Mr PERRETT (Gympie—LNP) (6.45 pm): I rise to speak on the Environmental and Other
Legislation (Reversal of Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) Amendment Bill 2021. I also rise to
support the LNP’s amendment to the bill. I advise the House that, in accordance with my register of
interests, I am a land holder who will be impacted by the bill.
This bill has its genesis in a myriad of regressive issues with the current legislation, which shifts
blame onto farmers and farming communities. Farmers already conduct their businesses in an
an environment where they must manage and deal with factors outside their control such as drought,
weather events, low commodity prices, pasture dieback, the impact of diseases and invasive pests and
weeds, international vagaries, currency markets and trade conflicts.
The state government fails to provide a consideration of these factors. The state government fails
to consider the cumulative effect of other concurrent policies and potential conflicts with other
legislation. Instead, it imposes the administrative burdens of onerous recordkeeping and prescriptive
and inflexible regulations, requiring changes to farming practices that are unsustainable. It has created
an environment of significant compliance and production costs which create an unacceptable risk of
loss of productivity, income and viability. Queensland Canegrowers Organisation said—
We do not support and have not supported any use of regulations for farming practices for a number of reasons: they are a very
blunt instrument, they tend to disempower growers, and they assume farming can be done through rigid rules, whereas farming
has to be a very flexible process.
Almost everyone wants to protect the reef, just as they want to protect the environment. Few
people deliberately set out to be environmental vandals. Farmers do not want to destroy or degrade
their land or the reef. They should not be demonised. They should not be made to carry the burden by
a government which fails to recognise the good work they do because it is too busy dancing to the drum
of environmental activists. Farmers are rightfully concerned about ALP policy, which has overreached.
Labor has done this too often. Farmers are fearful of the government using legislation and regulation
for pure political purposes.
Wherever I travel in the state as the shadow minister for agriculture it is clear that farmers and
primary producers take seriously their responsibility as custodians of the land, ecosystems and
biodiversity. They know they must care for it now and for future generations. Land is one of their primary
assets, which is why the management of erosion and sediment run-off is a top priority. It’s in their
interests to be good land managers because the best managers are the profitable ones.
There is no doubt that farmers have improved farming practices in the last 20 years. As a farmer,
I am well aware that we have to go through lots of accreditation processes such as drought management
plans, the use of chemicals and vaccines, signed statutory declarations for the sale of livestock and
produce, and a range of other industry practices. Farmers can manage if they are given the protections,
the support and the ability to get on with the job. This bill is not the best way to achieve the best outcomes for farmers. This bill risks a decade of environmental and technical advancement in best
practice. The LNP understands the perception of these regulations and wants to support industry-led
best practice.
Canegrowers’ Smartcane BMP is just one of these programs. It goes beyond reef regulations
and generates better overall outcomes. AgForce is also leading the way. Its AgCarE Program provides
low-cost medium-risk options for carbon abatement, drought mitigation, improved biodiversity and
sustainable long-term landscape management and business resilience. Even the department
recognises these as highly successful programs. In an answer to a question on notice late last year the
department said—
Smartcane BMP and Freshcare Environmental Program were granted recognition on the basis that they have the standards that
are consistent with, or better than, the minimum practice agricultural standards under section 318YB of the Act. Producers who
are accredited under these programs are deemed to have met the minimum practice agricultural standards through an industry
supported pathway.
I repeat: the programs were consistent with or better than the minimum standards.
The LNP amendment recognises that farmers are the best managers if they are given the
protections, the support and the ability to get on with the job. Our amendment seeks to unite farmers
and landholders with commonsense solutions. It will encourage the uptake of best practice programs
and the protections they provide. Our amendment is a much simpler way to remove the threat of huge
penalties and further incentivise best management practice.
The LNP’s amendment changes this by inserting a new clause 8A which amends section 82—
which is the offence to contravene agricultural ERA standard—to stipulate that subsection (2) does not
apply if the person is accredited under a recognised accreditation program for the agricultural ERA
provided that their conduct does not contravene their BMP program, even if they contravene the reef
regulations. This removes the threat of the substantial penalties that come with the reef regulations—
which is up to 1,665 penalty units—and will therefore incentivise the uptake of BMP.
The LNP amendment will provide the protections that farmers need and deliver the results
needed for the reef. This amendment will recognise in legislation that if you have signed up you should
be exempt from prosecution. Several stakeholders support that an industry-led approach would be more
appropriate than the current regulatory framework, claiming it is more likely to foster innovation. The
Queensland Farmers’ Federation said—
We consider regulation is a high cost, simplistic instrument that supports minimum standards of compliance, and does not
encourage or foster a culture of long-lasting practice change. By contrast, voluntary industry-led farm management systems (such
as BMP programs) and other water quality improvement projects have proven to be enablers of such cultural changes.
Canegrowers said that they support voluntary change and indicated that—
Voluntary programs are the only effective means of working with growers for real progress that takes account of the extreme
variability in our farming systems.
Far North Queensland sugarcane farmer Mario Quagliata also agreed with a voluntary approach and
stated that he has already adopted for a number of years BMP farming methods, such as—
… laser levelling my paddocks, using trash blanketing, and installing wetlands to reduce erosion and I am SmartCane BMP
accredited. I have also installed a bioreactor as a joint project with the MIP government appointed group to gather data.
Mario noted that numerous farmers in his region have also taken up similar practices, such as
Landcare measures under the Smartcane BMP banner, while the Kalamia Cane Growers Organisation
submitted that Smartcane BMP is an example of an agricultural industry itself setting the standard
for BMP. The QFF said there was a ‘significant underinvestment in voluntary and industry-led programs
to date when considered against the cost of achieving the water quality targets that governments have
The LNP believes that Smartcane BMP funding should be tripled. The federal government has
just increased its reef funding by $1 billion, taking it to $3 billion. That is three times as much as the
state contribution on the reef. Around $580 million of that new funding is going towards improving water
quality. If the broader community is to benefit from the imposition of additional regulations and
obligations, then taxpayers need to give meaningful assistance. Farmers need the same support from
government. Unfortunately, the government’s record shows it is good at rhetoric but not good at
meaningful support. Farmers need recognition, not lip-service. The QFF said the state government
should ‘increase investment in industry programs to a more realistic level considering the water quality
targets it has set’ and ‘the government work more closely with agricultural industries operating in the
Reef catchments to get the stewardship and market incentive mix right for farm businesses to speed
up the progress towards the water quality targets under voluntary approaches’. If the government is
genuine, there needs to be a practical and workable solution, not a political one, and it needs to provide
meaningful funding. I urge support of the LNP amendment.