Even though Queensland’s LNP was voted out of office earlier this year, the wave of environmental destruction set off by the Newman government continues to sweep across the Sunshine State.
Newman’s legacy was to reverse, wind-back and dismantle more than a decade’s worth of environmental protection.
Championed by then Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney, now in Opposition, the three-year frenzy of regulation slashing delivered naught for Queenslanders. More worryingly, it damaged the state’s $10 billion tourism industry, which is reliant on our extraordinary natural assets for its survival.
Damaging changes to clearing laws, coastal planning and other legislation are still in effect today. While the Palaszczuk government scrambles to address various threats to the Great Barrier Reef, trees are dropping once again across state forests that were once earmarked for protection.
Perhaps one of the most ideologically driven and cynical manoeuvres of the ousted LNP was the reversal of the Bligh Government’s decision to protect key forest reserves across the state. Specifically targeted in this process were the unique tall open forests in north Queensland, often on the edge of rainforests.
Targeting forests from along the tropical coast and tablelands, these ecosystems are home to many rare and threatened species including the cassowary, yellow-bellied glider, Eungella honeyeater, spot-tailed quoll and glossy black-cockatoo to name just a few.
The key element of the LNP’s anti-environment reign was an attempt to take control of the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, our primary piece of federal environmental law, while at the same time signing off on the destruction of listed species’ habitat.
The actions of the Newman government are a telling demonstration of why this is a terrible idea for the environment we all share. For example, one forest set aside for protection but earmarked for logging under Newman was the Tumoulin Forest near Ravenshoe.
Here, a dedicated team of Tablelands Volunteers have monitored and mapped the endangered yellow-bellied glider and its habitat for more than ten years.
The gliders, genetically distinct from their southern counterparts, rely on mature forest with many hollow-bearing trees for survival. They also rely on quite specific and thinly dispersed feed trees from which they tap sugar-rich sap.
The 2011 decision by the then Bligh Government to protect parts of Tumoulin from logging was a welcome relief. That decision was reversed by the Newman Government. Today, unless there is immediate intervention from the current Palaszczuk government, Queensland’s yellow-bellied gliders will be pushed further towards extinction.
But Tumoulin’s gliders are not an isolated case. Further south, in the Crediton State Forest near Mackay, the state government last year allowed logging in forests also previously identified for protection.
Home to the Eungella honeyeater, a poorly studied bird endemic to the area, ongoing logging in the state forest could imperil the species’ chance of survival. Monitoring conducted by the Mackay Conservation Group and Birdlife Mackay suggests the rare honeyeater’s population is in decline.
In 1999, and with a history of over-harvesting, the Queensland government promised to bring an end to all logging of native forests by 2024.
The newly elected Palaszczuk Government will need to move quickly to undo some of the most destructive policies pushed through by the previous government. Quick intervention may prove to be a lifeline to avoid the worst impacts of ongoing habitat loss for forest dependent species like the yellow-bellied glider and Eungella honeyeater.
First published at Wild Magazine’s online Opinion page.