What are Trigger Maps & Why the Controversy?
Property | Podcast
You may be aware that the Palaszczuk Government have been forced to remove more than a third of its flawed trigger mapping designed to protect endangered or at least vulnerable plants. To learn more where things are currently at with the reversal, South Geldard Lawyers‘ Director Gordon Stünzner discusses the matter.
Dan: You may be aware that the Palaszczuk government have been forced to remove more than a third of its flawed trigger mapping designed to protect endangered or at least vulnerable plants. Well, to learn more about where things are currently at, I’m with Gordon Stünzner, a principal at South Geldard Lawyers. So Gordon, what are trigger maps and why the controversy, since they hit the news in June 2019?
Gordon: Dan, if you’re a grazer or a farmer in Queensland, you’re probably well across what this issue is. In June, the Department of Environment and Science brought out some new maps which are designed to protect endangered, vulnerable and near-threatened plants in Queensland. The integrity of the maps was quite controversial at the time because I think those people aware or recall that the Gabba and Suncorp Stadium showed up as being sites where there were endangered. Much of Queensland was covered in these blue dots which indicated there was a potential plant which had to be identified and managed.
People who had category X, vegetation management codes on their properties suddenly had these new restrictions on what they thought was basically exempt areas. The Nature Conservation Act defines what an endangered, vulnerable, or near-threatened plant is, and that comes under the definition of wildlife, strangely enough. But the regulations deal with how they’re managed, and it’s been there for many years. It’s really a policy change in the department, and these maps have been put out there, some say, prematurely, given that they do have severe restrictions on what people can and can’t do on their land, and that they don’t seem to really be ground-truthed.
Dan: Gordon, isn’t clearing already controlled, though, in Queensland? How is this different to the Queensland vegetation management laws?
Gordon: Well, that’s probably a big part of the controversy that’s come out of this and what a lot of the bodies like AgForce and National Farmers Federation are saying is that there is a set of regulations and guidelines in place already which categorises different ecosystems according to their vulnerability. The category X, which is your white on the map, is generally locked in as exempt, so people can clear that with bulldozers, chains, whatever they need to do, they can retain that as it is. Then you go down through more vulnerable categories of vegetation, which then become to different codes.
Then at the more restrictive areas, you might have to get a development approval to clear thickened land alongside green areas. In some areas, you just don’t get to clear that at all. So yes, it is restricted and controlled. What this new regime did was it overlaid that existing vegetation management law and suddenly land that was locked in as white under the PMAVs, which is your property map for the accessible vegetation. What you thought was exempt is now suddenly covered by a new regime where you could potentially be restricted from going in there and doing what you could do three days before.
Dan: So, what does it mean for landholders out there?
Gordon: Well, if your property does have one of these endangered or vulnerable or near threatened plants identified or potentially identified on your plate, it’s up to you to establish that that’s wrong and that you shouldn’t be restricted with the development on that property. So, it’s a reverse onus of proof, which a lot of grazers and farmers feel is restrictive, and they potentially have, have a point. We’ve got two competing policies here, one is to be able to carry new business without too much interference from regulation. The other, which as legitimate, is to make sure that the environment and the endangered species are protected.
Dan: So, how is that done?
Gordon: If you disagree with the map on your particular property, you can’t just go back to the department and say this is wrong. You need to engage a qualified person to conduct a proper survey of property. So, what that means is a qualified person is someone who’s got recognised qualifications and experience in something like water culture, nature, conservation, and environmental science degree, a person who can identify plants and is recognised as having those qualifications. Once you engage that person, they’ll do a transect line or a random survey of the property and try to identify if there is a particular species plant in that area. They’ll do a report that will go back to the Department of Environment and Science, and if they accept it, then you can have that categorisation removed.
The thing to remember here, is that being a reverse onus of proof, it’s up to you as the landholder to engage someone at your cost. Now, in our experience when we engage people to do these sorts of surveys, they run into the tens of thousands of dollars, you might get a person in there to maybe under $10,000, but they are costly. That does put an extra impulse on people and their operations. If that survey comes back and it confirms that there is a plant there, you may still have an option to develop that land or clear around that particular plant. But there’ll be restrictions on what you can do, and there are permits and codes that apply. Typically, there’ll be a buffer area for about 100 metres around that spot, and in other cases, it could get two kilometres around that.
Dan: So, are there any exemptions to this, Gordon?
Gordon: There are. For authorised grazing practises, if your cattle are already in that area, they’re allowed to continue doing that, you’re allowed to clear your fire breaks as you are under the vegetation management laws anyway. If there’s thickening and encroachment of wee weeds, you’re allowed to clear those so long as it’s in accordance with the Vegetation Management Act. I guess the the query that people might have there is if you do have category X land, which is already exempt under the vegetation management laws, what are the codes that you apply in that case? You can clear for maintaining things like your stockyards or your tracks and if you have cleared in the past under the Vege Management Act, you can re-clear that land under that regime there.
Dan: So, for landholders that are listening to this podcast, where do they find help if they need it?
Gordon: Well, in the first port of call would be the department. Get onto the Department of Environment and Science website, there are some fact sheets there and they’re being updated. So, I guess the thing to recall or keep in mind here is that this is a bit of a moving circus at the moment. Nothing is really quite finalised and that there could be some changes. I think as the government does announce change to the policy, that’s where they’ll be put up to the public. Your industry bodies like AgForce and the National Farmers Federation will have policy papers as well, and of course, we can help as things progress.
If you are buying a property or selling or proposing a major infrastructure project, certainly get onto us and we can help you there. If you’re an accountant and your client is raising questions with you about what can I do with this, give us a call again and we can try and talk you through what needs to be done. The important thing is that this probably highlights is that there are other layers of legislation and regulation that overlay the vegetation management regime. We’ve just brought to our attention that the Blue Dots to apply to vegetation management. There’s also cultural heritage and your planning laws as well, which need to be considered when you are embarking on major infrastructure development.
Dan: Gordon, thanks for joining me.
Gordon: Thanks, Dan.
Thank you for listening. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate calling South Geldard lawyers on 07 4936 9100, thanks.