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Qld Bill removes cap on Local Government fees for environmentally relevant activities; endangered plant collecting penalties overhauled

Posted by gmarkets on 15 September, 2007

Local councils would have powers to enforce environmental regulations, including those protecting threatened native plant species, said Queensland’s Minister for Environment L H Nelson-Carr in the Queensland Parliament on 23 August 2007.

Councils will have access to EPA tools: “Most of these changes will happen with the remake of the Environmental Protection Regulation 1998 in 2008,” the Minister said. “However, to help Local Governments with their responsibilities, councils will be provided with access to all the relevant enforcement tools under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 so that they are well equipped to deal with nuisance matters arising from activities that have not been adequately conditioned under their existing approval.”

Councils able to recover costs: “The amendments in the Bill will allow Local Governments to set their own fees for the environmentally relevant activities they administer,” said Nelson-Carr. “Currently, Local Government fees for environmental activities are capped. This cap unfairly limits councils’ abilities to set fees to cover the costs of monitoring these activities. Councils will now be able to set their licence fees for certain environmental activities.”

Penalties to fit the crime: “The second change introduces tiered penalties for offences relating to protected plants to make it clearer that the punishment should fit the crime. At present, offences relating to the taking and use of protected plants under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 can only be pursued on indictment, which means that even the most minor offences lead to a defendant facing a maximum penalty that includes the possibility of imprisonment,” said the Minister. “This is a costly way to deal with minor offences and means that action is often not taken. Queensland has the greatest variety of native plant groups in Australia, with more than 8,000 species of flowering plants, gymnosperms and ferns. About 13 percent of Queensland’s native plant species are protected plants. These plants are in danger of extinction in the next 10 to 50 years unless action is taken to reverse their decline. Apart from vegetation clearing, plant collecting is the greatest threat to many types of protected plant. Under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 and Nature Conservation (Wildlife) Regulation 1994, the harvesting and sale of native plants and plant parts are closely regulated. Consequently, there is a public expectation that enforcement action will be taken for the most serious offences relating to illegal damage or removal of these plants.”

Better guidance on penalties: “Introducing tiered penalties for the protected plant offences will improve practical enforcement of these offences by separating the offences into different classes that carry relative penalties depending on the seriousness of the offence,” Nelson-Carr said. “The maximum penalty for the most serious offences has not changed. For less serious offences, such as just taking one or two vulnerable plants, the maximum penalty will be lower. This will provide courts and defendants with better guidance about the appropriate level of fine.”

Reference: LH Nelson-Carr, Minister for Environment and Multiculturalism, Mundingburra, Australian Labor Party, Records of Proceedings, First session of the Fifty-Second Parliament, Queensland, 23 August 2007.

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