Canegrowers condemn reef debate as high farce

Reef legislation a flawed business model, according to Schembri


News
Aa

As debate on the controversial The Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill continued in Queensland's parliament for a second day on Wednesday, Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri was describing it as high farce.

Aa

As debate on the controversial Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill continued in Queensland's parliament for a second day on Wednesday, Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri was describing it as high farce.

The leader of one of the industries set to be most impacted by changes prosecuted by the government said he was extremely disappointed that despite the huge demonstrable backlash, the proposed legislation was set to become law within hours.

"I'm extremely frustrated that the government has attempted to characterise the bill as one amended with concessions to farmers when it is unamended.

"I understand the government may be talking about amendments in regulations but this has turned into high farce.

"We are back to where we started and thousands of farmers are handcuffed."

According to Australian Sugar Milling Council economic modelling, 22,657 jobs are reliant on the sugar industry in Queensland and it contributes $4 billion to the state's economy.

The MP whose electorate of Hill has 1859 of those jobs, Shane Knuth said the bill was a sneaky attempt by the government to hoodwink south east corner voters into believing that it cared for the environment by imposing more regulation to prevent farming and grazing activity in North Queensland.

"The government, in introducing this bill, pretends to the people down here that it cares about the environment, but it smashes the farmers in the electorates in North Queensland," he said.

Related: Reef debate underway in parliament

Tabling the Russell River Catchment Sustainability Plan 2009-35, he said it had been developed in his electorate and involved Indigenous traditional landowners, cane farmers, environmental and local government groups in the Great Barrier Reef catchment.

"The program involves all local stakeholders working in consultation to repair natural river flows, fix erosion on riverbanks, improve water quality, improve farming practices, implement an Indigenous feral pig program and reduce sediment run-off," he said.

"This is a unique program that should be replicated with all stakeholders, including farmers and environmental groups working together.

"Despite this government bleating that it is dedicated to reducing sediment run-off, improving water quality and fixing natural flows and riverbank erosion, here is a perfect example of a program that is already in place and is working with local stakeholders in the Great Barrier Reef catchment.

"We do not need to introduce draconian legislation. Good government is about allowing those catchments throughout Queensland to work together, in consultation with each other, to come up with a proposal and get an outcome."

Mr Schembri doubted whether farmers understood fully what was being introduced, saying there was also confusion among the ranks of government.

"I think it's a flawed business model of smothering farmers with environmental regulations," he said.

"Legislation on reef protection began in 2009. If that was so successful, why is the government now building bigger baseball bats.

"I'm not sure what will happen now. The monster has been unleashed so we'll just have to wait and see."

He welcomed the Senate inquiry into North Queensland sediment and nitrogen run-off introduced by LNP Senators Susan McDonald and James McGrath.

Senator McDonald said an inquiry was needed to provide transparency over the scientific basis for what she called Labor's "anti-farming regulations".

Mr Schembri said that at the least it would provide a forum for farmers to talk about the issues affecting them.

"The last two terms of reference focus on farmers identifying the costs of government regulation, which needs to be examined properly."

Aa

From the front page

Sponsored by