Bill a kick in the guts to growers’ Reef commitment

Bill a kick in the guts to growers’ Reef commitment
February 27 2019

CANEGROWERS is warning a bill introduced to the Queensland Parliament this week will frustrate sugarcane growers with more bureaucratic intrusion into their businesses without any guarantee of benefits for the Great Barrier Reef.  

“Just as growers are picking themselves up from a summer of natural disasters, the Queensland Government is putting a further regulatory cloud over our businesses,” CANEGROWERS Chairman Paul Schembri said.

CANEGROWERS says the Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 seeks to:

  • undermine the valuable efforts of growers to improve water quality for the Reef
  • impose big brother supervision over everyday farming decisions and
  • hobble the sugarcane industry’s ability to expand.

“We absolutely take our responsibilities towards reef water quality seriously,” Mr Schembri said. “That’s why we’ve voluntarily gone down the road of an industry-developed and independently assessed best management practices program – Smartcane BMP.

“Under this, growers have shown initiative and commitment, improving their productivity while addressing issues of fertiliser and sediment runoff.

“The program has recorded real and positive momentum with participation going from zero to 70% of the state’s sugarcane area within five years.

“What we should be seeing is the removal of regulations the areas where growers have proven the highest commitment and results towards Reef water quality.

“CANEGROWERS has invited the Premier to visit a cane farm to give growers the opportunity to explain exactly what impact these laws will have but to date she hasn’t taken up our offer,“ he said.

In the most sensitive area for Reef water quality, the Wet Tropics region, participation in Smartcane BMP involvement is strongest with over a third of the area now independently accredited as operating at or above industry best practice.

Across the state, 90% of growers engaged with Smartcane BMP are now applying fertilisers underground to prevent any washing away, 80% of the cane is cut green with a mulch/trash blanket left on the paddock and 80% of growers use fallow rotations to protect and nourish their soil between cane crops.

“Huge changes have been made and the sugarcane growers of Queensland should be congratulated for their effort and commitment,” Mr Schembri sai

“But instead, with the introduction of this bill to the Queensland Parliament, the Labor Party is telling growers that no matter what you do, how much you spend or change the way you run your farm, we will shift the goal posts on you again and again.”

CANEGROWERS says the bill will give the Queensland Government the ability to demand information from any advisor or company working with cane farmers.

“Not only will this bill increase the red tape burden on individual farm businesses reporting to government but it is ringing alarm bells right through the sugarcane industry’s supply chain,” Mr Schembri said.

“The Queensland Government’s own drafting document says the bill should give it the power to require data from fertiliser sellers, agronomists, wholesalers, sugar mills and industry extension officers.

“Nothing will be safe from the cold hand of the bureaucratic big brother!”

CANEGROWERS is also warning that the bill could prevent growers from making the best possible use of the land they own and farm.

“If you haven’t cropped an area of your farm for some time and you want to put cane in, the State Government wants to make you go through the same sort of environmental impact statement that a mining company does,” Mr Schembri explained.

“This amounts to the Labor Party telling us we can’t expand our industry onto land our growers already own and manage without government approval.

“With international companies now looking at sugarcane as a valuable feedstock for a new generation of bioplastics, biochemicals and biofuels, we won’t be able to grow to meet new opportunities.

“This would be very short-sighted, throwing a roadblock in front of our industry and potential bio-futures investment in Queensland.”

CANEGROWERS urges the Queensland Parliament to reject this bill and the ALP’s attempt to re-regulate both the size of the sugarcane industry and each farm’s practices and production decisions.


Note: Smartcane BMP is an industry-led, voluntary accreditation program available to all sugarcane growers in Queensland to document, benchmark and continuously improve their on-farm practices for productivity, profitability and sustainability. It is supported by funding from the Queensland Government.