Queensland’s Agriculture Minister, Mark Furner, committed to pushing for committee hearings in the regions likely to be most impacted by foreshadowed changes to vegetation management laws, when he visited Tambo on Wednesday.
Along with Blackall-Tambo councillors, he engaged with a group of six landholders plus AgForce representatives, who spent time explaining their perspective on tree clearing and the effect legislation changes would be likely to have.
Blackall wool producer, Rick Keogh, said generic legislation of the type promised by the government in the lead-up to the last election didn’t take into account the understanding that most landholders were active custodians of their land.
“Trees are very important to us,” he said. “They’re keeping our stock alive at the moment, especially on windy days.”
It was a similar message from Barry Mayne, who operates Tarabah Station north of Tambo, and who said his family had been there since the late 1800s.
“There’s no-one on the planet that wants to look after that country more than me,” he said.
The ability to thin a cypress pine monoculture, opening it up to sunlight and air, had been a boon for biodiversity on the property.
“The environment wins, the grazier wins, and forestry wins too, because the pine trees can start to grow again.
“I seriously hope we can keep managing it.”
Mr Furner said no-one should lose the point being made, that landholders had a vested interest in caring for their land.
“I have a lot of empathy for people in the regions and I will exercise my voice,” he said.
“Once the legislation comes about, it won’t be rushed the way previous governments have.
“There will be a first reading and then it will be handed over to a bipartisan committee.
“Everyone should put a submission in, then there will be hearings, and I will impress upon them to come out in the regions and hear from people like yourselves.”
A suggestion by Mr Mayne for harsher penalties, possibly in the form of suspended permission to clear any further for a period of time, were described by Mr Furner as consistent with what the government was proposing.
People deliberately flouting the laws concerned Mr Mayne because he saw it as an opportunity for interest groups to make use of those incidents to further their argument for stronger laws.
“The penalty can’t just be in the form of money because some of the people overstepping the mark have got a lot of money,” he said.
Mr Furner said that was an opportunity for consideration.
“That’s the role for the committee, to listen to that evidence, and I think that’s where it should be judged, in terms of the committee coming up with recommendations about that being a possibility,” he said.
He suggested that Katter’s Australian Party would have a representative on the yet-to-be-convened committee, along with government and LNP MPs.
Responding to calls from AgForce regional president, Guy Newell, and others present for an outcomes-based system rather than a politically-driven solution, Mr Furner it was always the case that superior numbers at voting time made the difference.
“The government is elected on the day based on the policies that put them into power,” he said. “Notwithstanding that, I’m always optimistic that people listen to evidence as serious as this, and come out and talk to people in the regions, having an understanding firsthand about their concerns and their issues they wish to put forward.”
While in Tambo, Mr Furner inspected the sawmill that has been operational since August last year, hearing that there had been a 20 per cent boost in school enrolments and an extra teacher put on since the timber industry had been restarted in the region.
The operators have access to 5700 tonnes annually and are currently bringing in one roadtrain of cypress pine a day.
“Mr Furner was very interested in our self-sustainable industry,” council spokeswoman, Alison Shaw said.