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Greed will kill the golden goose and Queensland, and the world, will be the poorer for it

The Queensland government has joined with the Federal government in another attempt to convince the World Heritage committee not to list the Great Barrier Reef as “in danger”, signing off on a report on their progress.

In September last year it was revealed that the federal government spent more than $500,000 sending Environment Minister Greg Hunt and senior public servants on a flurry of overseas lobbying trips to avoid an embarrassing “in danger” listing for the Great Barrier Reef, resulting in a decision in May to put it on the “watch list” for now.

The government’s dedicated taskforce travelled to most of the 21 countries on the committee, plus other nations. The environment department also has 4.8 full-time equivalent staff to manage the relationship with the World Heritage Committee, costing $734,000 in 2014-15.

At the time, conservationists questioned why resources are being poured into lobbying rather than better addressing problems facing the reef, such as pollution, coastal development and climate change.

One of the promises made to avoid the ‘in danger’ classification was that Queensland would restore the land clearing laws that Campbell Newman “took an axe to.”

After laws were relaxed under the then LNP state government in 2013, land-clearing rates tripled, undermining efforts to conserve wildlife and reduce carbon emissions.

However, the legislation to tighten the laws was defeated last week. Apparently some landholders are concerned about the prospect of re-tightened regulations and their possible impact on property values and business certainty.

To pass the law, the Queensland Government needed the support of the crossbenchers, and after two nights of debate, Independent MP Billy Gordon unexpectedly sided with the Katter Party and the LNP to vote down the legislation.

Within ten years of what looked like the end of broad-scale land clearing in Australia, most state vegetation laws across the country have been relaxed.

In Queensland, 296,000 hectares of bushland was cleared in 2013-14 – three times as much as in 2008-09 – mainly for conversion to pastures. These losses do not include the well-publicised clearing permitted by the government of nearly 900 square kilometres at two properties, Olive Vale and Strathmore, which commenced in 2015.

Government data show that clearing in catchments that drain onto the Great Barrier Reef increased dramatically, and constituted 35% of total clearing across Queensland in 2013-14. The loss of native vegetation cover in such regions is one of the major drivers of the deteriorating water quality in the reef’s lagoon, which threatens seagrass, coral reefs, and other marine ecosystems.

The increases in land clearing are across the board. They include losses of over 100,000 hectares of old-growth habitats, as well as the destruction of “high-value regrowth” – the advanced regeneration of endangered ecosystems.

These ecosystems have already been reduced to less than 10% of their original extent, and their recovery relies on allowing this regrowth to mature.

The inconsistency between the federal government’s Direct Action policy and Save the Reef message and the relaxation of state restrictions on vegetation and approvals for coal mining and port expansion indicates they have no coherent plan, with one hand fighting against the other.

Take the federal government’s 20 million trees program. At a cost of A$50 million, it aims to replace 20 million trees by 2020 to redress some of the damage from past land clearing.

Yet just one year of increased land clearing in Queensland has already removed many more trees than will be painstakingly planted during the entire program.

The Australian government’s Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) is paying billions of dollars to reduce carbon emissions from industry. But the carbon released from Queensland’s land clearing in 2012-2014 alone is estimated at 63 million tonnes, far more than was purchased under the first round of the ERF (at a cost to taxpayers of A$660 million).

Unless they can be made to stop the lobbying and start real action through regulation, greed will kill the golden goose and Queensland, and the world, will be the poorer for it.

land-clearing

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27 comments

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  1. Davidbruce

    The Kingdom of Tonga provides an example of what we can expect on the Great Barrier Reef, unless legislation is changed and environmental protection intensified. On the main island, Tongatapu, the lagoon is so badly polluted it is unsafe to swim, marine life does not survive and the only visible signs of life are land crabs. The lagoon is no longer a tourist attraction. Land clearing, population growth and uncontrolled run-off, pesticides, detergents and sewerage all contributed to the current state. When Captain Cook landed inside the lagoon, the water was crystal clear and full of life.

