Farleigh grower and Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri told senators Queensland growers could lose $1.3 billion over ten years if the regulations were imposed. Photo contributed.
Farleigh grower and Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri told senators Queensland growers could lose $1.3 billion over ten years if the regulations were imposed. Photo contributed.

Mackay growers lead charge in reef bill battle

MACKAY farmers pleaded with the Australian senate to review controversial reef regulations they argue could devastate the embattled industry.

Farleigh grower and Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri told senators Queensland growers could lose $1.3 billion over ten years if the regulations were imposed.

The Canegrowers report estimated losses in the Mackay region could tally between $4.6 million and $19.3 million.

The two-day Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee inquiry brought together scientists, agriculture bodies, Queensland departments and federal senators to discuss the reef bill.

The main focus of the inquiry was directed towards how reef science was informing the policy and the transparency surrounding the data, which would directly impact Queensland coastal farms.

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Queensland Nationals Senator Susan McDonald said far from the laboratories and testing sites, farmers were hurting. Picture: SUPPLIED
Queensland Nationals Senator Susan McDonald said far from the laboratories and testing sites, farmers were hurting. Picture: SUPPLIED

Queensland Nationals Senator Susan McDonald said farmers were hurting far from the laboratories and testing sites.

"Farmers will often weep to me … They're saying 'the government doesn't believe in me anymore'," Senator McDonald said.

Mr Schembri said the industry was calling for collaboration, not regulation and penalties, when developing Great Barrier Reef protections.

"They've had a gutful of mindless bureaucracy," Mr Schembri said.

"Why do we want a bureaucratic baseball bat to wack cane farmers?"

"If the science is wrong we get wacked in an economic way."

Mr Schembri said farmers wanted to protect the "triple bottom line", ideally through an industry-led volunteer model.

"When government works with farmers it equals a huge community dividend," he said.

"A win for me, win for the community and a win for the government."

Queensland Greens senator Larissa Waters was part of the two-day Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee inquiry brought together scientists, agriculture bodies, Queensland departments and federal senators to discuss the reef bill. Picture Gary Ramage
Queensland Greens senator Larissa Waters was part of the two-day Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee inquiry brought together scientists, agriculture bodies, Queensland departments and federal senators to discuss the reef bill. Picture Gary Ramage

Other industry representatives said the burden to meet the regulations was unfairly levelled on farms.

But when Queensland Greens Senator Larissa Waters asked if the farmers would support the policy if the government provided support, the cane grower representatives said they would not.

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Scientists questioned over research

MARINE scientists were forced to defend their research, as senators peppered Queensland researchers with questions about the impacts of water quality on the reef.

Queensland Nationals Senator Susan McDonald questioned the amount of scientific engagement, suggesting the researchers were communicating through peer-reviewed journals rather than to farmers.

A James Cook University Trop Water representative said scientists had worked to "bridge that gap between the science and on farm activities".

The researchers repeatedly highlighted the need for immediate action for the reef.

An Australian Institute of Marine Science representative said water quality improvements would slow the "downward trajectory" of reef health.

"We can't do much about cyclones. Marine heatwaves will be with us for decades," she said.

"But the ability to recover, that's where water health comes into play."

Queensland One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts led the charge against the marine experts, claiming reports and datasets were not being properly assessed. Picture Kym Smith
Queensland One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts led the charge against the marine experts, claiming reports and datasets were not being properly assessed. Picture Kym Smith

Queensland One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts led the charge against the marine experts, claiming reports and datasets were not being properly assessed.

"I have issues with the credibility of the science," Mr Roberts said.

"Whenever I hear there's a consensus I think it's a smokescreen for a lack of data."

Professor Peter Ridd, who recently lost a federal challenge over his dismissal from JCU, also submitted to the inquiry.

Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee witnesses

Monday, July 27

Australian Institute of Marine Science

TropWATER, James Cook University

Australian Cane Farmers Association

Canegrowers

Burdekin District Cane Growers Limited

AgForce Queensland Farmers

Australian Banana Growers' Council

Growcom

Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance

Dr Peter Ridd

Green Shirts Movement Queensland

CSIRO

Bureau of Meteorology

Great Barrier Reef Foundation

Independent Science Panel, Water Quality Improvement Plan

Queensland Department of Environment and Science

Tuesday, July 28

Canegrowers Herbert River

Canegrowers Cairns Region

Tully Canegrowers

Canegrowers Burdekin Ltd

Australian Marine Conservation Society

WWF-Australia

Reef and Rainforest Research Centre

Divers for Reef Conservation

Griffith University

Dr Natalie Jones

Dr Pedro Fedelman

Bundaberg Canegrowers

Canegrowers Proserpine

Canegrowers Innisfail

Canegrowers Mackay

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority