Dark days for farmers as reef laws passed

Passing of new reef protection laws condemned by farming community

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The erosion of trust between Queensland's primary producers and the Palaszczuk government turned into a chasm of credibility on Thursday afternoon as the Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill passed through state parliament.

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The erosion of trust between Queensland's primary producers and the Palaszczuk government, abraded by attacks on vegetation and fisheries management, turned into a chasm of credibility on Thursday afternoon as the Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill passed through state parliament.

Although it was expected, the passing of the legislation with a policy objective of strengthening protection measures for the reef and improving the quality of water surrounding it has left the state's food producers angry and in despair.

Non-government speakers to the bill outnumbered government speakers two-to-one, underscoring the point made by many at the sham consultation they felt they were given after the legislation was introduced at the start of the year.

Related: Reef rules risk another vegetation debacle

Among those choosing not to speak was agriculture minister Mark Furner, whom opposition agriculture spokesman Tony Perrett labelled a complete sell-out.

"This Labor minister is a fraud, a fake and a phony," Mr Perrett said. "This is the sort of problem we have, when someone who is supposed to represent everyone, doesn't have the fortitude to explain his position."

Mr Perrett left listeners in no doubt as to his feelings, describing the new laws as granting excessive powers to bureaucracy, having little scientific basis, being rushed, containing exorbitant fines, ignoring primary producers, devaluing farming, at the dictate of a green agenda, and doing little to help the reef.

In the wake of the bill's passing, environment minister Leeanne Enoch offered $5.72 million in the form of a new Grazing Resilience and Sustainable Solutions program, which she said would deliver one-on-one support for graziers and tailored land management plan for beef cattle graziers in the Burdekin, Fitzroy and Burnett-Mary regions.

"The program also includes $1.43 million in financial incentives for infrastructure improvements such as fencing, water troughs and erosion works," she said.

"Priority access to incentive funding will be given to producers who put in the work and gained accreditation under the former Grazing Best Management Practice Program, which halted when AgForce deleted graziers' data."

Minister Enoch said the government was also offering $10.1 million through the Farming in Reef Catchments Rebate scheme.

"The scheme will directly support eligible graziers, sugarcane producers and banana growers by providing a rebate of up to $1000 to seek professional agronomic advice to help them meet the regulated requirements," she said.

United outcry

Condemnation of the bill and the Palaszczuk government followed quickly on the passing of the legislation by an eight point margin.

Along with One Nation's Mirani MP Stephen Andrew and independent Whitsunday MP Jason Costigan, the LNP opposition and the three Katter's Australian Party MPs voted in the negative, leaving Queensland Green's Maiwar MP Michael Berkman and independent Noosa MP Sandy Bolton voting with the government.

KAP has vowed to repeal the legislation in the first 100 days of the new parliament if it found itself able to help form government after the October 2020 election, saying the government had kowtowed to green extremists with a farm-destroying bill.

State KAP leader and Traeger MP Robbie Katter, centre, Hill MP Shane Knuth and Hinchinbrook MP Nick Dametto have condemned Labor's passing of the Environmental Protection Amendment Bill.

State KAP leader and Traeger MP Robbie Katter, centre, Hill MP Shane Knuth and Hinchinbrook MP Nick Dametto have condemned Labor's passing of the Environmental Protection Amendment Bill.

Hinchinbrook MP Nick Dametto said it would leave farmers struggling to survive on the land.

"This legislation will only tie farmers up in unworkable green tape. It undermines existing efforts by growers to improve water quality, imposes Big Brother-style supervision over everyday farming decisions and hobbles the cane industry's ability to expand," he said. "This type of scrutiny is over the top and demonises farmers for no other reason than to appease green extremists in Brisbane."

Political action was seen as the answer by Greenshirts coordinator Martin Bella, who urged the people affected by the changes not to give up the fight.

"We will be openly campaigning against this government at the October 2020 election and we want the LNP and others to give us their best offer," he said.

"The costs associated with this will make small producers go under.

"It's almost impossible to make yourself aware of anything this government does - you can be clear with one department and breaking the law with another - it's just a minefield.

"For small producers especially, the time they have to familiarise themselves with all these laws comes out of their sleeping time."

The legislation is underpinned by new regulations, to be finalised later this year, that will set minimum standards for run-off in catchments that flow into the Great Barrier Reef.

Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri said the regulations gave the government significant additional powers over the sugar growing industry, including the power to demand farm data and information from agricultural advisers and suppliers and allowed a bureaucrat to set and change farming standards in the future.

"Canegrowers and its members accept that any risk to water quality for the reef must be managed but the best way to accelerate that action is through collaboration and support, not legislation, vilification and blame," he said.

"With a quarter of Queensland's sugarcane area accredited under the industry's voluntary best management practice program in just four years, we are very proud of the efforts of growers to work towards both productivity and sustainability outcomes."

He urged members to remain proud of their industry despite feeling like they had been kicked in the guts.

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