Habitat destruction lacks oversight in Qld

The Queensland pastoral industry has destroyed vast areas of threatened-species habitat protected under federal law without consequence, a report says.

More than 6800 square kilometres of land, an area larger than the Sultanate of Brunei, was cleared in 2018/19, according to the latest state government data.

About 4212sq km likely to be threatened species habitat, known as matters of national environmental significance (MNES) habitat, was cleared for pasture, according to a study commissioned by the Australian Conservation Foundation.

Under federal law, it is illegal to clear MNES habitat without referring it to the environment department for approval.

University of Queensland expert Dr Martin Taylor has found no evidence of any referrals for land clearing related to pasture in the state in 2018/19.

"Almost all (96 per cent) of the MNES habitats destroyed, a vast area of 404,652 hectares, were destroyed for livestock pasture expansion on thousands of properties without evidence of any referrals or approvals," said his report, released Tuesday.

More than one-fifth of the cleared land was likely to be koala habitat, the report said, triple the amount of approved koala habitat destruction in the decade to 2021.

About 60 per cent of the MNES habitat cleared exceeded legal thresholds, but there's no evidence of any probe or penalties either.

"Thousands of prima facie breaches of the EPBC (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation) Act may have occurred that should have been investigated by the regulator," the report said.

Dr Taylor said he was unable to find public record of any enforcement action being taken over unapproved destruction of MNES habitat for livestock pasture in the state since 2009.

The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water said it was assessing a single pastoral project that referred to 2018/19.

The department said states were primarily responsible regulating land use, while it was focused on helping landholders understand their legal obligations.

"We have clearly communicated to our colleagues in state agencies the need to consider national and state environment law in parallel when planning agricultural development," a spokesperson told AAP.

While land clearing for crop and irrigated pasture cultivation has been referred and penalised, the government was not noticing or ignoring the Queensland pastoral industry, the report said.

"This double standard has the effect of a de facto exemption from the EPBC Act for the far more extensive habitat destruction for pasture expansion," it said.

The report called for stronger land clearing laws, and a new watchdog to address "shocking compliance failures" and put the spotlight on "a regulatory black hole".

ACF national nature campaigner Jess Abrahams called on the Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek to enact reforms, and use the report to probe illegal land-clearing.

"We all know land clearing is terrible for threatened species, climate change, water quality and human health, yet this report shows nature destruction is still rampant," she said.

"If we are to achieve zero extinctions, we must bring an end to the wanton destruction of threatened species habitat.

The department said the government would unveil plans for Environmental Protection Agency, which it called "a tough cop on the beat", by the end of the year.

The department said legislative changes planned for 2023 would also "modernise the available compliance and enforcement provisions".