CREATING PROBLEMS: Farmers in North Queensland have been left disappointed after the results of the reef Bill hearings.
CREATING PROBLEMS: Farmers in North Queensland have been left disappointed after the results of the reef Bill hearings. Ultrakwang

Bill could 'cripple' farms

FARMERS are bracing themselves for "a new level of hostility” between themselves and the State Government after results from a controversial Reef Bill hearing were released last week.

After being introduced to State Parliament on February 27, a report released last week contained only one recommendation, that the Environmental Protection Bill be passed without any change.

Canegrowers Queensland says the Bill will impose unworkable and insulting regulations on agriculture.

It is set to be put in place by the Queensland Government to protect the Great Barrier Reef from run-off sediment from farms along Queensland's east coast.

Initially only one hearing in Brisbane was planned but after the farmers put pressure on the State Government, the Innovation, Tourism Development and Environment Committee met with farmers in Cairns, Townsville, Mackay and Bundaberg.

Canegrowers Queensland chairman Paul Schembri said growers had been left feeling let down and played by the State Government after the results of last week.

"We're angry that despite the farmers turning up in very strong numbers, despite all our efforts, there has not been a single amendment suggested for the Bill,” he said.

"We had hundreds of farmers turn-out to the hearings, including farmers from Proserpine, raising very real and legitimate concerns.

"It seemed they were going to offer the opportunity for us to have our say but they weren't planning on amending the Bill so why didn't they have the courage to let us know before the hearings.”

REEF HEARING: The Mackay parliamentary committee hearing on the GBR Protection Measures bill amendments. Canegrowers representatives speak. From left, Proserpine chairman Glenn Clarke, Mackay Chairman Kevin Borg, and Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri.
REEF HEARING: The Mackay parliamentary committee hearing on the GBR Protection Measures Bill amendments. Canegrowers representatives speak (from left) Proserpine chairman Glenn Clarke, Mackay chairman Kevin Borg, and Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri. KIRILI LAMB

Mr Schembri said farmers wanted the opportunity to work with the government to devise a legislation that would work for both parties.

He said the restrictions on farmers imposed by the Bill would have a crippling effect on farming businesses in the region.

"We've been saying to the government they will get a better environment response by working with farmers rather than against,” he said.

"We've said why don't they sit down with us and find the right balance between economic sustainability for the farmers and environment sustainability for the reef.

"We've reached a point where the government knows more about farming than farmers do.”

Farmers concerns about what the Bill will deliver them are far from over, as much of the regulations of the Bill are yet to be written.

Mr Schembri said although farmers in Queensland took their responsibility towards the health of the reef seriously, they were expecting the State Government to pass even more responsibility their way.

"Rural land holders in Queensland are some of the most efficient and environmentally sustainable farmers in Australia,” he said.

"This Bill is going to be hand cuffing us though because the government is going to pass all the onus on to us.

"We'll become less internationally competitive, this regulation is going to be costly for farmers.”