Fears for farmers’ mental health as ‘Reef police’ audit properties

There’s no getting around the sugarcane agricultural ERA standard – or any of the recently imposed Reef protection regulations – they went ahead despite farmers improving their practices, despite the incorrect, outdated science used to establish them, and despite several preeminent scientific bodies confirming agricultural runoff does not impact on hard coral growth.

But what must change are the protections afforded our farming community.

Most of the farmers I met when I was in Ayr last week for AgForce’s North Queensland Forum – an event that focused on the fantastic work being done on sustainability – recounted stories of the State Government’s foot soldiers – the Reef Protection Officers (aka ‘Reef Police’), who arrive daily on properties to carry out audits.

It isn’t fear of being “caught” that worries them (they’re already adhering to the litany of regulations imposed upon them), it’s the attitude of the officers – condescending, with a non-courteous, non-diplomatic approach – and the fact they’ve been singled out, that has so many feeling the presumption of guilt before things even get started.

These are ordinary people who cannot comprehend why they continue to be so relentlessly portrayed as environmental vandals despite all their hard work to the contrary.

What’s undeniable, however, is the indelible impression left on me by the farmers who told me – with shaking hands and breaking voices – that the State Government is trying to take away their livelihood.

It’s also clear the welfare of our farming communities runs a distant second to satisfying the need for excessive compliance and record keeping – with multiple reports of officers declaring their superiors have told them to “ignore the mental health consequences of their actions”.

It’s left many calling for a Royal Commission into how all of this has been allowed to happen, and who is in fact behind an ordeal that’s being repeated on farms across coastal Queensland.

Ultimately, it all adds up to some of the starkest, most devastating evidence yet that when it comes to our beloved Reef – which itself is in a state of healing – some aspects of the current system are truly broken.

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