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Qld to plead with UNESCO on reef status

AAP logoAAP 18/08/2016 By Jamie McKinnell

The Queensland government is set to take its fight to crack down on tree clearing to the next election, painting the issue as crucial to the Great Barrier Reef's World Heritage status.

Labor's contentious vegetation management bill failed to pass late on Thursday after key independent MP Billy Gordon reneged, at the eleventh hour, on an agreement to support his former party.

The government repeatedly linked the changes to reef protection, saying they were a key plank of an intense lobbying campaign for UNESCO to keep the tourism drawcard off its "in danger" list last year.

Now the government says it will ask the United Nations body to give it more time, in the hope it can secure a parliamentary majority after the next state poll, due by 2018.

"Our intention is to plead with UNESCO to give us more time," environment minister Dr Steven Miles said on Friday.

Tree clearing is linked to the reef because erosion impacts the amount of sediment flowing into the ocean.

Dr Miles will write to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to ask him to cooperate in the bid to stall a decision from UNESCO until after the next state poll.

"What's at stake here is very, very substantial," Dr Miles said, again citing the 70,000 jobs supported by the reef and the billions of tourism dollars it contributes to the economy.

In announcing his plan to vote down the legislation, Mr Gordon said the laws didn't strike the right balance between indigenous economic development, environmental protection and supporting farmers.

But Ms Trad said just two hours before that announcement, Mr Gordon had reaffirmed to her his intention to support the changes.

"I am very disappointed with Billy's backflip," Ms Trad said.

She said it wasn't an embarrassment to have overseen the government's first major failure.

"It just doubles our resolve," Ms Trad said.

The changes would have scrapped the former Liberal National Party's (LNP) more relaxed 2013 framework, which Labor argued had allowed a doubling of the tree-clearing rate to just under 300,000 hectares annually.

But deputy LNP leader Deb Frecklington defended her party's laws as based on common sense and demanded Ms Trad stop talking down the reef.

"We've heard a lot of scaremongering by the deputy premier," Ms Trad said.

Agforce took issue with a reverse onus of proof element in the bill that would have forced farmers to prove there had been no illegal clearing on their land.

President Grant Maudley said the outcome was a win for common sense.

"Farmers care about the environment we live and work in every day, and we manage vegetation so we can provide food for Australian and overseas consumers," he said.

Ms Trad signalled the government will look at tightening "loopholes" in the LNP's high-value agriculture permits.

"Ultimately, we need stronger laws," she said.

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