GROWING FEAR: Maryborough and District Canegrowers chairman Jeff Atkinson on his cane and pineapple farm, with farm manager Tom Suter.
GROWING FEAR: Maryborough and District Canegrowers chairman Jeff Atkinson on his cane and pineapple farm, with farm manager Tom Suter. Jessica Lamb

NOT CRIMINALS: Why new law will hurt canegrowers

MARYBOROUGH canegrowers have united over fears "restrictive legislation" could spell the end of the region's sugar industry.

Despite making wide-spread changes to their farming practices to protect the environment, farmers like Jeff Atkinson are being told it's not enough.

The Maryborough and District Canegrowers chairman says stricter monitoring and penalties proposed under the Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 could put business under overnight.

The "broad application of minimum regulated standards to eliminate high risk practices that contribute to excess nutrient and sediment run-off" would attract hefty fines and allow regulators to police private properties to ensure landowners were compliant.

"It's disappointing after the efforts the canegrowers have gone to, which is seen everywhere else in the world as the best, and in our own backyard we are seen as criminals," Mr Atkinson said.

"The fines are horrendous. If you are seen to be doing something wrong, and it could be someone made a mistake with their paper work, it would put a farmer out of business overnight."

The proposed legislation is intended to protect the Great Barrier Reef from damage caused by sediment and chemical run-off.

Mr Atkinson said Maryborough canegrowers were as passionate as anyone about protecting the reef, but doubted the science behind the bill.

"As far as the local testing goes, none of us can detect any run-off from the cane farmers. We have had more droughts here than we have had floods, the issue for this district is getting water onto the farms," he said.

He rejected the idea that a "blanket" approach to legislation would solve the problem, pointing out the situation in Maryborough was very different to north Queensland, which gets four times as much rain.

"How can one blanket cover an area that has 1m of rain and another area which has 4m? Everyone knows the run-off is different," he said.

Along with their Bundaberg and Isis counterparts, the 100 farmers in the Maryborough and District Canegrowers organisation have sent a submission to the Innovation, Tourism Development and Environment Committee, which is in charge of reviewing the bill.

They requested the government delay the roll-out in the Burnett and Southern Catchments until a thorough independent audit of the science had been conducted.

The submission went on to invite the committee to an on-ground tour of farms in the region to showcase some of the many voluntary programs in place "to improve the environmental, social and economic sustainability of the sugar cane based agribusiness industry".

Mr Atkinson said jobs and livelihoods were on the line.

"My concern would be the sugar mill. The sugar mill cannot continue if growers start to look at alternative things or say we've had enough and given up," he said.

"There is probably a flow on effect of 500 or 600 jobs.

"I've got two sons who are already saying they have had enough, in fact they are not planting cane this year because of this stuff."

A spokeswoman from the ITDEC said the committee had accepted about 230 submissions to its inquiry.

The spokewoman said the committee conducted a public hearing and public briefing for the inquiry yesterday morning however the transcript of proceedings was not published in time for print.

The committee is due to report to the Queensland Parliament on the inquiry by April 12, 2019.



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