Reef Regulations key facts

What are the new requirements under the regulations?

  • Minimum practice standards will apply to all cane, grazing, banana, grains and horticulture production across five of the six Reef regions (excluding Cape York), with commencement staged over three years.
  • Producers will need to keep records of soil tests and fertiliser and agricultural chemicals applied.
  • Advisers will need to keep records of advice provided.
  • New and expanded cropping or horticulture in all six Reef regions will require an environmental authority subject to conditions to minimise impacts to water quality.
  • New, expanded or intensified industrial development must not increase nutrient and sediment pollutant loads.

Who will the regulations apply to?

  • All commercial producers of cane, bananas, horticulture, grains and beef cattle and advisors that provide property specific advice to these commercial producers about their practices for a fee or reward.
  • 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, which contribute to poor Reef water quality.

What regions would be regulated?

All six Reef regions where catchment water flows to the Great Barrier Reef - Cape York, Wet Tropics, Burdekin, Mackay Whitsunday, Fitzroy and Burnett Mary - will be subject to the regulations with commencement occurring over a three-year period. However, 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 Cape York will be regulated, and will have to comply with farm design standards and any minimum practice standards for the crop being sown.

When would the regulations apply?

Some regions and industries are a higher priority for reducing pollution run-off which is reflected in the proposed staged roll out of the new requirements. This ensures there is time for people to adjust to these regulations over the transition period.

What support is available?

A number of programs are available to provide growers and graziers with access to funding and support. For example, eligible producers in Reef regions will be able to access the Farming in Reef Catchments Rebate.

The rebate offers up to $1000 reimbursement to producers who have sought property-specific advice from an Accredited Agricultural Adviser around nutrient use efficiency and managing sediment loss.

There is also a new $5.72 million Grazing Resilience and Sustainable Solutions (GRASS) program delivering one-on-one support for graziers in the Burdekin, Fitzroy and Burnett Mary regions.

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, undertake actions that will reduce sediment and nutrient run-off.

In addition, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries offers a range of specialist extension services including agricultural economists to support growers and graziers adopt better business and farming practices.

Only specific records can be requested under the proposed regulations

The new legislation will not allow the government to demand broad-scale data from farmers. The regulations will limit the government’s ability to request data to only specific records. There is no ability to request any other data and no individual’s data will be made public without their consent

How were the regulations developed?

The proposed regulated practice standards were developed in consultation with producers and people with industry know-how, and with water quality scientists and experts.  The regulated practices will mirror practices already accepted by industry as good for business as well as water quality. They are based on the best available science about reducing pollution run-off and improving water quality while maintaining farm profitability and productivity. Practices to reduce run-off are already being used by many farmers – the regulations are about setting minimum standards to ensure everyone plays their part.

Are the regulations based on science?

The new legislation and proposed regulated practice standards  are based on proven Reef science and on-ground trials that have demonstrated improved water quality, while at least maintaining farm profitability and productivity. Rigorous processes underpin Reef science including peer review, expert independent reviews and audits.

The evidence is strong, the science robust and the conclusions drawn from the science are sound.

Forty-eight scientists reviewed over 1600 published technical reports and scientific journal papers to create the most recent Scientific Consensus Statement.

Why is water quality important to the Reef?

Water quality is important for the entire Great Barrier Reef system, stretching from the coast to the outer Reef. It is vital to the survival of marine species that live in all areas of the Reef including coral, fish, dugongs and turtles.

Science shows that soil and nutrients entering waterways from activities such as farming can travel a long way. Soil blocks light needed to keep seagrasses and coral alive and healthy. Increased nutrient loads flowing into the Reef contribute to outbreaks of coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish, which can devour large amounts of coral.

Importantly, improving water quality builds the ability of Reef habitats to recover from other impacts including cyclones and coral bleaching.


A healthy Reef and successful agriculture together contribute to prosperous communities.