A senate inquiry into controversial reef regulations for canegrowers will commence at the end of this month.
A senate inquiry into controversial reef regulations for canegrowers will commence at the end of this month.

‘We’re doomed to failure’: Calls to relax reef rules

CONTROVERSIAL reef regulations will be put under the microscope this month with canegrowers hoping an inquiry will relax rules they predict "will make growing sugar cane uneconomic".

A senate inquiry into regulations enacted in a bid to improve the quality of run off water into the Great Barrier Reef will begin later this month.

The regulations introduced in 2019 place strict limits and monitoring measures on canefarmers and included a push to reduce end-of-catchment pesticide loads by at least 60 per cent.

Canegrowers Proserpine manager Mike Porter said the regulations meant many farmers were "doomed to failure" and had high hopes the inquiry would trigger relaxed rules and time frames for the state's canegrowers.

"Our major concerns I guess first and foremost are that the targets the government are setting are bordering on unrealistic," he said.

"To try and meet those targets in the short time frame government imposed on industry, we're doomed to failure."

More than 100 Whitsunday cane growers and industry professionals gathered to hear Green Shirts Movement national co-ordinator Marty Bella speak on standing up against Queensland reef laws in October 2019. Picture: Shannen McDonald
More than 100 Whitsunday cane growers and industry professionals gathered to hear Green Shirts Movement national co-ordinator Marty Bella speak on standing up against Queensland reef laws in October 2019. Picture: Shannen McDonald

 

Mr Porter said modelling indicated canegrowers had achieved about a 20 per cent reduction of dissolved inorganic nitrogen, a chemical used to help crops grow larger, faster and better.

However, he said pushing toward a 60 per cent reduction could spell the end of the industry.

"Growers are bending over backwards, anything further hits growers in the hip pocket," Mr Porter said.

"From our point of view, the government is looking for a target which will make growing sugar cane uneconomic."

Government monitoring was also on Mr Porter's priority list for the inquiry.

"We're concerned about modelling and the transparency and reliability of modelling the government is using," he said.

"The targets are one thing; they're looking for very unrealistic targets which are almost unachievable in modern life if you're going to focus on agriculture as a way to reduce DIN.

"The government are then applying a model over the top of it which proves their point … but from a mere growers' position we can't see that the modelling is either fair or accurate.

"The general desire from growers, and part of them are here in Proserpine, is that we have some relaxation of very stiff regulations which are going to come in.

"We'd like the government to take a step back and see what impact of these regulations are going to have."

Work execution manager Sebastian Foti, cane supply manager Tony Marino, production superintendent Damien Kelly and regional operations manager Craig Muddle outside Proserpine Mill on the first day of the 2020 crush.
Work execution manager Sebastian Foti, cane supply manager Tony Marino, production superintendent Damien Kelly and regional operations manager Craig Muddle outside Proserpine Mill on the first day of the 2020 crush.

Mr Porter said the inquiry needed to examine other industries responsible for DIN and pollution in the reef.

DIN can lead to the rapid growth of phytoplankton, which then triggers algae bloom that impacts corals and seagrass.

Mr Porter argued other industries, including building and development, were also contributing the reef pollution and were not subject to the same restrictions.

"Obviously for many years, growers have been concerned about trying to preserve the Great Barrier Reef," he said.

"Growers have been invested in keeping any run-off on farm, that's what most farmers are trying to do.

"We're reducing inputs down to virtually a critical level now so it doesn't go to waterways.

"There is still community perception that agriculture may be damaging the reef, but no more so than any other industry.

"The government wants to focus on one part of the industry as being the cause and being responsible for the DIN but there are other industries involved as well."

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Public hearings in the lead up to the inquiry were pencilled in for Townsville and Cairns, however the schedule was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A public hearing will now only be held in Brisbane.

Mr Porter said the cancellation was "very disappointing" and meant the region's canegrowers had missed out on a vital chance to be heard.

"The regional hearings would have elicited a lot of support from growers in Central and North Queensland and sugar cane farmers who have invested a lot of money to be pinged with very harsh proposed regulations," he said.

"It is disappointing … when they come to town the general community starts to understand the issue and debate.

"If you're going to regulate and run an inquiry only from the southeast corner it's not really getting message out there to the community."

The inquiry will take place on July 27 and 28 in Brisbane.