Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri responds to the newly-released report on Queensland’s controversial reef regulations. Photo: File
Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri responds to the newly-released report on Queensland’s controversial reef regulations. Photo: File

‘Damaging’: Regulation still king despite year-long inquiry

CANEGROWERS are disappointed a "bureaucratic sledgehammer" is still the preferred way for the government to support reef health as a year-long Senate inquiry ends.

The Senate Rural and Regional Affairs Committee on Thursday released two conflicting reports on the Queensland Government's controversial reef regulations.

Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri said the recommendations in the majority report spoke about communication and collaboration, however was still wedded to the idea of regulation.

"We are strongly opposed to that," he said.

"It's our view that's exceedingly damaging to agriculture and it's not the smartest way to get what everybody is seeking here."

The majority report listed eight recommendations including improving transparency of data used to inform the program, a review of the communitication strategy used to inform stakeholders about reef policies and science, and additional research into the impact of horticulture and banana industries on reef water quality.

LNP Senators Susan McDonald, Gerard Rennick and Matthew Canavan penned a dissenting report.

 

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As part of their dissenting report, the LNP Senators made a number of recommendations, including the establishment of an Office of Scientific Review, a review of the water quality targets, reverting back to voluntary science-agriculture partnership best management practice as a first step, and the repeal of the staggering increase to penalties attached to the regulations to help restore trust between the government and primary producers.

Mr Schembri said if the regulations were imposed, it would cause uncertainty and confusion among farmers, as well as dealing a major financial blow.

Canegrowers commissioned a report that estimated Queensland sugar growers could lose $1.3 billion over 10 years if the regulations were imposed.

Mr Schembri said a solution needed to be found as 14,000 farmers and graziers over 20 million hectares had effectively been given a bill for the state of the reef.

He believed it was disappointing the government opted for a regulatory approach when experience had demonstrated co-operation with farmers reaped better results.

Farmers are already eager to collaborate as there are about 40-50 projects running involving farmers working in collaboration with scientists, government agencies and departments, he said.

Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri on his farm north of Mackay. Photo: Peter Wallis
Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri on his farm north of Mackay. Photo: Peter Wallis

"We've got to find a solution because this reef bill is bureaucratics writ large," Mr Schembri said.

"We ought to celebrate that we have some of the most environmentally sustainable farmers.

"We can find a mechanism that can ensure the survival and the sustainability of the reef but also balance the needs of agriculture."

Despite two conflicting reports being released after the inquiry, Mr Schembri said the year-long process was still useful.

"One of the positives is it gave a forum to farmers that otherwise didn't exist," he said.

"Things have come out of the inquiry that I think are worthy of investigation.

"Certainly they have accepted the report cards that are issued are not accurate in terms of where farmers are at for best management practices.

"It's helping us to get greater ventilation of these issues."

Canegrowers CEO Dan Galligan said the failure of senators to reach a consensus was symbolic of the confusing, divisive and politicised nature of the regulations.

 

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"This was a major opportunity to respond to the industry's multiple concerns about reef policies, but instead, the lack of agreed actions risks leaving growers even more frustrated than they already are," Mr Galligan said.

"Farmers across the state support a healthy, dynamic and much-loved Great Barrier Reef.

"We simply do not support the policy decision made by the State Government to regulate farmers to secure this outcome."

Mr Galligan said the fate of Queensland's reef regulations now rested on the outcome of this month's state election.

"This isn't the end of the battle for a commonsense approach to securing the health and future of the reef," Mr Galligan said.

"It will now be up to the next State Government to determine if these regulations remain in place as a handbrake on our industry at a time when we need to instead unleash the significant potential of this industry as it continues to be the backbone of many regional economies."

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