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Strengthening Reef protection regulations

After more than two years of extensive work with peak bodies and broader community consultation, the Queensland Government introduced a Bill to Parliament in February 2019 to strengthen existing Reef protection regulations.

The proposed regulations under the Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 reduce water pollution (nutrients and sediment) from agricultural and industrial land uses entering Reef waters while maintaining productivity and profitability through improved land management. This protects our Reef and our valuable farming land and industries.

Following introduction to Parliament, the Bill was referred to the Innovation, Tourism Development and Environment Parliamentary Committee for review. The Committee undertook further stakeholder consultation and released their report on 26 April 2019.

If the Bill is passed by Parliament, the new legislation supports the staged roll-out of strengthened Reef protection regulations to apply to all commercially produced cane, bananas, horticulture, grains and grazing as well as direct sources of pollution from industrial land uses (for example, sewage and water treatment plants, aquaculture or intensive animal industries etc.) across all Reef regions.

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.

Am I operating in a Reef region?

There are six Reef regions – Cape York, Wet Tropics, Burdekin, Mackay Whitsunday, Ftizroy 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.

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Proposed regulations under the Bill

The amendment Bill supports strengthened Reef protection regulations and in summary:

  • Sets nutrient and sediment pollution load limits for the Reef catchments based on the end-of-catchment water quality targets in the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan.
  • Improves regulated minimum practice standards for sugarcane and establishes standards for bananas, horticulture, grains and grazing to be staged over one to three years, depending on the commodity, region and risk to water quality.
  • Requires advisers (e.g. agronomists and fertiliser sellers) when providing ‘tailored advice’ about regulated agricultural activities to make sure that it is not false or misleading, and keep, and produce records of the advice provided, upon request.
  • Requires farmers and graziers to keep fertiliser, chemical and soil condition records.
  • Removes the requirement for Environmental Risk Management Plans for cane growers and graziers, replacing these with regulated minimum standards.
  • Recognises growers or graziers who are accredited under a recognised Best Management Practice program (or like program) as compliant with the regulated minimum standards.
  • Puts in place measures to ensure no net decline in water quality from new development by:
    • Requiring new cropping activities (cane, bananas, horticulture and grains) to meet higher standards through an environmental authority (permit) based on the water quality risk of the activity.
    • Requiring new industrial activities to meet a ‘no net decline’ in Reef water quality standard for additional nutrient and sediment loads through the design of their operation or provide an offset under the existing point source water quality offsets policy.

The Bill also makes provisions for the Minister to request data from the agricultural sector and to establish a regulated water quality offsets scheme in the future.

Read the Factsheet: Reef Regulations Amendment Bill (PDF, 397KB) for more detailed sector and region specific information.

Why strengthen the existing regulations?

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest living structure and worth an estimated $56 billion. Protecting the Reef is a key priority under the Queensland Government’s Our Future State: Advancing Queensland Priorities.

Despite significant government and industry investment and voluntary adoption of improved practices over many years to reduce water pollution flowing to the Reef, the science is overwhelming, aside from global climate change, poor water quality continues to threaten the health and resilience of the Reef.

Strengthened regulations to drive improved water quality are a critical part of the comprehensive effort underway to secure a healthy, climate resilient Reef.

What happens to industry BMP programs and BMP accredited producers?

The Bill 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 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 Bill 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).

When would the legislation come into effect?

If the Bill is passed by Parliament, the new legislation is expected to come into effect mid-2019 with the regulated minimum standards rolled out in stages over one to three years, depending on the commodity, Reef region and risk to water quality.

What support is there?

There are a number of existing programs and initiatives to help producers and industry transition to better practice standards.

This includes expanded and better access to education and agronomic support services, increased water quality monitoring, funding for land restoration and on-farm trials, science and on-ground research projects and two major integrated projects working with producers in the Wet Tropics and Burdekin to trial different land management practices.

In addition, the Queensland Government has allocated $10.1 million to support farmers. This will fund a rebate scheme to provide financial support for producers to access professional and agronomic advice to assist them in meeting the new minimum practice standards.

For more information, please email officeofthegbr@des.qld.gov.au.

Consultation and other materials