New Reef Laws

New Reef Laws

September 25, 2019

Parliament was a week to Shock even the Cynics

Pandering to inner-city electorates, last week Labor threw away any pretence of governing in Queensland’s interests. Read on and make up your own mind.

New Reef Laws for Farmers

Gagging the debate so that not every MP could speak, Labor used their numbers to push through the Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) & Other Legislation Bill. They even stopped the LNP from moving any amendments that might have improved this terrible Bill.

A Creeping form of Eco-Socialism

These laws have made cattle grazing, horticulture and cropping into a regulated environmental activity in Great Barrier Reef catchment areas.

From Bundaberg to the Cape and inland to the Great Divide, anyone growing or farming anything will be subject to the supervision of bureaucrats. It is a creeping socialism where farmers must do what they are told, and what they are told to do can change with the stroke of a public servant’s pen. Under this Act, Parliament will not need to be consulted.

There will be a five year transition period, but on the day this legislation comes into full force, every grazier or farmer without an accredited environmentally regulated management plan will have committed an offence and be liable for a fine of up to $78,330. You will even be responsible for monitoring, and properly documenting, reef run-off issues in any floodwaters that pass or cross your property. Vegetation and animal droppings in a creek could constitute a breach.

How, you might ask, can someone in Emerald, 300 kilometres from the coast, be more liable than the homeowner in Mackay, applying lashings of Tropic King to his lawn?

Well – the Bill Doesn’t Deal with Real Reef Concerns

Simply, it is nonsense.

As I told Parliament, this Bill makes farmers the sole scapegoat, yet agriculture has done more than any other industry or group to change its practices to support the Reef.

For instance, the Bill does nothing to require the quick and reliable identification of sources of water pollution nor does it deal with current water pollution issues.

Nowhere in this Bill is there a word about run-off from airports, cruise ships, resorts, dredged ports, marinas and mines. Is the Queensland Nickel tailings dam still a chronic and present danger? Silence suggests it is.

Where is the effort to ensure every local government along the coast treats its sewage to a tertiary level before it discharges it onto the Reef? What about stormwater? It is loaded with fertiliser and pesticides from people’s gardens, from parks – even from bowling greens. It also bears oil residues from roads, other pollutants and litter that kills marine life. Why isn’t this considered “reef run-off”?

Canegrowers boss Paul Schembri described the Committee’s review of this Bill as an insult. Let me say, the passing of the Bill is an outrage.

Impacts Unknown

It is not in Queensland’s interests. It is not in the Reef’s interests. There has been no economic modelling. There seems to be little consideration of the regulatory impact. Worst of all, it won’t achieve the stated objectives because it is not based on sound science. I am grateful that the federal government will be investigating this aspect.

Reef Run Off – or Gross Water Mismanagement?

Mere days later, the Minister announced plans to release 105,000 megalitres from the Paradise Dam. This must surely qualify as a mega “reef run-off” event. The water is being released so the Government can address dam safety concerns, but the Minister won’t say what those safety concerns are.

The Government has known for years that our dams need work to bring them up to national safety standards. In fact, they decided the cheapest way to achieve this in Bundaberg was to lower the Paradise Dam wall and reduce the capacity of the dam.

As the state is scorched by drought, many communities are close to running out of water and some – like Stanthorpe – already have and are trucking water in. So wouldn’t you think the Minister would be keen to manage this release of water in Queensland’s interests?

Guess again. The Minister has said about 80,000 megalitres will be made available to farmers, but the release is being made at the wrong time of the farming cycle and the free water is of little use to them. Not only that, but many irrigators can’t afford to pay the electricity costs that would be associated with it. Remember, the Government has the monopoly over electricity in the regions.

Farmers should have been consulted six or even 10 months ago. Now most of this water will go out to sea, in a newly designated “reef catchment”.

More Water Mismanagement – Heads should roll over Rookwood Error

If you think that was “dam silly” as the Courier Mail called it, have a look at the Rookwood Weir. Now, I have been close to this project for many years. It is an outstanding proposal which will provide water security for the Capricorn Coast, Rockhampton and Gladstone – including the growing Port of Gladstone. Importantly, it will also provide 40,000 megalitres of water to boost agricultural production.

So beneficial is this project, the federal government put the money up to write the business case and it has put up 50 per cent of the funding. That money has been on the table since 2016.

$214 Million Error…

After three years of dragging its feet, the Palaszczuk Government announced the price of cement had caused the project cost to blow out from $352 million to $566 million. A miscalculation of $214 million suggests Sunwater should buy a job-lot of new calculators.

Nobody is being held responsible for the miscalculation which makes me wonder if the whole story is made-up for the purposes of allowing the Palaszczuk Government to scrap the project.

… Means We Have to Downsize

Having given us time to swallow the concrete story, the Minister said he could only build to the original budget of $352 million. Unfortunately, the dam gates will be removed from the design.

And then this week, the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin reported that the State is reducing the size of the water storage from 76,000 megalitres to 54,000 megalitres. All due to the cost of cement, you understand?

Now the Business Case is Much Weaker

This will mean the water allocation for agriculture will be halved to 20,000 megalitres. While the Weir is important for water security and for the Port, it was the $1 billion worth of agricultural production that underwrote the business case.

It was a no-brainer because the water would be used for high value agriculture on some of Queensland’s best country. The cherry on top: it was in an established road and rail corridor close to a port. The agricultural component would provide 2,000 jobs across the associated sectors of the economy.

Having halved the allocation, the business case is considerably weaker, as the benefits will also be less. If it does proceed, as the Minister assures us it will, it will be the only major piece of water infrastructure that has been built by Labor in six years.

And then - Labor Decided to just Buy City Votes

Labor is going to pay some 200,000 public servants a bonus of $1,250 if they agree to sign up for a pay increase which is generously above CPI already. The cost of just the “bonuses” to the Queensland Taxpayers?

$250 Million – Gee, I could Buy some Concrete with That!

Yes – that would have covered the funding gap for the full Rookwood Weir, with $40 million change.

Treasurer Trad assured us the bonuses will “stimulate the economy”. Unfortunately it will be an uncertain sugar hit, while building infrastructure would stimulate the economy and lift our earnings. We need those earnings to pay down debt because over 40 per cent of our income stream is now dedicated to the public service wage bill.

With the State’s infrastructure underfunded, the bonus spree was a callous political move that may be in Labor’s interest - but is certainly not in Queensland’s. Renee Veillaris in the Courier Mail described the move as sickening and disgusting. You don’t often read that because it takes courage.

A White-Knuckle Ride

We are on a white knuckle ride to the next election in October 2020. Let’s hope we make it.

When I decided to write these newsletters to tell Gregory people what parliament was doing that would affect them, I worried there might be no interest. This week many of you have been asking about the Reef Bill. Thank you for your interest.

How to Contact Me

As always, if you have a comment or an issue to raise, you can simply contact me by phoning my Emerald Office on 07 4913 1000 and the Longreach office is 07 4521 5700.

If you are new to the newsletter and want to subscribe, email me at gregory@parliament.qld.gov.au or visit lachlanmillarmp.com.

Kind Regards,

Lachlan Millar MP
Member for Gregory and
Shadow Minister for Fire, Emergency Services and Volunteers.