On Friday, Industry and Natural Resource Management Groups quietly celebrated the formalisation of partnerships that would see delivery of incentives to landholders in Queensland Reef catchments including the Burnett. At a Reef Summit in Brisbane on the same day, the Queensland Premier Anna Bligh indicated that the Queensland Government would pursue regulation to improve water quality in the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon. Agforce and Queensland Farmers Federation have spoken out against the move.

Since it’s inception in 1995, the Burnett Catchment Care Association BCCA, has supported a voluntary approach to improving catchment health and sustainable agriculture. We have found best results can be achieved by focusing on activities that improve production and catchment health. Fortunately there are plenty of examples of on farm activities that achieve both a lift in water quality, biodiversity, environmental health and productivity. However changing management practices can be expensive and it can be risky.

Farmers are not currently paid for the ecosystem services their good management provides, nor does the market pay the “true cost” of food production. The BCCA believe it is appropriate that the Australian public share the risk (particularly in the changeover or flux period) and the expense of changing management practices that improve water quality for the Great Barrier Reef.

Further it is the position of the BCCA, that regulation undermines a spirit of cooperation and shared effort for a shared benefit. Just as the “Tree Clearing” laws lead to panic clearing and a reluctance to cooperate, there is a risk that the suggestion of further regulation may lead to a lack of trust, disengagement, and a major setback in achieving the aims of the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan.

In summary

  • the BCCA does not support a regulatory response to improving water quality, where the legislation aims to address diffuse farm based sources of nutrient, sediment or registered agro-chemicals.
  • the BCCA is keen to continue to work with the Queensland Government, the Federal Government and any other partners who wish to improve agriculture and catchment health in the Burnett
  • the BCCA know that Burnett Primary Producers are the most adaptable, innovative and resilient in the world and with appropriate support will continue to improve catchment health and sustainable agriculture

Ironically this week, BCCA staff will begin the process of engaging graziers in the lower Burnett, Kolan, and Baffle to facilitate distribution of incentives through Reef Rescue funding. Will the Premier’s announcements undermine the potential of this initiatives as has been suggested?

Hopefully these landholders will see that beyond the threat of regulation, is an opportunity to attract investment to make improvements on their properties. Adjustments that will improve their operations and improve water quality in the Great Barrier Reef. Improvements that will demonstrate that improving Great Barrier Reef Water Quality can be done very successfully through cooperative non regulatory means.

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