|Wilderness Society billboard targeting Campbell Newman’s opposition to Wild Rivers legislation (Toby Mann/AAP)|
The Wilderness Society says the passage of Queensland government legislation to repeal the state’s Wild Rivers Act is a tragedy for some of the last free-flowing rivers on the planet.
But the Newman government says it reflects a federal court decision earlier this year, and a new framework will ensure river systems are protected.
The Queensland environment minister, Andrew Powell, has told parliament that all former sites protected under the act would now be declared “strategic environmental areas”.
Planning decisions for those areas will be made through either local government or state level development approvals. He said the new system would reduce complexity for development and maintain environmental values.
Dams and weirs in strategic environmental areas, as will mining and broadacre cropping activities, will require state-level approvals.
Powell said the changes would reset the imbalance created by the wild rivers act, particularly on Cape York.
But the Wilderness Society said the repeal would do away with buffer zones created under the act to protect rivers from risky development such as strip mining, intensive agriculture and in-stream dams. It said the laws had been “trashed” to satisfy miners and developers.
“The repeal of the Wild Rivers Act will once again expose sensitive, pristine rivers to destructive development threats,” the society’s Queensland campaign manager, Tim Seelig, said.
“In its place, the Newman government will run with a dog’s breakfast of weaker policies, regulation and ever-changing maps which will operate without any parliamentary oversight and will lead to arbitrary decision-making.”
The opposition’s environment spokesperson, Jackie Trad, said the environment would suffer with the loss of laws intended to stop over-extraction and protect vulnerable ecosystems. She also accused Powell of misrepresenting a recent federal court ruling about the wild rivers laws.
In April this year, the federal court declared development restrictions on the Archer, Lockhart and Stewart basins invalid. “The court decision did not overturn the Wild Rivers Act as the government has attempted to claim,” Trad told parliament.
She said it had identified “process issues” with the declaration of those three rivers, and the court ruling did not undermine declarations for the Wenlock, the gulf and channel country, and Hinchinbrook and Fraser islands.