New reef laws still in the pipeline

The Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 (Bill) was introduced into the Queensland Parliament on 27 February 2019 and then referred to the Innovation, Tourism Development and Environment Committee for consideration. The Committee tabled its report on 26 April 2019 and it is expected that the Bill will be further debated during the next Parliamentary sitting from 20 to 22 August 2019.

If passed, the new laws will create even more red tape for Queensland’s farmers and graziers without a guarantee of tangible benefits for the reef.

Many graziers and grain, banana, cane and horticulture producers have taken proactive measures in the last decade and adopted best management practices to reduce sediment run-off. The proposed new laws reflect the Queensland Government’s belief that these initiatives have not been sufficient and that Government intervention is necessary.

 

Changes to management practices

If passed, the new laws will classify commercial grazing, cropping and horticulture within a reef catchment area as an “Agricultural ERA” (Agricultural Environmentally Relevant Activity).

All commercial grazing, cropping and horticulture in the Cape York, Wet Tropics, Burdekin, Mackay-Whitsunday, Fitzroy and Burnett-Mary reef catchment areas will be affected.

The new laws will introduce minimum practice standards, which recognise existing best industry practice in some circumstances.

For example, graziers will be required to meet the “grazing minimum standards” that require:

  1. depending on the current condition of the land, the adoption of measures to improve the condition of the land (such as wet season spelling and reduced stocking rates); and
  2. the keeping of records about the use of fertiliser, chemical and soil conditioner.

Existing best management practice (BMP) programs may, subject to certain conditions being met, automatically be accredited as meeting the minimum practice standards.

If the Bill is passed, graziers will need to comply with the minimum practice standards within the following time frames:

  • Burdekin region – 12 months;
  • Fitzroy region – 2 years; and
  • Wet Tropics, Mackay Whitsunday, Cape York and Burnett Mary regions – 3 years.

The minimum practice standards that will apply to the sugar cane, banana, horticulture industries are yet to be developed by the Government.

 

Approval required for new cultivation

The new laws will also impose a requirement for an environmental authority to be obtained to undertake “new intensive cropping activities” on an area of more than two hectares of land that does not have a history of cropping. A history of cropping can be established if the land was used for cropping during the last 3 out of 10 years (with at least 1 year being in the last 5 years). To obtain an environmental authority, farm design and practice standards must be developed to address water quality risks which may arise from the cropping activities.

 

Future

Thynne + Macartney’s agribusiness lawyers are concerned that the proposed laws represent yet another layer of regulation on agricultural production and development in Queensland. The State’s vegetation management and nature conservation legislative regimes each take a conceptually different approach to some of the same environmental issues. Their combined smothering effect seems counter-intuitive to the environmental-custodianship mentality innate in Queensland’s farmers and graziers. It is time for a wide-broom review of the many pieces of legislation.

 

By Emma Kime, Lawyer

This information is intended to provide a general summary only and should not be relied on as a substitute for legal advice.

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