Strengthening Reef protection regulations

The Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill to strengthen existing Reef protection regulations was passed on 19 September 2019 with the new laws proposed to come into effect on 1 December 2019.

The regulations set minimum practice agricultural standards for all sugarcane, beef cattle grazing, banana, grains and horticulture production in five of the six Reef regions - the Wet Tropics, Burdekin, Mackay Whitsunday, Fitzroy and Burnett Mary. The regulated minimum practice standards will not be switched on in the Cape York region at this stage as the water quality targets have been met.

New and expanded cropping and horticulture activities over five hectares in all six Reef regions, including Cape York, will have to comply with farm design standards and any minimum practice standards for the crop being sown.

The regulations will also apply to operators of new or changed industrial land use activities such as new sewage treatment plants, aquaculture facilities or mines that plan to release nutrients and sediments.

The proposed regulated practice standards mirror practices already accepted by industry as good for business as well as water quality.

They will reduce pollution (nutrient and sediment) run-off from agricultural and industrial land uses while maintaining productivity and profitability through improved land management.

Under the proposed regulated practice standards, producers will need to keep records of soil tests and fertiliser and agricultural chemicals applied and advisers will need to keep records of advice provided to land managers.

The regulations will not allow broad-scale data to be requested from farmers. They will be restricted to specific records only.

The regulations will come into effect over a three-year period to ensure there is time for land managers to adjust to these regulations over the transition period.

The Queensland Government has made a commitment that, once in place, the regulated practice standards will not change for five years providing certainty for Queensland industries.

The regulated practice standards were developed in consultation with producers and people with industry know-how, and with water quality scientists and experts.

You can read the Decision Regulatory Impact Statement (PDF, 1MB) which includes a summary of the feedback received during consultation, refinements made following this consultation and revised costs and benefits.

Learn more about the key facts.

Reef regions

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

Complete the Reef regulatory requirements map with the Lot and Plan number/s of your property/ies 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, 1.3MB).


Different Reef regions and different commodities will be regulated at different stages (over three years) based on priorities for improving water quality. Staging also provides additional time for some producers and industries that have not previously been regulated to adapt if necessary.

When will the Reef protection regulations apply

CommodityRegion Record keeping
Minimum practice
agricultural standards
Farm nitrogen and
phosphorus budget
(cane only)
New cropping
Sugarcane Burdekin, Mackay Whitsunday
and Wet Tropics
Act commences Act commences Two years Six months
Sugarcane Burnett Mary and
Act commences Three years Three years Six months
SugarcaneCape YorkN/AN/AN/ASix months
Grazing Burdekin Act commences One year N/A N/A
Grazing Fitzroy Act commences Two years N/A N/A
Grazing Wet Tropics, Mackay Whitsunday and Burnett Mary Act commences Three years N/A N/A
GrazingCape YorkN/AN/AN/AN/A
Bananas Wet Tropics Act commences One year N/A Six months
Bananas Burdekin, Fitzroy, Mackay Whitsunday and Burnett Mary Act commences Three years N/A Six months
BananasCape York N/AN/AN/ASix months
Grains All regions except Cape York Three years Three years N/A Six months
GrainsCape YorkN/AN/AN/ASix months
Horticulture All regions except Cape York Three years Three years N/A Six months
HorticultureCape YorkN/AN/AN/ASix months

Support programs

A number of programs provide producers with access to funding and support to transition to improved farming practices.

This includes expanded and better access to education and agronomic support services, increased water quality monitoring, funding for land restoration and on-farm trials, and science and on-ground research projects.

The new $5.72 million Grazing Resilience and Sustainable Solutions (GRASS) program will improve poor and degraded land by delivering one-on-one support for graziers in the Burdekin, Fitzroy and Burnett Mary regions and tailored land management plans. It includes $1.43 million in financial incentives for infrastructure improvements.

The Banana Best Management Practice program is receiving an additional $1 million for incentives and on-ground extension support to help banana growers, primarily in the Wet Tropics and Cape York regions, to undertake actions that will reduce sediment and nutrient run-off.

Eligible graziers, sugarcane producers and banana growers can receive a Farming in Reef Catchments rebate of up to $1000 to help offset the costs of obtaining professional and agronomic advice from an Accredited Agricultural Advisor. To be eligible, producers cannot have already received assistance to develop a property specific plan around managing nutrient or sediment loss under a Queensland Government program or Australian Government Reef Trust program.

Minimum standards

Draft minimum practice agricultural standards have been developed for the sugarcane, beef cattle grazing and banana production.

Minimum practice standards have yet to be developed for the grains and horticulture industries. This is due to the lower water quality risk associated with these industries and the complexity of developing standards for these activities.

Record keeping

Producers will need to keep records of soil tests, fertiliser and agricultural chemicals applied and other measures taken where required.

Agricultural advisers, such as fertiliser sellers and agronomists, will need to keep records of any tailored advice they provide to growers for a fee or reward that is about practices covered by minimum practice standards. Tailored advice is not general in nature, but is specific to a particular property and set of circumstances.

Records will need to be made within three business days, kept for at least six years and be made available when requested.

Any data or records would not be made publicly available.

There is provision for a regulation to be made in the future for the government to acquire specific agricultural data. This would be limited to data about fertiliser and chemical use, soil testing and crop yield. This provision will not be activated.

What happens to industry BMP programs and BMP accredited producers?

The new legislation enables owners of an accreditation program, like Best Management Practice (BMP) programs, to voluntarily apply to be recognised by the Queensland Government as providing an alternative pathway for producers to meet the minimum regulated standards. To be recognised, the program must enable accreditation of producers who use farming practices that are consistent with, or better than, the minimum practice standards.

Producers accredited under a recognised program would be considered compliant with the minimum practice agricultural standards and would be a low priority for compliance activities.

In order to treat accredited producers as a low priority, their details as well as the term of accreditation will be needed. An allowance will be made for accredited producers who do not consent to their details being provided. None of the information will be made publicly available.

The new legislation does not allow the Queensland Government to automatically acquire paddock level data from any databases.

For more information, read the Factsheet: Reef regulations and Best Management Practice programs (PDF, 418KB).


Compliance officers will work with landholders to improve their practices through education and awareness raising.

The compliance program will prioritise its efforts on commodities and regions that represent the greatest water quality threat to the Reef.

If an operator is found to be non-compliant, in addition to education, the department has a range of tools that it may use to ensure compliance, ranging from warnings and direction notices to fines.

In the event that an offence does proceed to court, it is up to the court to determine an appropriate penalty depending on the circumstances of the non-compliance. Penalties are not automatically applied.

Compliance activities will be moderated on a case-by-case basis during and immediately after declared natural disasters such as drought and flood events.

Industrial development

New, expanded or intensified point source environmentally relevant activities (ERAs) including sewage and water treatment plants, aquaculture or intensive animal industries must not increase nutrient or sediment pollutant loads. If this cannot be achieved through design or operation conditions, the Point Source Water Quality Offsets Policy will guide what offsets can be used to avoid a net residual impact. This allows for new development while reducing the risk of pollutant run-off to the Reef.


There is provision for a regulation to be made in the future to set offset requirements for activities that cannot mitigate nutrient and sediment pollutant loads. This would be limited to new agricultural development. Further legislative change and industry and public consultation would need to be undertaken prior to offset provisions being established by regulation for new agriculture.

More information

For more information, please read the fact sheet (PDF, 949KB) or email

Supporting materials