Mr PERRETT (Gympie—LNP) (11.52 am): I rise to speak to the Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill. I advise the House that, in accordance with my register of interests, I am a landholder who will be impacted by the bill. This bill is one of the most egregious examples of the government’s desperation to remain in lock step with radical environmental activists. It will drive industry from regional Queensland in order for the government to pander to a green agenda for some votes and twitter accolades. This bill is about political expediency.
The bill’s policy objective is to strengthen protection measures for the reef and to improve the quality of the water entering the reef. A better summary of the bill is that it grants excessive powers to the bureaucracy, has little scientific basis, is rushed, contains exorbitant fines, ignores primary producers, devalues farming, it is at the dictate of a green agenda, and will do little to help the reef.
I urge members to support the LNP amendments to the bill that relate to the collection of data, best management practice—or BMP—standards and the integration of the Burnett-Mary catchment region into the regulatory framework. Almost everyone wants to protect the reef, just as they want to protect the environment. Few people deliberately set out to be environmental vandals. Distorting the science by selectively choosing the science to back a predetermined policy position creates bad policy and is bad government. During the committee hearings the department even admitted that independent consultancy and scientific work was still needed. Not only was this bill rushed to achieve a political agenda but also it will grant sweeping legislative powers to the chief executive of the department to set underlying standards and requirements. How often do we see this government rush through legislation and transfer responsibility through subordinate legislation to the bureaucracy?
Burdekin and Fitzroy beef producer Robyn Simmons called the timing of the legislation ‘unbelievable’ saying—
At the time the Reef Protection Bill was introduced most landholders were either crippled by the aftermath of flooding rains, associated stock losses and damage to property or dealing with one of the worst droughts in Queensland’s history.
This bill shifts blame onto farmers and farming communities. One of the most contentious parts of this bill is the introduction of a regulation-making power to mandate the provision of data relating to the production, manufacture, distribution, supply or use of an agricultural ERA product, fertiliser product, or agricultural chemical. Environmental groups told the committee that this provision is needed to identify environmental hotspots and improve enforcement from overuse. Farmers already have experienced this government’s heavy-handed approach and misidentification of hotspots in regard to vegetation management. This provision is really about finding the data to fix a preconceived view that farming is harmful.
Countless submissions in support of the bill came from Germany, France, the Netherlands and Canada, or from Italian citizens living here. Emails were written in support of WWF Australia. The process was a stitch-up that erodes trust between primary producers and the government.
The overwhelming message from primary producers in their submissions was clear. There was little time to prepare, the bill was premature, there was no clear communication from the government, no consultation and the bill devalues their industries. The bill lacks detail, with no-one seeming to know the expected minimum standards. Primary producers regard this bill as a direct assault on their businesses, their families and their livelihoods and that it is driven by a political agenda. Primary producers provided submissions stating the following—
I hope that in the preparation of this submission I did not waste my valuable time, time that could have been used to help our business and our cattle survive through this relentless drought. If we are to be treated in the same way as we were last time with the Vegetation Management Laws (when we spent hours writing a submission, travelled 10 hours to Longreach with the cost of an overnight stay to speak at the Parliamentary hearing) to then be told the Committee reported that they did not hear of any evidence to change their recommendations … then I have clearly wasted my time.
… this … shows no common sense or consultation to the parties whom will be affected … there is just so much we can cop.
… at what point does the Government … stop regulating … and penalising those who do not follow their desktop analyses?
How can this be consultation and information when this is almost a fait accompli?
… the lack of consultation with those who will be affected seem to point to it being a political issue rather than an environmental solution.
Canegrowers CEO Dan Galligan told the committee—
… having meetings is one thing but feeling like we have been listened to is a different story … It feels like the more meetings we have the worse it gets.
Canegrowers ran statewide TV ads just to be heard. Consultation with the Labor dominated committee was disingenuous and the committee had to be dragged to hold hearings in the regions.
Industry stakeholders such as AgForce, Canegrowers, the Australian Sugar Milling Council, the Queensland Farmers’ Federation and Growcom have rung alarm bells about the bill’s adverse impact and strongly oppose it. Their concerns are about the mandated collection and reporting of data, excessive new penalties for wilful breaches, new cropping requirements, chief executive powers to amend minimum standards, insufficient government funds to assist primary producers to uptake BMP programs and continuing these programs as opposed to mandated minimum requirements.
Queensland’s $4 billion cane industry generates more than 22,600 direct and indirect jobs, with the majority of those jobs in regional towns. Low international prices for sugar is already putting pressure on the viability of existing farms and mills. The Australian Sugar Milling Council submission to the committee stated—
… the Queensland economy would be quite negatively impacted if the focus on improvement of reef water quality led to a significant reduction in the productivity and size of the State’s sugar industry, and agriculture more broadly.
It said these laws and regulatory approach could have a ‘far reaching and disastrous impact from an economic, social and environmental perspective’.
The loss of production will lead to job losses. This is Economics 101. If there is less cane harvested there is less to crush. This flows through the entire community. Growcom said that the bill will lead to perverse outcomes as it is not warranted or appropriately targeted. Horticulture within the catchment is worth $800 million annually at the farm gate. It encompasses 1,200 farms growing about 120 different crops. Growcom said that—
… new cropping development rules will stifle the growth and diversification of the horticulture industry. Without the ability to rotate land and open new areas, we will most likely lose several crop commodities thus reducing market availability.
The minister’s speech shows what the government really thinks of agriculture producers. She said— The standards will require growers to replace outdated high-risk practices with practices that are known to limit nutrient and sediment run-off and enhance efficiency, including in cost of production.
The implication is that primary producers have outdated, high-risk practices. AgForce general president Georgie Somerset told the committee—
There is an emotional toll from being told again ‘You’re not doing a good job,’ that you are being judged as not managing your land—even if you are an accredited BMP producer—and feeling as though another regulation is going to come at you.
AgForce members manage about 20 per cent of the grazing and grain land across the six catchments. In 13.4 million hectares, or 40 per cent of that area, they have already completed BMP modules. This bill captures primary producers further west and south than previously covered. It extends south to catch primary producers in the Burnett-Mary catchment area who were previously unregulated and who will have to fulfil minimum standard requirements. That is why the LNP will be moving an amendment to introduce a 10-year grace period to enable a staged implementation of minimum requirements in the Burnett-Mary catchment region.
Regardless of their run-off risk and proximity to the reef, everyone is targeted. AgForce asked how is it feasible for run-off water from a property near Alpha to travel 886 kilometres along the entire length of the Burdekin River to reach the reef. Government members from the Maryborough, Gladstone, Townsville, Mackay, Rockhampton, Cairns, Cook and Fitzroy regions need to explain how they can justify this attack on their regions, the workers, families and businesses. Are they talking a big game but disappear when their communities ask them to stand up to them? This bill means job losses in their areas. If they are serious about protecting and supporting hundreds of local jobs they have to vote against this bill.
Farmers and primary producers take seriously their responsibility as custodians of the land, ecosystems and biodiversity. They know they have to 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. To hold landowners solely accountable for sediment run-off is ludicrous, unfair and unaffordable. If the government is genuine there needs to be a practical and workable solution and not a political one. I support the LNP amendments and will oppose the bill.