  2. Deidre

    LNP/IPA hell bent on destroying planet.

  3. crypt0

    The LieNP govt.spent more than $500,000 to falsify the narrative.
    When the choice is between “fix the situation” and “falsify the story”, you just know what the LieNP is gonna do …
    The fact that they are known as the LieNP gives us all a clue !

    Jobs ‘n’ growth

    Jobs ‘n’ growth

    Still waiting …

  4. townsvilleblog

    Kaye, unfortunately under the former Newman LNP govt law, these fanatical farmers have been allowed to plunder 1.5 million hectares of bush trees, making our fight against the worst effects of climate change almost impossible. More unfortunate is that the situation the Queensland Labor minority government finds itself in cannot change the law, as former Labor rats in Cairns will not side with the minority government to protect our environment. The conservatives LNP/One Nation will happily make a dollar today and bugger tomorrow because they are not intelligent enough to understand the effects of dangerous Climate Change.

  5. John Brame

    Malcolm Roberts says that plants take up CO2 so where is the problem. Mmmmm, hello Malcolm, we will soon be saying, ‘Where are the plants to do this’

  6. Greg - we're fast running out of options

    Yes, yes & more yes Kaye Lee!

    …feel like we are all aboard a careering, out of control, juggernaut that nobody can get off (oh yes, there’s always Mars! – not!)

    The Mad Max series is appearing more & more prophetic by the day.

    JB; WTF?…Think you’ve been stuck in a time warp w that comment.

  7. Anomander

    The environment department also has 4.8 full-time equivalent staff to manage the relationship with the World Heritage Committee, costing $734,000.

    That’s roughly $152,000 per position – the age of entitlement is alive and well in the Libs?

  8. Kaye Lee

    The waste is ridiculous Anomander. We spend more on glossy brochures, committees and overseas lobbying trips than we do on action

  9. Jaquix

    Why on earth did MP Billy Gordon not support the Labor government on this? He seems to make a habit of being disruptive.

  10. paulwalter

    Yet more cringeworthy neoliberalism from them. They make me nauseous at their grovelling “signals” to the big end of town and repressive behaviours toward the people they should be representing, such as here in Adelaide where they are rudely evicting older people from Housing Trust homes to make way for so called “redevelopment”.

    Even Keating has become scornful of their lilly-liveredness. They cant gain government federally for the same reason Clinton and Brit Labour can’t win, because they are no longer trusted.

    And the more they are told, the more preversely they cling to mulish implementation of neoliberal ideology and policies.

  11. LOVO

    It would seem that Qld.Labor have become an center right party. One wonders if Shorten is heading the federal ALP in the same direction.
    If an ‘Canary in the coal mine’ the size of the Great Barrier Reef has little sway on policy then it does not auger well for the future.
    I fear my children will never grow old.
    Ah, Queensland….beautiful one day…dead the next.
    Poor fella my country 🙁

  12. Mark Needham

    ” When Captain Cook landed inside the lagoon, the water was crystal clear and full of life.”

    And look where this part of the world is now. It is all down to Cook. Banks job on the Endeavour was to collect and record details of Flora and fauna discovered, to do as much as possible, before its destruction.
    ‘people sans fathers’
    Mark Needham

  13. Kaye Lee

    LOVO,

    In their defence, Labor did vote for the tougher land-clearing regs. Then again, they also approved mines and ports. I hold a secret fantasy that they gave the approvals knowing full well that finance won’t be forthcoming, thus avoiding backlash from the voters and possible legal action from Indian mining companies. You may say I’m a dreamer….sometimes you have to have some hope there is sanity somewhere, regardless of how slim it is.

    They got rid of Newman….will they replace him with Hanson????

    It’s like the electorate is purposely saying you think you’ve seen ugly? You ain’t seen nothing yet!

  14. Greg - not just another Harbequs

    Yep, for all the “hoo ha” in my schooling about humans being the superior “head” species, we are no better than rats, mots and fungi when it comes to breeding beyond our resource limits, & despoiling everything within our biosphere.

