Coalition argues over farm regulations to boost Great Barrier Reef health

This is another area in which the Greenies have panicked governments into doing stupid things. Run-off of sediment from farms seldom reaches the outer Great Barrier Reef, or areas where the vast majority of corals live, the head of the Australian Institute of Marine Science Paul Hardisty has said. So farm runoff could affect corals living close inshore but the vast majority of the reef is in no danger

Furthermore, the levels of pesticides and fertilizer in farm runoff would have been heavily diluted in the rivers before they reached the oceans and I have seen no evidence that such extreme dilutions are any problem to anybody

It may also be noted that coral bleaching is almost all in the Northern section of the reef, alongside Cape York peninsula. But soils on the peninsula are very poor so there is almost no farming there. And no farming means no farm runoff. So once again have a non-existent problem.

Coral bleaching is mostly caused by fluctuation in water levels

Divisions have emerged in the federal government over farming rules to improve water quality on the Great Barrier Reef, as the Coalition’s Special Envoy for Northern Australia slams regulations targeting harmful farm water runoff that has been endorsed by the Environment Minister.

Australia successfully lobbied last month to delay a decision on listing the reef as “in danger” of losing World Heritage status at a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation hearing.

A key to Australia’s pitch was its $3 billion investment to improve water quality, which is backed by Queensland government laws that mandate standards on fertiliser use for sugar cane growers to limit nitrogen runoff and for maintenance of ground cover on grazing country to reduce sediment washing into the ocean.

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley said in July Australia is “on track to meet our 2025 Reef water quality improvement targets” and cited projections that factored in Queensland’s reef regulations, showing a rapid improvement in runoff to the reef.

UNESCO’s scientific advisors said poor water quality due to runoff from agricultural and urban areas and coral loss caused by mass bleaching events induced by global warming were the two key risk factors.

Queensland Senator and Special Envoy for Northern Australia Susan McDonald said Queensland’s regulations were “unnecessary overreach” and said she would “support a drastic scaling back” of the regime.

State regulations were unnecessary because farmers were already taking sufficient action, Ms McDonald said, and “improving land use methods without the need for draconian new laws”.

“[The reef regulation] applies a big stick approach to landowners to browbeat them into obeying the law rather than working with them to achieve balanced land management that helps productivity and reduces environmental impact.”

Ms Ley secured the backing of 12 of 21 countries on the committee to delay a vote on the ruling, and has until February next year to convince UNESCO its efforts to improve water quality and reduce global warming are sufficient.

Ms Ley told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age she had “seen first-hand the commitment and effort made by sugar cane, banana and cattle producers up and down the reef catchments” and regulators should work constructively with farmers.

“This isn’t the time for finger pointing – we need landholders and governments working together to achieve our 2025 targets and there are already some outstanding examples of that taking place,” Ms Ley said.

The Queensland government said penalties for non-compliance were a “last resort” and it was assisting farmers to get their practices into line with the regulations. The regulations will be implemented progressively across northern Queensland until the end of next year.

World Wide Fund for Nature Australia head of oceans Richard Leck said it would be a “terrible idea to scrap the regulations if we want to give the Great Barrier Reef a future”.

The latest Reef water quality report card produced by the Queensland government showed gains needed by 2025 outstrip the rate of progress that has occurred over the past 10 years of measurement.

“[In that time] nutrient pollution has been reduced by 25 per cent towards a 60 per cent target, and sediment by 14 per cent towards a target of 25 per cent,” Mr Leck said. “The regulations are not punitive, they implement a minimum standard that all good farms should be able to exceed.”

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