REEF HEARING: Canegrowers representatives speak at the Mackay parliamentary committee hearing on the GBR Protection Measures Bill amendments. From left are Proserpine chairman Glenn Clarke, Mackay chairman Kevin Borg, and Canegrowers Queensland chairman Paul Schembri.
REEF HEARING: Canegrowers representatives speak at the Mackay parliamentary committee hearing on the GBR Protection Measures Bill amendments. From left are Proserpine chairman Glenn Clarke, Mackay chairman Kevin Borg, and Canegrowers Queensland chairman Paul Schembri. KIRILI LAMB

Farmers label public hearings a 'farce'

FARMERS have labelled State Government consultation on controversial reef protection legislation a "farce" after no changes were recommended despite four days of public hearings at which farmers expressed fierce opposition.

In early April, Mackay region cane growers, graziers and farmers expressed concerns about the legislation to the Innovation, Tourism and Environment committee.

The Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 proposes the imposition of minimum regulated standards on farms to limit nutrient and sediment run-off into the reef ecosystem.

However, agricultural industry representatives said the proposed bill was based on uncertain modelling, unfairly targeted the sector and imposed impossible targets on properties.

Despite stakeholders raising a number of issues with the proposed legislation, on Friday the committee released a 101-page report which recommended the Bill pass without any amendments.

Canegrowers Queensland chairman Paul Schembri said farmers were angry and frustrated after hundreds of growers attended the hearings in good faith.

He called the public hearings "an expensive farce" and the report released late on Friday "an insult".

"We attended in good faith, invited to put our concerns and issues to the committee as it reviewed the Queensland Government's Bill, but we have been completely ignored," Mr Schembri said.

"The whole consultation process was a box-ticking exercise for a foregone political outcome - it was a sham."

The Queensland Farmers' Federation said the hard work of the industry to implement voluntary green farming changes had been ignored by the State.

"Agriculture has been and remains committed to doing its bit for the Reef," QFF president Stuart Armitage said.

Voluntary programs had seen an exponential increase of farmer participation, he added.

"These programs are making huge improvements to the quality of the water leaving the farm and significantly contributing to the health of the Reef despite the water quality targets being highly ambitious and grossly underfunded."

Mr Armitage said the proposed reef protection legislation would place a greater regulatory burden on Queensland's farmers while not guaranteeing any benefits for the Great Barrier Reef.

This comes as environmental groups warn the State that the proposed reef protection laws underestimate the costs needed to implement the Bill.

The ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies submitted a report indicating an estimated $1 billion a year would be needed over the next 10 years to bring all farms "up to low or moderate risk practice status and to meet the targets".

The State Government has so far allocated about $830 million over five years to land rehabilitation and water quality.

The Minister for Environment will be contacted for a response.