    As you say, it is now well past just a political problem. How much more species loss, environmental destruction, and refugee catastrophe must we collectively endure before every country is held to account?

    The real problem is that we don’t exist in isolation. We are all connected more than any will admit, by air & water. Even Fukushima has not proved the wakeup call it should have been in terms of international accountability.

  15. Kronomex

    It’s just a bunch of trees and animals and stuff. The political donations are…er…um…the economy is much more important.

  16. John Brame

    Greg on WTF, didn’t you study photosynthesis at school ??

  17. Greg on WTF? - Reinvention of the wheel

    Sure did John, & in more detail @ uni. My comment (in response to your post) was questioning why, at this point in the discussion, would anybody rewind decades to mentioning the irrefutable role of plants in terms of CO2 uptake & storage.

    With respect, it was akin to making an announcement about invention of the wheel.

    Where have you been John?? Have I missed something?

  18. John Brame

    Greg, I mentioned this because AGW denialist Malcolm Roberts claims that plants will use all the CO2 humans produce. This is part of his reasoning that climate change is a scam. So my other point ‘where are the plants to do this’ relates to the deforestation in Qld (the world for that matter)and the fact that we are fast running out of plants/vegetation to take up CO2. Comprende ?

  19. Harquebus

    I have read that, rising temperatures due to increased CO2 in the atmosphere and resulting desertification will offset any increase in plant growth.
    Plants don’t do so well in extreme heat and a one day event is enough to kill some.

    “There are about 21 million acres of trees spread across California’s 18 national forests, and the latest figures show 7.7 million of them — more than one-third — are dead.”
    http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Unprecedented-More-than-100-million-trees-10624642.php

    “Wiping out an entire forest can have significant effects on global climate patterns and alter vegetation on the other side of the world”
    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/11/161117205122.htm

  20. Greg

    John Brame, with you totally when it comes to combating those that would deny climate change or the effects thereof.

    BUT!! .. I was disappointed to see a statement of what I believe to be the blithering obvious, i.e. something that I believe 99% of the readership already know intrinsically to be true..

    I remember flying to Qld (yes, I stupidly owned my own aircraft for a few years) on my way to Longreach. At a few thousand feet AGL, I was amazed at the weird repetitious patterns over tens of thousands of acres. ..adjoining circles with white tepees in the centres.

    I was horrified when I realised that I was looking at wholesale (total) clearing of everything using huge chains between bulldozers. The Qld graziers were moving fast to beat impending legislation limiting the amount of land that they could clear. The white tepees were ash piles post burning.

    So yes, I am patently aware of deforestation but cannot see the point in complaining about what happens overseas when this is happening in our own backyard.

  21. Miriam English

    The weird part is that there is plenty of science showing that the presence of trees encourages rain. The absence of trees leads to prolonged drought and expanding desert. Why the f*ck would farmers who are always complaining about droughts get rid of the trees?

    A while back I read about a study in Western Australia on two regions next to each other. One was tree-covered bushland and the other was covered by fields of wheat. The scientists measured rainfall over an extended period (I think it was a few years) and found that the treed regions received far more rain than the wheat fields.

    The “conveyer belt” theory of rainfall was developed by two Russian scientists to explain why inland forests exist. Essentially it describes how rain evaporates from the ocean, falls inland on forests, evaporates again, falls further inland on more forest, and so on. If you cut down the forest on the coast it breaks the chain and everything inland tends to dry up and die.

    The land I live on (owned by my ex-) has lots of trees. The neighboring land surrounding this is grazed by cattle and is virtually bare of trees. At various times each year the surrounding land looks almost dead, while the grass under the trees in here stays green. My ex- likes to leave the gate open to the neighbor’s property so the cattle come in and keep the grass down in the bottom half of the property. On very hot days all the cattle come in here to shelter under the trees. On cold rainy days all the cattle come in here to shelter under the trees. On windy days all the cattle come in here to shelter under the trees. On many ordinary days all the cattle come in here to shelter under the trees. Even with the cattle here so very often the grass still does really well, while in the surrounding paddocks it is currently looking pretty dead. I sometimes wonder if farmers even look at their animals and plants.

