The Queensland parliament has passed legislation to repeal the state’s controversial Wild Rivers Act.
The Wilderness Society says the repeal 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.
Environment Minister Andrew Powell has told parliament that all former Wild River sites will now be declared strategic environmental areas.
Planning decisions for those areas will now be made through either local government planning schemes, or regional interest development approvals at the state level.
He said the new system would reduce complexity for development in local communities, and maintain environmental values.
Dams and weirs in strategic environmental areas will require a regional interest development approval, as will mining and broadacre cropping activities.
Mr 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 was a tragedy, and would do away with buffer zones created under the Wild Rivers Act to protect rivers from risky development such as strip mining, intensive agriculture and in-stream dams.
It said the Newman government trashed the laws 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 Mr Powell of misrepresenting a recent Federal Court ruling about the Wild Rivers laws.
In April this year, the Federal Court declared invalid development restrictions on the Archer, Lockhart and Stewart basins, made under the Beattie Labor government’s Wild Rivers Act of 2005.
‘The court decision did not overturn the Wild Rivers Act as the government has attempted to claim,’ Ms 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.