly a major challenge for our membership," AgForce president Grant Maudsley said.

"There's only so much they [Labor] can do with the numbers they've got.

"If this Government gets it right, they can be a friend of agriculture; if they don't, they'll be no friend of agriculture going forward."

Deputy Premier Jackie Trad late last year announced she would spearhead the Government's move to introduce greater clearing controls, sidelining the Natural Resources Minister Anthony Lynham, who has been leading negotiations between farm groups and environmentalists.

Ms Trad said the Government was on-track to "reinstate world-class, or nation-leading, vegetation management laws" to Parliament before the end of March.

"We gave a commitment at the election to close these loopholes the LNP introduced that have seen some significant clearing in Queensland," she said.

"You have to act in the public interest, it's not about making friends."

Tree clearing - sustainable or not?

The Government's latest Statewide Landcover and Tree Study (SLATS) report showed 296,324 hectares was cleared in 2013-14, a three-fold increase on 2009-10 and the highest level since 2006.

Conservation group WWF had used the figures to ramp up pressure on the Government to act on its pre-election pledge, saying the delay was "unacceptable".

"The question we all need to answer is, 'is this sustainable?'," Ms Trad said.

"There is no reason why we can't achieve a balance here … in order to maintain our commitment to emission reduction, in order to conserve biodiversity.

"These are all critical things that everybody feels passionately about, as well as making sure the agricultural sector continues to grow and flourish in this State."

While acknowledging the clear differences between the Government's aim and that of AgForce, Ms Trad said consultation with all stakeholders would continue, with further meetings scheduled for this week.

"It's about pursuing public policy in the public interest," she maintained.

But AgForce's Mr Maudsley said previous engagement with environmental groups had proven a "waste of time" and he was instead focussed on convincing the wider voting public.

"That means we work with social media campaigns … [to reach] all those people we've never been able to influence before.

"We've got to work in a scientific space, we've got to work in a social media space and we've got to work in a political lobbying space.

"We just need to pull the trigger, get on with the discussion … and resolve it in the favour of industry," he said.


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