  22. John Brame

    Greg, that’s exactly what I was am complaining about. The deforestation in Queensland (this article). Then Australia, then the world. Deforestation is a blight on humanities character. And as Harquebus writes, the plants left won’t be able to cope due to the rising temperatures. We are pushing this planet so effing close to the point of no return. What have i said that is so bleeding obvious ?

  23. Mark Needham

    It’s not much, but I have planted over 300 trees on my little, previously bald patch.(10 acres)
    How, much have we done here, Boys and Girls, on this blog.
    Trying Bloody hard,
    Mark Needham
    PS. I’ve had a few trees cut down, in my name, for housing ect, also

  24. Harquebus

    Mark Needham
    As you are fortunate enough to have your own “little, previously bald patch” then, so you should and credit to you for doing so.

  25. Alan Baird

    I think I can recall that there was an agreement Oz signed up to something called the Kyoto Protocol. Oz got a whopping free kick I think I also recall, by promising to cut back on and clearing. Basically Oz didn’t have to do much more than that and Little Johnnie Liar congratulated himself on the deal. Obviously we MUST be holding up our end of the bargain. NOT. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that if you went out to the sticks where the enraged farmer shot the anti-land-clearing agent dead you’d find Trump would win and they’d all want a new rapid fire shotgun courtesy of Leyonhjelm, if you catch my drift. Adding to the mess, overseas agencies keep on wilfully ignoring Oz govt “information” and publish dreadful lies about coral bleaching. White is so much nicer that too many colours don’t you think? SNAFU. Situation Normal All Fcuked Up.

  26. Kaye Lee

    The Australia clause was negotiated way back in 1997 to cover the first Kyoto Protocol period (2008-2012).

    Australia was able to secure a definition of emissions that included reduced deforestation. Crucially, the reduction was relative to a baseline year of 1990 – a year when a lot of land had been cleared in Australia, especially Queensland.

    The rule applied to all but clearly benefited Australia.

    It meant that if Australia cleared less land each year in the period 2008-2012 than it did in 1990, it could subtract the difference from its total emissions, (which includes things like emissions from vehicles, manufacturing and coal-fired power plants).

    And subtract it did. As it turned out, rampant bulldozer-and-chain land clearing fell after 1990, softening the impact of the increase in emissions in other sectors, such as mining.

    Thanks to the clause, (Article 3.7 of the Protocol), Australia easily met its commitment to limit emissions increases to 8 per cent on 1990 levels over the 2008-2012 period.

    It did so well it racked up more than 100 million tonnes of surplus carbon credits.

    That was meant to be the end of the Australia clause.

    Rules hammered out at Doha in 2012 capped the amount of surplus emissions credits Australia could ‘carry over’ to meet its second stage 2020 target. The capping would have effectively slashed Australia’s credits stockpile by up to 80 million tonnes.

    But in December Australian negotiators at the Paris climate summit successfully bargained to extend the clause into the second Kyoto period (2013-2020).

    This has an enormous effect on calculating Australia’s net emissions.

    It means Australia can offset emissions in the second Kyoto period with more than 100 million tonnes of surplus emissions credits accrued from the first.

    If the negotiators had not been successful, Australia would have had to reduce emissions from other sectors (the Government has been paying $13.12 a tonne of carbon under the Emissions Reduction Fund) or buy carbon credits on the international market (about $1 a tonne).

    Buying a lot of carbon credits could have been expensive.

    And according to the international non-profit group Climate Action Tracker (CAT), Australia’s emissions will probably rise quite a lot. It has calculated carbon pollution will increase by as much as 11 per cent by 2020, excluding the accounting rules.

  27. Alan Baird

    You mean actually reduce emissions from fossil fuels presumably. Gosh, that’s a bit tough. In between the extra Australian and overseas mouths to feed and provide coal for ie. the carbon that’s burnt into the air to all do that we’ll be flat out just treading water.

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