High Court ruling makes managing vegetation ‘virtually impossible’

A decision by the High Court this week has made vegetation management for Queensland primary producers even more confusing, exposing them to fines of up to $600,000 per breach.

The High Court decision upheld the power of councils to control vegetation management on ‘Category X’ land – about 20 per cent of Queensland’s landmass – where there is a local planning scheme in place.

The decision endorsed a similar ruling by the Queensland Court of Appeal in May, effectively adding another layer of regulation.

This means that thinning or clearing of any vegetation on ‘Category X’, previously exempt under the State’s Vegetation Management Act (VMA), could now require planning approval from the local council – a process that can take weeks or even months.

AgForce CEO Michael Guerin said the ruling had made effective, legally compliant landscape management ‘virtually impossible’ for most producers.

“Landholders now have to know, understand and comply with legislation and regulations by all three levels of Government – much of which is contradictory,” he said.

“This is a disastrous outcome for producers at a time when many need to urgently clear firebreaks ahead of a predicted brutal fire season, control weeds and invasive plants, and use vegetation as fodder for cattle starving due to the record drought.

“Every week we hear of producers who are fined for unknowingly breaching various State Government vegetation management regulations simply because the legislation is both confusing and ever-changing.

“For many years, the State Government has been telling producers that PMAVs are the ‘only document they will need’ to manage vegetation on their properties – this is clearly not the case.

“Between the VMA, protected plants trigger mapping and now local planning schemes, farmers simply don’t know what they can and can’t do on their properties.

“Ironically, this decision will ultimately harm the environment by adding to the complexity of rules already faced by farmers.”

Mr Guerin said AgForce’s ongoing attempts to have the Government see the issues and the impact on farmers, and have the VMA rectified, had fallen on deaf ears.

“These sorts of out-of-touch decisions made in Brisbane by people without a knowledge of the land or agriculture, are one of the key reasons we have launched the Stand Up for Regional Queensland’ campaign,” he said.

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