What the Reef Bill means for cane growers

Cane growers in Queensland are angry and frustrated at State Government plans to ramp up the already stringent regulations on farming practices in Great Barrier Reef catchments.

The Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill, passed by the Queensland Parliament in September, 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 handed broad powers to the public service to change minimum cane farming standards 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.



What's happened with the Bill?

The Bill was introduced to State Parliament on 27 February 2019. It was sent to the the Innovation, Tourism Development and Environment Committee for consideration.

Following an outcry by CANEGROWERS and other industry groups that the Committee had scheduled only one public hearing in Brisbane, further hearings were held in Cairns, Townsville, Mackay and Bundaberg. You can read what the CANEGROWERS representatives said and what the Committee members asked them in the transcripts available on the Queensland Parliament website.

Disappointingly, the Committee report released in April contained just one recommendation - that the Bill be passed. There was no suggestions for any amendments to the most dangerous elements of the Bill exposing the whole consultation process as a farce.

CANEGROWERS continued to express its concerns to all parliamentarians but the Bill was passed without amendment on 19 September. It contains a number of concerning elements:

  1. Harvesting of farm data
    Under the provisions of the legislation, agronomists, extension officers and even chemical and fertiliser resellers could be required to keep and produce on request records of advice, products and services supplied to growers. Sugar mills may also be required to hand over data on request.
  2. Provision for further regulation
    The legislation 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.
  3. Restrictions on land use
    Growers would be required to obtain an environmental authority licence to grow cane on their own land, if that land has not been cropped 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.
  4. Expansion into southern districts
    Growers in Queensland's southern growing regions of Bundaberg, Isis and Maryborough face reef regulations for the first time.

What's happening with Reef regulations?

Since 2010, regulations have required 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.

With the passing of the Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill in 2019, expanded regulations are being drawn up. At every opportunity CANEGROWERS is speaking up for growers, providing perspective and advice with the aim of limiting the detrimental impact of regulation on the sugarcane industry of Queensland.


Further Information:

CANEGROWERS' submission on the Bill to the parliamentary review committee

Innovation, Tourism Development and Environment Committee web page including links the the transcripts of the hearings in Cairns, Townsville, Mackay and Bundaberg.

Committee Report on the Bill released 26 April

Read the Hansard (transcript) of CANEGROWERS presentation on 25 March 2019 to the public hearing in Brisbane or watch the Video

Industry response to proposed expansion of Reef Regulations - Australian Canegrower 11 March 2019

CANEGROWERS Media Releases:

Cane to Coast - Positive stories of innovation and change happening in Queensland's sugarcane industry

Existing Reef Regulations - and how they impact cane farmers

Queensland Government's Reef Regulations Amendment Bill Factsheet