A lack of confidence in the new vegetation management laws is having a punitive affect on Scott and Jody Murray’s business at Prairie.
The couple, who operate Murray Earthmoving NQ, say, despite the government insisting the changes were nothing to fear, their work has “skidded to a halt” in the last couple of months.
“We had four or five staff on most of the time; there’s only one left now,” Scott said. “And we’ve only got two dozers out of the six we own working.”
He said that was because codes had been altered.
Coupled with the perception of a “guilty until proven innocent” approach to enforcing the new laws, Scott said people didn’t want to run the risk of falling foul of compliance officers through a lack of understanding.
“I’d say our work has dropped off by 60 to 70 per cent,” he said.
Meet in the middle
Rather than using the language of compliance, Scott would like to see the Department of Natural Resources get back to the days of Lands Department officers who were regionally based and who would sit down with landholders to work out mutually what could and couldn’t be done.
“You could negotiate because every place is different,” he said.
“Uanda itself has 93 different land types – to put an umbrella over that is unworkable.
“Making rules in Brisbane just doesn’t work – they should be doing something like that rather than just coming onto the place to see what you’ve done wrong.”
If there were more regionally based staff, Scott envisaged they would be able to more accurately record changes in vegetation as well as the impact management was having.
“We’ve got gidyea country here, where the young stuff is exploding and the old trees have all died.
“The country’s just getting sicker and sicker.
“The government has to meet in the middle with us and find something workable.
“Every time there’s an election, trees are the football, and we all suffer.”
Sending a message
Scott and Jody’s daughters, Kyra and Taya, sent the world a message of environmental stewardship on Green Shirt Day, May 1, using the wide stickraking bar on the wheeled dozer as their medium.
“I am an environmentalist too” and “We look after our land” were proudly painted on, then shared on social media.
Scott said all their friends in urban centres had seen it and reshared it, seeing it as a positive message.
“They were explaining how what we do isn’t destructive, it’s just taking the land back to its natural state.
“The machines can look intimidating but it’s all about your mindset and how you work them.
“We’re not into smashing things.”
Based at Uanda, south of Prairie in the heart of Queensland’s forest uplands country, the Murrays work mostly in the Richmond, Hughenden and Torrens Creek areas.
Stick-raking and blade-ploughing has formed the bulk of their vegetation management work – only 1.5pc of the Flinders shire has been developed and only 2.5pc of the neighbouring Dalrymple shire.
Scott estimates his company would have cleared in excess of 80,000ha of regrowth, small thinning jobs of 2000ha, and no virgin timber.
“I’ve been scrub-pulling 20 years here and no-one’s gotten in and torn everything down,” he said. “The environment is the first concern of most people. They seem to leave more trees than they need to under the codes.”
Most of Scott’s work was for people with flat ground that had become compacted, that they wanted to improve moisture retention on.
“They want to break the clay up and sow buffel, Burgundy bean, butterfly pea and lately, more progardes – the latter are all legumes that add nitrogen to the soil.
“Plus, if the soil seals up you get more erosion.”
He said the demand for their equipment, which had prompted them to invest nearly $1m in machinery purchases in the last three years, had been driven by cattle prices finally improving.
“No-one could do much work in the fall-out of the live export ban, but by 2015 we were struggling to keep up with the demand,” he said.
With development codes now more restrictive, the Murrays will be encouraging landowners to invest more in areas already treated to ensure it remains as productive as possible.