The SEQ Division ran a fantastic breakfast seminar in December 2013, with over
100 environmental practitioners attending. The seminar gave practitioners information on recent and proposed changes to biodiversity related legislation and policy within Queensland.
James Coutts, Executive Director of Department of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning kicked off the morning with a presentation on Queensland’s overarching planning reforms and how they relate to biodiversity management. He described the structure and function of the recently introduced State Planning Policy (SPP), State Development Assessment Provisions (SDAP) as well as interrelationships with the Vegetation Management Act 1999 (VM Act). His presentation also explained the drivers for planning reform, which included supporting the Government’s ‘four pillar economy’ paradigm, reducing red tape, and making Queensland’s planning system less complicated.
Jackie McKeay then presented on the proposed changes to the protected plants framework under the Nature Conservation Act 1992. Jackie is a Nature Conservation Services Manager at the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection and is one of the key government staff involved in formulating and managing the proposed changes to the Act. As the consultation period for the proposed changes was still in effect on the day, Jackie presented with the aim of gaining feedback from practitioners and proponents. She explained that the future framework was required as the current system was viewed as being out of date, was considered confusing and burdensome, and had poor compliance and poor on-ground outcomes for protected plants. To overcome the deficiencies in the current system, she explained that the permits and licencing system would be simplified and a risk based approach would underlay the new framework. This was likely to be based on requirements for ecological surveys where there is a perceived high risk of impacting endangered, vulnerable or near threatened (EVNT) plant species.
Steve Jarman and Matt Davis, both Ecologists at Arup, then spoke about the application of these changes from a practitioner (i.e. consultant) perspective and critiqued of how the changes support conservation of biodiversity. Matt Davis expanded on what James had outlined by providing more detail on the recent changes to the VM Act. Matt discussed the history of the VM Act, the new clearing purpose related to irrigated high value agricultural clearing, and the practical application of Module 8 of the SDAP compared to the now superseded Regional Vegetation Management Codes. Based on an assessment of the new and superseded frameworks, Matt outlined that the framework had a similar process for navigating exemptions and codes, appeared to place more reliance on vegetation offsets, and may have some reduced conservation outcomes due to exemptions and less stringent codes.
Steve Jarman then demonstrated how the proposed changes to the protected plants framework (outlined by Jackie) could be interpreted and applied by practitioners. He presented several case studies that outlined the process for understanding when permits would be required. He explained the importance of understanding the exemptions, knowing how to obtain and interpret the proposed ‘Trigger Maps’, the importance of knowing when ecological surveys would be required and what guidelines applied, and how to apply for a permit if one was required. Steven also critiqued the proposed framework and outlined that the changes were likely to result in a simpler, cheaper and more efficient process overall. Despite these benefits however, he presented evidence as to why a survey and permit system based on existing EVNT plant records posed risk to the conservation of EVNT species.