Overview

The Reef protection regulations are being strengthened to address land-based sources of water pollution flowing to the Great Barrier Reef. This includes agricultural and industrial sources of nutrient and sediment pollution from all six Reef regions—Cape York, Wet Tropics, Burdekin, Mackay Whitsunday, Fitzroy and Burnett Mary.

The new regulations started on 1 December 2019 and will be rolled out over the next three years in different regions based on improved water quality management priorities (see the timeframes).

New requirements

The requirements under the new Reef protection regulations are:

Record keeping

All graziers, sugarcane and banana producers in the Wet Tropics, Burdekin, Mackay Whitsunday, Fitzroy and Burnett Mary regions must keep records from 1 December 2019 and all grains and horticulture producers must keep records from 1 December 2022.

Agricultural advisers must also keep records from 1 December 2019.

Records need to be kept to demonstrate activities are being undertaken on the property in accordance with the minimum practice agricultural standards.

The government has committed to not commencing the regulation to acquire specific agricultural data from the broader agricultural sector, such as data about fertiliser and chemical use, soil testing and crop yield.

Minimum practice agricultural standards

Primary producers in the Wet Tropics, Burdekin, Mackay Whitsunday, Fitzroy and Burnett Mary regions will need to comply with industry specific minimum practice agricultural standards. These have been developed for sugarcane, grazing and bananas at this stage, and take effect for different commodities in different regions over the next three years, from December 2019 (see the timeframes).

The Queensland Government has made a commitment that the minimum practice agricultural standards for these commodities will remain substantially unchanged for the next five years (i.e. until 1 December 2024).

Minimum practice agricultural standards for grains and horticulture production have not yet been developed and will not come into effect for three years (i.e. until 1 December 2022).

Farm nitrogen and phosphorus budget (sugarcane only)

All sugarcane producers in the Wet Tropics, Burdekin and Mackay Whitsunday regions must have a farm nitrogen and phosphorus budget from 1 December 2021 and then in the Fitzroy and Burnett Mary regions from 1 December 2022.

New or expanded cropping and horticulture activities

New or expanded cropping and horticulture activities in any Reef region on five hectares or more that do not meet the cropping history test will require an environmental authority (permit), from 1 June 2021 (deferred from 1 June 2020). Consultation on the draft standard conditions for new or expanded cropping and horticulture has been suspended and will recommence later in 2020.

New, expanded or intensified industrial land use activities

New, expanded or intensified regulated industrial land use activities such as sewage and water treatment plants, land-based aquaculture or mining in any Reef region must meet new discharge standards to ensure there is no increase in nutrient or sediment pollutant loads from 1 June 2021 (deferred from 1 December 2020).

Reef regions

There are six Reef regions – Cape York, Wet Tropics, Burdekin, Mackay Whitsunday, Fitzroy and Burnett Mary. Refer to the map below.

Enter your property lot and plan number/s into the Reef regulatory requirements map to find out if you are operating in a Reef region.

View a larger version of the Great Barrier Reef catchment and river basins regions map (PDF, 1.3 MB) .

Why is the Cape York region excluded from most of the new requirements?

Most of the new requirements do not apply to existing producers in the Cape York region as the region has met its water quality targets.

However, from 1 June 2021, any new or expanded commercial cropping and horticulture activities in the Cape York region on five hectares or more that do not meet the cropping history test will require an environmental authority (permit) before the activity or work takes place.

Support for producers

Programs and support tools are provided by the Australian and Queensland governments and industry organisations to help primary producers adopt improved farming practices, where required. These include best management practice programs, extension services and a Farming in Reef Catchments Rebate Scheme.

Compliance

The compliance program is prioritising its efforts on the areas that represent the greatest water quality threat to the Reef.

Compliance officers from the Department of Environment and Science will meet with producers to help them understand what is required under the minimum practice agricultural standards.

While the officers aim to work with producers to meet the requirements, the department will respond to ongoing non-compliance in accordance with its Enforcement Guidelines.

For more information, please refer to the Department of Environment and Science compliance and enforcement information.

More information

Complete this information request form if you would like to receive an information pack by email or post. You can also choose to receive regular updates relating to the Reef protection regulations.

Alternatively, read the fact sheet (PDF, 1,000 KB ) or email officeofthegbr@des.qld.gov.au.

Supporting materials

Timeframes

CommodityRegion Record keeping requirements Minimum practice agricultural standards Farm nitrogen and phosphorus budget (sugarcane only) New or expanded cropping activities
Sugarcane Wet Tropics, Burdekin and Mackay Whitsunday 1 December 2019 1 December 2019 1 December 2021 1 June 2021
Sugarcane Fitzroy and Burnett Mary 1 December 2019 1 December 2022 1 December 2022 1 June 2021
Sugarcane Cape York N/A N/A N/A 1 June 2021
Grazing Burdekin 1 December 2019 1 December 2020 N/A N/A
Grazing Fitzroy 1 December 2019 1 December 2021 N/A N/A
Grazing Wet Tropics, Mackay Whitsunday and Burnett Mary 1 December 2019 1 December 2022 N/A N/A
Grazing Cape York N/A N/A N/A N/A
Bananas Wet Tropics 1 December 2019 1 December 2020 N/A 1 June 2021
Bananas Burdekin, Mackay Whitsunday, Fitzroy and Burnett Mary 1 December 2019 1 December 2022 N/A 1 June 2021
Bananas Cape York N/A N/A N/A 1 June 2021
Grains Wet Tropics, Burdekin, Mackay Whitsunday, Fitzroy and Burnett Mary Proposed 1 December 2022 Proposed 1 December 2022 N/A 1 June 2021
Grains Cape York N/A N/A N/A 1 June 2021
Horticulture Wet Tropics, Burdekin, Mackay Whitsunday, Fitzroy and Burnett Mary Proposed 1 December 2022 Proposed 1 December 2022 N/A 1 June 2021
Horticulture Cape York N/A N/A N/A 1 June 2021

New or changed regulated industrial land use activities will be required to meet new discharge standards from 1 June 2021.