There has been plenty of media on the new Vegetation and Management Laws that were passed by Parliament on 3 May this year. These new laws may have a great impact on many farmers’ ability to clear and manage their land in the future. The commencement date of these new laws is yet to be advised, however, some of the new provisions have already taken effect as of 8 March to prevent pre-emptive clearing before the new laws officially come into force.
 
Under the current provisions there were restrictions on being able to clear ‘high-value regrowth’. The ‘high-value regrowth’ only included vegetation that had not been cleared since 31 December, 1989 on leasehold land that was used for Agricultural or Grazing purposes. One of the purposes of the new laws is to widen this definition of ‘high-value regrowth’. This ‘high-value regrowth’ under the new laws now includes “vegetation that has not been cleared in the last 15 years on any freehold, leasehold or Indigenous land that is used for Agricultural or Grazing purposes”. This expands its reach on restricting farmers from being able to manage and clear their agricultural land.
 
The clearing of native vegetation in Queensland is regulated by Federal, State and local laws. This means that if you are allowed to clear under one law, you aren’t necessarily allowed to clear under another!
The Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy (“DNRME”) is the main body that manages the clearing of land in Queensland by putting land into a Category system. Landowners are dictated by what they can and can’t clear depending on what Category their land falls in. Large parcels of land can have several Categories apply to it.
 
Most of the rural areas throughout the Mackay and Whitsunday Regions currently fall into ‘Category X’. Under the current laws, Category X land can generally be cleared without needing to notify DNRME or obtain a permit. However in some instances you’ll still need to obtain a Development Approval from local council.
 
Once the new laws come into force, some of this Category X land will be re-categorised as Category C (where the area contains endangered, of concern or a least concern regional ecosystems) or Category R land (vegetation within 50 metres of a watercourse). Category C land can only be cleared if an exemption applies or the clearing is allowed under the Code. Any landowners proposing to clear Category C land must firstly notify DNRME prior to clearing it.
 
If clearing is conducted without complying with the Code requirements, it could result in a direction to the landowner to restore the area and a possible fine.
DNRME have stated “under the new laws, landholders can still conduct necessary clearing for their farm operations and property management including clearing to:
  • Prepare for or recover from natural disasters;
  • Manage encroachment;
  • Establish property infrastructure, and
  • Control weeds.”
 
Though tread carefully as a Central Queensland Grazier was fined almost $1 million dollars last year for clearing a bush fire break and maintaining his fence line on his property because he failed to hold the required permit from DNRME to do so.
 
Now with satellite technology, DNRME can quickly detect changes in vegetation across Queensland, which enables them to contact landholders if it appears they are clearing vegetation illegally.
 
If you want to clear part of your land, you should do the following:
  1. Request a Free Property Report and Vegetation Maps for your land through the DNRME website to identify which Category your land falls in;
  2. Review the Accepted Development Vegetation Clearing Code/s for the Category of vegetation on your property from the DNRME website;
  3. Collect all the required data and information you will need to supply as part of the Code;
  4. Check with your Local Government Department that the clearing is allowed under the local Planning Laws without having to obtain a Development Approval;
  5. If your land is leasehold land or land subject to a Forest Consent Area, contact the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries to ensure the State has no commercial interest in the timber;
  6. If your Property Report identifies any part of the intended clearing area as a high risk area for protected plants, read the ‘Protected Plants Information’ from the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection website for further requirements;
  7. If the land you intend to clear does not fall into an exemption, you will need to complete a Notification Form on the DNRME website or contact 135 VEG or by email at [email protected], and lastly
  8. Keep your own records of any clearing activity if an audit is conducted by DNRME.
 
If you are proposing to undertake any clearing works in areas containing native vegetation, whether for merely a firebreak, fence line or road or for more substantial works, you should firstly seek legal advice.
 
If you have any questions or would like to know more, please contact our office.
 
The content of this article is to provide a general guide on this topic. Professional advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.