Confusing, costly reef regs must be wound back

CANEGROWERS opposed the first reef regulations in 2009 and we take every opportunity to re-state that opposition and outline a different way forward for agriculture and the Great Barrier Reef.

Recently CANEGROWERS Board member, Childers region grower Mark Mammino, and Environment and Sustainability Manager Mick Quirk went to Parliament House in Brisbane to tell members of the government’s Health and Environment Committee why damaging and unjust reef regulations should be abandoned.

The Committee was looking into a bill put forward by Katter Party MP Mick Dametto known as the ‘reef regulation reversal bill’. It seeks to wind back the latest reef regulations.

CANEGROWERS supports any move to reduce the regulatory burden on growers and congratulates Mr Dametto for recognising our issues and putting a solution forward.

The original 2009 regulations turned what were industry guidelines on nutrient management into rigid rules and, in doing so, discouraged innovation by growers. The 2019 version of the regulations made a bad situation even worse.

Across the industry, these regulations have proven to be confusing, heavy with additional paperwork and costly for growers (we are supposed to pay a consultant to develop and approve our nutrient management!).

And none of these things will do anything for water quality for the Reef. All they have done is create frustration and disappointment.

Our formal submission on Mr Dametto’s bill, due later this month, will suggest improvements to what he’s proposed. In particular, we will recommend that the 2009 requirement for Environmental Risk Management Plans should be removed.

As with other reef regulation requirements since, ERMPs proved to be a paper exercise that achieved nothing and even the Queensland Government dropped them from its compliance requirements after a short time.

Another key and important point CANEGROWERS made before the parliamentary committee was to explain again that the whole basis of regulation is based on reef report cards – and this is where a key problem lies.

These report cards consistently show our industry in a bad light by under-representing the practice change that has taken place on farms right through the industry and by expecting adoption of practices (like cutting fertiliser below best practice levels) which make farms uneconomic.

The government’s case for regulation of farm practices is unravelling.

With every grower that becomes accredited in Smartcane BMP, the case for voluntary and continuous improvement programs driven by industry and recognised by international sugar buyers becomes stronger.

CANEGROWERS is committed to this course. Voluntary programs, designed with growers at the centre, are the only proven way of encouraging practice innovation and supporting lasting success for the sugarcane industry and the environment.

It’s a point we have been making since 2009 and it is one we will continue to keep making, backed by the weight of numbers of our members.

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