A decision by the Queensland Court of Appeal that will potentially expose landholders in the south-east to fines of more than half a million dollars for managing their vegetation is “governance gone mad”, according to AgForce CEO Michael Guerin.
Land earmarked 'Category X' is exempt under State Government vegetation management legislation, but certain councils require landholders to secure their approval before they clear trees, even if just removing a few trees for fence posts.
Mr Guerin said any assertion that the local requirement was in place to protect wildlife was false, adding that this was a grab for cash and a powerplay by local councils who wanted to control areas of land they considered to be ineffectively controlled by the State.
“What we have here is a gross contradiction between areas of land the State Government says are exempt under Queensland's Vegetation Management Act (VMA), but now could end up costing some landholders their livelihood.
“Fines of up to $600,000 are beyond most of us.
“Imagine removing trees growing in your own back yard because they are damaging your pipes or foundations, and then being told years later that you weren’t allowed to do it, and worse, that you now have to pay a massive fine – a fine that might be worth more than the value of the land itself.
“The expectation of most homeowners is that if you own the land – if the Government has said that the land is yours to do with as you please – you won’t be penalised for planting a few trees and then deciding later you want or need to remove them.”
Mr Guerin said that farmers weren’t “mass clearing land in football field sized blocks”, as is often misreported in the media, but rather managing thickening vegetation on their properties to restore the land.
“The first people of this great country of ours – Indigenous Australians – have been managing the land for more than 60,000 years, maintaining a balance between trees and grass with more open landscapes,” Mr Guerin said.
“Management of the land and control of regrowth is what the vegetation needs to be healthy and regenerate. Locking up land and preventing active management causes vegetation to thicken rapidly, often choking healthy ecosystems.
“Thinning ‘feral landscapes’ allows for effective weed control, minimises the risk of pest animals, and reduces overgrown vegetation that can become a severe fire risk.
“Councils that impose these requirements offer no compensation for landholders who want to effectively manage their land – they simply strip away any rights they have.
“What this decision by the Court of Appeal does is further stifle landholders and the land they’re trying to manage with more over governance.”