Cane growers in Queensland are angry and frustrated at State Government plans to ramp up the already stringent laws on farming practices in Great Barrier Reef catchments.
The Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill is a grab for power and data. It is an affront to the thousands of growers who have and are changing their farm practices, being innovative and taking responsibility for their impact on the environment.
The Bill hands broad powers to the public service to change minimum cane farming standards, shift the regulatory goalposts, in any way at any time with no regard for the impacts on growers or their communities. It could also see agronomists, industry extension officers, sugar mills and fertiliser resellers forced to hand over information about the day-to-day operations and business decisions of cane farmers.
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What's happening with the Bill?
The Bill was introduced to State Parliament on 27 February 2019. It is currently being considered by the Innovation, Tourism Development and Environment Committee which is due to report on 26 April. After that, the Bill will be debated and voted on in the parliament.
Following an outcry by CANEGROWERS and other industry groups, the Committee scheduled public hearings in Cairns, Townsville, Mackay and Bundaberg. You can read what the CANEGROWERS representatatives said and what the Committee members asked them in the transcripts available on the Queensland Parliament website.
What are current Reef regulations?
In 2010, the Queensland Government introduced Reef protection requirements that directly relate to sugarcane farming. These regulations require all cane farmers in the Wet Tropics, Burdekin and Mackay-Whitsundays regions to:
- Undertake soil tests within one year of planting
- Use the results of soil tests to calculate the optimum amount of nitrogen and phosphorus in accordance with the EP Act.
- Keep the soil test reports and records of the calculation of the optimum amount of nitrogen and phosphorus for a period of five years.
- Apply no more than the optimum amount of nitrogen and phosphorus.
- Keep records of the agricultural chemicals, fertilisers and soil conditioners applied including the amount, product analysis, date and method of application for a period of five years.
- Have a map showing the boundary of the blocks where soil testing and fertiliser and soil conditioner application has occurred.
This Great Barrier Reef catchments map shows the areas that are covered by the regulations.
What would change if the Bill is passed?
The Queensland Government is proposing to amend and expand existing Reef protection provisions through the Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019, which is currently before Parliament.
There are a number of worrying elements to this proposed Bill including:
- Harvesting of farm data
Under the Bill, agronomists, extension officers and even chemical and fertiliser resellers will be required to keep and produce on request records of advice, products, and services supplied to growers. Sugar mills will also be required to hand over data on request.
- Provision for further regulation
The Bill provides the Department of Environment and Science’s chief executive with the power to make a standard and to review and change it at any time without sufficient consultation or accountability. While the chief executive must consider submissions, there is no requirement for them to account for the impacts of any changes on the farming sector or the regional communities it supports. In effect, the regulatory goal posts can be shifted at any time.
- Restrictions on land use
Under the Bill, growers will be required to obtain an environmental authority licence to grow cane on their own land, if that land has not been in cane production for three of the previous 10 years (including one of the previous five years). Where a licence is required growers will need to show they can manage water quality risks through farm design and practice standards.
- Expansion into southern districts
Should the government's proposed law changes be approved by parliament, growers in Queensland's southern growing regions of Bundaberg, Isis and Maryborough, who are already struggling with drought and soaring electricity prices, will face reef regulations for the first time.
Innovation, Tourism Development and Environment Committee web page including links the the transcripts of the hearings in Cairns, Townsville, Mackay and Bundaberg.
Industry response to proposed expansion of Reef Regulations - Australian Canegrower 11 March 2019
CANEGROWERS Media Releases:
- Cane growers ready to tell their Reef story - 8 April 2019
- Petition to register farm anger at regulation - 29 March 2019
- Reef bill is an alarming grab for power - 25 March 2019
- Bill a kick in the guts to growers' Reef commitment - 27 February 2019
Cane to Coast - Positive stories of innovation and change happening in Queensland's sugarcane industry
Existing Reef Regulations - and how they impact cane farmers