Fires spark inquiry into vegetation management

Tracey Ferrier - AAPCountryman
Waroona fire backburning after sunset.
Camera IconWaroona fire backburning after sunset. Credit: Mogens Johansen

Farmers need to know if Queensland’s vegetation management laws fuelled the state’s bushfire crisis, the Federal Agriculture minister says.

David Littleproud has ordered a federal parliamentary inquiry into how state and territory laws on vegetation and land management are affecting farmers.

He said Queensland’s bushfire emergency was the catalyst for the inquiry, amid claims the state’s land clearing and land management laws exacerbated fires that raged for a fortnight.

“If Queensland’s laws are locking up agriculture’s potential and making fires worse, we need to know about it,” he said.

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“The idea a farmer is too scared to make a proper firebreak is a joke.”

Mr Littleproud said he would invite the architect of the Queensland laws, Deputy Premier Jackie Trad, to face the inquiry, which will begin this month and report back by April.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison accused Queensland’s Labor government of negligence and supported calls for an inquiry.

“The Queensland State Government is negligent when it comes to how they are handling these native vegetation laws,” he said.

He made the comment after Nationals Senator and Northern Australia Minister Matt Canavan said there must be an independent probe into what effect the laws had on the severity of the fires.

Senator Canavan said farmers and landholders in fire-ravaged areas had been venting their rage, convinced land clearing restrictions and poor land management in national parks had made the fires worse.

He said one landowner had applied for a vegetation management permit on his land last December but bushfires swept through before he got a response.

“They don’t need it now because their whole property has been burnt out,” Mr Canavan said.

The Queensland government has defended its laws, which only came into effect in May amid a long-running drought affecting much of the state.

Current laws are designed to stop broad-scale land clearance, which farmers say are too onerous and make farming difficult.

Under the laws, farmers and landholders can still clear vegetation, put in fire breaks, clear tracks and carry out fuel reduction burns. No permits are required for work on fire breaks.

The Queensland Government has ordered its own inquiry, with the independent Inspector-General of Emergency Management to review how prepared Queensland was for fires, and the emergency response to the fires.

Such inquiries are always carried out after significant natural disasters.

Since November 22, bushfires have scorched more than a million hectares of land in central and southern Queensland.

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