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Enhancing reef regulations discussion paper

The Queensland Government recognises the good work of businesses, industry and the many dedicated agricultural producers using best management practices to reduce reef water pollution. However, this great work is being undermined by those who are yet to make improvements.

Therefore, as outlined in the Enhancing regulations to ensure clean water for a healthy Great Barrier Reef and a prosperous Queensland (PDF, 7.55MB) discussion paper, the government proposes broadening and enhancing the existing reef protection regulations to eradicate the most polluting practices from land-based activities in the Great Barrier Reef catchments.

Minimum practice standards will be set for commercial banana, horticulture and grain production, and the minimum practice standards that already apply for commercial sugarcane and grazing will be improved. However, there will be no additional requirements for producers already accredited against best management practice or equivalent programs. The proposals recognise these existing efforts. Those producers will also remain outside the focus of compliance programs.

The proposals include strengthening water quality standards for existing regulated development such as urban development, stormwater management and other intensive land uses (e.g. sewage treatment plants, intensive animal industries such as prawn farms and feedlots, mining, port development, roads, quarrying and landfills). This proposal will be informed by the results from a separate consultation process on the draft environmental values and water quality objectives under the Environmental Protection (Water) Policy 2009 for surface water and groundwater in the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland’s Murray-Darling Basin and South East Queensland.

The Enhancing reef regulations package also proposes to set water pollution load limits for the 35 reef catchments to target high polluting catchments. The pollution load limits will be used to better manage the amount of nutrient and sediment pollutants flowing from new agricultural, urban and other intensive activities to the reef.

Unavoidable pollutant loads from new development (including expanding or intensifying activities) are proposed to be managed through the use of water quality offsets. This allows nutrient and sediment pollution that cannot otherwise be avoided or mitigated to be offset by pollution reduction action either onsite or elsewhere.

The proposed changes will form an important part of the comprehensive effort to radically improve the quality of water flowing to the Great Barrier Reef to meet the government’s reef water quality targets and community expectations for a clean and healthy reef.

The ‘Enhancing regulations to ensure clean water for a healthy Great Barrier Reef and a prosperous Queensland’ discussion paper (PDF, 7.55MB) provides more information about the regulatory proposals being considered.

Feedback is sought on specific questions to help the government further determine the costs and benefits of the regulatory proposals. These will be detailed in a Regulatory Impact Statement which will be released for public consultation later in 2017.

Note: the submission period has been extended due to the extreme weather events in Queensland. Submissions will now close on 21 April 2017.

More information

Read the Discussion paper (PDF, 7.55MB).

Read the Frequently asked questions below.

How to provide feedback

Send your feedback on the questions or other comments to:



Reef Regulations Discussion Paper Submission
Office of the Great Barrier Reef
Department of Environment and Heritage Protection
GPO Box 2454
Brisbane QLD 4001

Please indicate whether you prefer your feedback to remain confidential. If this is not indicated, your response may be published or quoted in public documents.

For more information, please email or call 13 QGOV (13 74 68).

Submissions close on 21 April 2017.

Frequently asked questions

Why is the Queensland Government proposing to broaden existing reef regulations?

The Great Barrier Reef is in trouble. Climate change is the single biggest threat to the reef, while nutrient and sediment pollution from reef catchments is one of the major causes of the poor state of key marine ecosystems. With efforts to reduce global climate change underway, the Queensland Government is also focusing on improving the quality of water flowing to the reef.

The latest Great Barrier Reef Report Card shows some improvement but progress is too slow and not widespread enough. This means Queensland is likely to fail to achieve the reef water quality targets essential for maintaining the health and resilience of the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce, in their final report to the Queensland Government on the best approach to meeting the reef water quality targets, recommended staged regulations to reduce water pollution from rural and urban sources, supported by other measures such as education and extension, incentives and improved water quality monitoring.

The Queensland Government supports this recommendation and believes targeted and appropriate regulation is crucial to making serious headway towards improving the quality of water flowing to the reef.

The Queensland Government believes that we all have a role to play in ensuring clean water flows to the Great Barrier Reef.

What are the existing reef protection regulations and what will happen to these?

Reef protection regulations and minimum practice standards already exist for the commercial sugarcane and grazing sectors in the Wet Tropics, Burdekin and Mackay Whitsundays regions. These regulations will be improved for sugarcane and grazing and will be expanded to include bananas, horticulture and grains; representing all key agricultural industries in all reef catchments.

The objective is to bring producers up to a standard of practice that will accelerate progress towards reef water quality targets, and to maintain or improve productivity and increase profitability. In the meantime, there is an existing compliance and education program to support the adoption of current minimum standards for sugarcane and grazing.

Is the Queensland Government considering options that are not regulatory?

The regulatory approach is only one of a number of measures being implemented in response to the Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce recommendations and the government’s additional $90 million investment in reef water quality. The proposed regulatory approach will be supported by other measures including extension and education activities, incentives and improved water quality monitoring.

Who was consulted to develop the regulatory proposals?

The Queensland Government has consulted with industry groups, agricultural bodies, conservation groups, urban stakeholders as well as stakeholders related to other intensive land use activities and various Queensland Government agencies.

Map of Great Barrier Reef catchments

Great Barrier Reef catchments.

(View larger image.)

Where are the Great Barrier Reef catchments?

For more specific information about where the proposed regulations would apply, email

When are these regulations likely to be implemented?

If Parliament passes the regulations, it is proposed that the timeframes for implementation be set in legislation and staged across different industries from 2018. This will provide certainty and time to adopt standards where necessary.

Will further consultation be undertaken and what is the purpose of this consultation?

The Queensland Government is currently refining the detail around the regulatory proposals and is seeking feedback through this discussion paper. Further consultation will continue through the submissions period with key industry representatives and other interested parties. For more information, email or call 13 QGOV (13 74 68).

Submissions are invited until Friday, 21 April 2017.

What will be the process after the submissions period?

Following the submissions period, the Office of the Great Barrier Reef will provide detailed recommendations to the Queensland Government in late 2017.

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia (CC BY 3.0)
Last updated
31 March 2017

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