By Boyd Champness

THE Federal Government has refused to hand over more than A$103 million (40m) in compensation for farmers affected by Queenslands new land-clearing laws.

Queensland Premier, Mr Peter Beattie, had asked the Federal Government for the money to compensate farmers after state controls on land clearing were passed in the Queensland Parliament.

However, last week the Prime Minister, Mr John Howard, refused to hand over the money, with federal Environment Minister, Senator Robert Hill, arguing that it was Queenslands responsibility to provide compensation – not the Federal Governments.

“Obviously the figures are concerning … the fact of the matter is, its Mr Beatties responsibility,” Senator Hill told The Age newspaper.

The “concerning” figures Senator Hill was referring to is the rate at which Australia, and in particular Queensland, has been clearing native vegetation.

More than 90% of Australias land clearing occurs in Queensland.

Australia, according to 1999 statistics, has the worst record in the developed world for land clearing.

The Conservation Foundation, using official satellite data, estimated that 529,000 hectares of bushland were cleared in 1999, putting Australia among the worst five countries in the world for destroying native vegetation.

According to the data, only Brazil, Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Bolivia outpace the current rate of tree clearing in Australia.

Queenslands land-clearing legislation was passed by State Parliament last year, but has not been proclaimed.

Mr Beattie said that without compensation his government would proclaim “watered-down” legislation to guard against excessive clearing.

Mr Beattie said Australia, which agreed to reduce its greenhouse emissions by 8% as part of the Kyoto Agreement, could have cut national greenhouse gas emissions by 5.3% had the compensation been forthcoming and the bill proclaimed unamended.

“(Senator Hill) wouldnt want to write to me in the near future to talk about greenhouse gas emissions because I wont take him seriously again,” Mr Beattie told The Age newspaper.

But other states have attacked Queensland for putting its hand out for compensation to fix a problem of its own doing.

South Australian Premier, Mr John Olsen, accused Mr Beattie of allowing the clearing of native vegetation without any regard for the Murray-Darling Basin.

Recent studies show that land-clearing in Queensland is playing a major role in increasing the salinity levels of the Murray and Darling Rivers, which provide Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, with its drinking water.

Experts believe that if conservation work is not carried out to arrest salinity levels Adelaides drinking water will be undrinkable within 50 years.

Mr Olsen said Queensland should not get compensation to assist farmers to stop clearing land because South Australia had done so without any federal funding.