Bushfires which burnt through a million hectares of bush and farmland across Queensland have reignited a debate over land clearing restrictions which became law in May.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has reprimanded the state Labor government’s vegetation management laws and backed calls for an inquiry into whether they fuelled the bushfire crisis.
“The Queensland state government is negligent when it comes to how they are handling these native vegetation laws,” Mr Morrison told Sydney’s 2GB on Thursday.
The conservative side of Queensland politics has long railed against the restrictions, saying they make life impossible for farmers, but environmentalists say they are needed to protect habitats and reduce flooding.
On Thursday, Nationals Senator and Northern Australia Minister Matt Canavan called for an independent inquiry into the two-week long disaster, and what role the laws might have played in it.
He said farmers and landholders in fire-ravaged areas are convinced they made the fires worse.
“One of the landowners I’ve spoken to put in an application in December last year,” he said.
“They are still waiting for a response. They don’t need it now because their whole property has been burnt out.”
But state Energy Minister Anthony Lynham said the changes pushed through parliament this year do not prevent landholders from being fire safe.
“You can still clear firebreaks, clear tracks, make sure your family home is safe,” Dr Lynham said.
“You can also perform routine burning on your property to make sure the fire load is kept down.”
He said the state government would undertake a standard review of the incident, but that he alone cannot call a parliamentary inquiry.
Dr Lynham said that decision is for the government as a whole, although he did not say when that could be.
Queensland’s land clearing laws have long been contentious.
The former Bligh Labor government toughened land clearing restrictions in 2009 but they were dramatically watered down when the Liberal National Party won government in 2012.
That led to a huge spike in land clearing rates under the LNP, with the Palaszczuk government pushing through new land clearing laws in May this year.
Liberal National Party leader Deb Frecklington said landholders had for decades been let down by land clearing limits, but also pointed to heavy fuel loads in national parks as a cause for the inferno.
She said only an inquiry can clear up why landholders are having to wait months for permits to burn off their properties and if there is a link between those delays, the land management laws and the state’s oversight of national parks.
“They could be interlinked, but that is why we need a parliamentary inquiry to work that out,” she said.
Dr Lynham said more burn-offs were being carried out in national parks than in previous years.
Since November 22, bushfires have scorched more than a million hectares of land in central and southern Queensland, or 0.6 per cent of the state.