Freeze on future reef runoff regulations

Queensland MPs are considering laws to reduce pollutants contaminating the Great Barrier Reef.
Queensland MPs are considering laws to reduce pollutants contaminating the Great Barrier Reef.

Farmers, miners and sewer operators will be spared further changes to how much fertiliser and sediment they can dump in the Great Barrier Reef for five years.

State parliament is debating a bill proposing minimum standards on industry to slash the amount of run-off flowing into the world's biggest coral reef.

A handful of government MPs made a last minute push for a five-year freeze on any further regulatory changes should the legislation pass this week.

They said both the reef and the state's agriculture sector were important to Queensland, but that an approach which favoured both was needed.

On Tuesday, Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch granted Mackay MP Julieanne Gilbert and the three Townsville MPs, Scott Stewart, Coralee O'Rourke and Aaron Harper their wish.

"I am making a commitment to industry that these minimum standards will not be substantially further amended for at least five years once they are finalised," she told parliament.

"If they are significantly amended after that time, the law requires that this would only be done after public consultation and consideration of the costs and benefits of the change."

The bill proposes clamping down on the amount of nutrient, sediment and pesticide run-off flowing from farms, sewage facilities and mines into the reef.

It would set limits for land-based farming and industrial operations to limit run-off into water catchments in the Cape York, Wet Tropics, Burdekin, Mackay Whitsunday, Fitzroy and Burnett Mary regions.

The Great Barrier Reef is 500,000 years old , supports more than 60,000 jobs and contributes about $6 billion to the economy.

The state's peak farming lobby has argued the law would do nothing to improve water quality, and some farmers say it would hurt their industry.

Ms Enoch says some farmers are voluntarily changing their practices to improve water quality and their land condition, shoring up the future success of their business.

She also says efforts to clean up water around the 500,000-year-old Great Barrier Reef are too slow.

Runoff reduction schemes have been voluntary for the past decade, but it hasn't led to a significant decrease in runoff.

At current rates, it says, water quality targets won't be met.

Earlier this year lobbyist, AgForce, deleted a trove of data, claiming the government would use it to fine farmers for non-compliance in future.

Ms Enoch called that claim a lie, saying the bill didn't give the government power to demand that sort of data.

She said at the time that 80 per cent of graziers had agreed to voluntarily share their data, and wiping it means their efforts won't be counted towards the water quality targets.

The government has allocated $10 million to fund a rebate scheme to financially support producers to access advice to help them meet the standards.

Australian Associated Press