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Estimates: Questioning the Government about its last-minute release of land clearing data

During Parliamentary Budget Estimates on Thursday 29 July 2022, I asked the Queensland Department of Environment and Science about the last-minute release of tree clearing data. 

You can read the answers below or in the official Queensland Parliament Record of Proceedings (Hansard).

Mr BERKMAN: I will direct some questions to the director-general. You will recall at last year’s estimates I put some questions around the progress of the SLATS report, the Statewide Landcover and Trees Study. That report was subsequently published on 30 December, the day before New Year’s Eve. I am curious about the timing of the publication of that report. Can you advise the committee of when the report was complete and when it might have been available for publication?

Mr Merrick: In terms of the precise date on which it was complete, I note it was the first report using the new methodology and we were concerned to ensure full quality assurance—and it was independently peer reviewed as well. It was a very thorough process. In terms of the actual release date, it is not actually in the gift of this agency. Although we produce the science, it is produced for the minister with responsibility for the Vegetation Management Act, who ultimately determines the timing of its release.

Mr BERKMAN: I accept that. Can you indicate when the work of this department was complete and the report was available for publication by the Minister for Resources?

Mr Merrick: I certainly do not have that date with me and we would probably struggle to provide a definitive date, given the quality assurance process it went through. I might check if there is any further advice there. I am advised that there is not.

Mr BERKMAN: I ask whether the minister is prepared to take that question on notice. I think there is quite reasonable concern about publication of a report that does, as far as I can tell, despite the changes in methodology, show pretty substantial increases in the measured amount of land clearing. I have concerns about the publication of such a significant report over the Christmas break while everyone is on leave. If the minister would take on notice when that report went to the resources minister and became available for publication, I think that would be valuable information.

CHAIR: That is entirely up to the minister.

Ms SCANLON: Again, that is probably a question better suited to the resources minister around when that was provided. It is something I do not have with me. In terms of that data, though, as you have noted, it did pick up more clearing as a result of that improved technology. That is one of the reasons we established the independent expert committee: to try to review what that data showed and provide advice back to government around if there are any other measures or incentives available to try to reduce the amount of tree clearing happening in this state. We brought in vegetation management laws. I know that the LNP opposed it and the Greens attempted to water down some of those provisions. We are really proud of those laws, but we certainly look forward to seeing that report because we want to see whether we need to improve in that space.

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