Senate debates

Wednesday, 9 February 2022


Great Barrier Reef

9:14 pm

Photo of Susan McDonaldSusan McDonald (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

or McDONALD () (): I rise to congratulate the Prime Minister and Minister Ley, the environment minister, on the new announcement of $1 billion in new reef funding. I guess it's not always an obvious link—me standing to talk about that kind of environmental policy—but I think it is terrific. As somebody who's based in Townsville, in the heartland of the Great Barrier Reef, I know only too well the passion our communities feel about the health of the reef and about reef fishing and reef tourism as a weekend and holiday activity. I am also pleased because this funding gives hope to North Queensland farmers. It is recognition of the terrific work that they have been doing to date, and it discredits the absolute rubbish that's been spread about farmers and their impact on the Great Barrier Reef.

The Senate inquiry on the Queensland reef regulations heard about the extraordinary lengths that cattle farmers and cane farmers have gone to to reduce their environmental impacts—whether it be planting trees, reducing fertiliser and chemical use, sharing knowledge and encouraging each other, or using the latest technology. We also heard about land based runoff, which affects just three per cent of the Great Barrier Reef, and we heard that AIMS doesn't consider farming to be the major threat to coral—in fact, it is water temperatures.

But try telling that to the Queensland Labor government. We have regulatory overreach, threats of huge fines, never-ending paperwork and no recognition for work already done. They are refusing to engage in on-farm extension offices and ignoring all evidence that proves that their narrative and their increased regulation was just plain wrong. The 2021 Queensland government water quality report cards gave farmers an A-rating for reducing fertiliser use and increasing water quality. Why, then, does it continue to regulate them so harshly?

We then had the Katter party come out and say that the funding is demonising farmers because it's being used to address their run-off. Nothing could be further from the truth. I'm here to assure farmers: we will not be standing over you with a big stick. We know your livelihood depends on good land management—less erosion and less chemical use. It just so happens that helping farmers to achieve this has the added bonus of showing the world how much farmers care for their greatest natural asset.

A federally funded trial in North Queensland's Burdekin district, run by NQ Dry Tropics NRM, has resulted in a 2,000-tonne reduction in urea use, and a corresponding 1,200-tonne reduction in nitrogen entering reef waters, with no loss in productivity between 2017 and 2022. These are the sorts of programs that we will be sponsoring, because we believe farmers are the best managers of the land and because it is profitable farmers and prosperous communities that are the best environmental managers.

The best part of this announcement is that urban run-off will now also be studied. For a long time, sewage outflows have been suspected of offsetting farmers' nitrogen reduction efforts. This is a massive win. It will show farmers are not to blame for all nitrogen in reef waters.

Cane farmers and milling operations are growing. The prices are up. They're great employers. They have a crop that is terrific for carbon sequestration, and we are now discovering more and more alternative uses for cane fibre, which makes that crop more profitable again.

I had the pleasure of meeting with Pacific Biotechnologies and seeing their RegenAqua algal water treatment system. They've been treating prawn farm run-off and have been able to successfully trial the treatment of human sewage to turn that into farm fertiliser—the perfect circular economy, taking human waste and using it to increase farm productivity. I've met with them. They've drawn serious interest from the federal government. It could be a game changer for reef management not just here in Australia but around the world. Again, I congratulate this government. It is only a prosperous economy that can look after its environment.