Public Letters Fight For Our Reef

Joint Statement to the Queensland Parliamentary Committee with WWF Australia

June 11, 2021

On Friday, 11 June, the Australian Marine Conservation Society and WWF Australia urged a Queensland parliamentary committee not to approve a  new Bill which attempts to downgrade regulations that are helping in the vital push to improve water quality running off from agricultural lands into our Great Barrier Reef.

The Health and Environment Committee of six MPs heard evidence from a number of different agriculture and environmental organisations at the hearing into the Reef Regulation Reversal Bill. It will issue a final report on the Bill by 21 October.

This is the statement that was made to the Committee by AMCS and WWF Australia.

  • Good quality water is critical for our Great Barrier Reef’s health. We don’t have time to waste here, we need to ensure urgent and rapid compliance with the Reef protection regulation to give the inshore ecosystems of our Reef the quality of water it needs to survive, sustain its Outstanding Universal Value and build resilience to warming waters.
  • WWF and AMCS appreciate the opportunity to provide this verbal submission to the committee. Between our organisations we have had over 90 years (actually 94) involvement in improving the protection and management of our Reef.  We represent our supporters, jointly we have over 750,000 (500,000 + 250,000) members and supporters whom we represent and work with on key marine issues facing the nation.  We are on-the-ground conservationists working with supporters, scientists, farmers, landholders and industry groups to ensure our Great Barrier Reef is healthy for tomorrow’s generations. 
  • The overwhelming scientific consensus on the detrimental impacts of poor water quality of GBR is settled. This fact is reflected in numerous plans to protect the Reef, most of which have bipartisan political support.
  • We have been actively involved in the development and implementation of key Australian and Queensland government Great Barrier Reef focused policy and management programs. These include the Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan, the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan (WQIP) (and its predecessor, the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan), various Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) initiatives including the 2017 Reef Blueprint for Resilience as well as major GBR-focused science programs including in recent years the NERP Tropical Ecosystem Hub and the NESP Tropical Water Quality Hub. We also actively support successful agricultural practice change programs in the GBR catchments, namely Project Catalyst with sugarcane growers, and Project Pioneer with grazing managers.
  • We consider that management of the GBR is one of the best national and international examples of science-informed, evidence-based adaptive management enhanced by regular and public reporting.
  • WWF Australia and AMCS considers there is ample evidence based on good, quality assured, regularly reviewed and updated science to show that there is an urgent need to minimise the impacts of land-sourced pollution, and that the agricultural industries in the GBR catchments all need to be part of this solution.
  • Furthermore, there is strong evidence linking the impacts of farm water runoff on the health of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) and adjacent catchment areas. The 2017 Scientific Consensus Statement, Land Use Impacts on Great Barrier Reef Water Quality and Ecosystem Condition provides the most comprehensive, consolidated analysis and synthesis of the evidence linking the impacts of water runoff from both agricultural and urban–industrial land uses.
  • Chapter 6 of the 2019 Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report prepared by GBRMPA provides a good overview of why the increased pollutant loads from land -based run-off are affecting the GBR, and reef-dependent industries. 
  • In Recommendation 5 of their 2016 report, the GBR Water Science Taskforce states clearly the case for regulation, and I quote “ be an important part of the mix of policy instruments to accelerate progress towards meeting the Reef water quality targets. Across many sectors in society there is a consistent pattern that voluntary practices either by industry or individuals need to be underpinned by adequate regulation to bring about changes in behaviour or improved management outcomes.
  • The Australian and Queensland governments have committed a significant amount of funding towards improving water quality for the Great Barrier Reef. Important progress has been made, including with adoption of voluntary initiatives, however the GBR Report Cards show that the load reductions are not on track to achieve the 2025 targets.
  • It is clear now that the 2025 water quality targets will not be met by relying solely on voluntary adoption of best management practices.  The 2019 GBR Report Card shows that, after more than a decade of investment, 36.2% of grazing land and 12.7% for sugarcane is using best management practice systems– both of these land uses have a target of 90% of land at best management practice systems by 2025.
  • It’s clear from this rate of adoption, that there are graziers and canegrowers who have made a business decision NOT to participate in government and industry programs to support adoption of best management practices.  So, whilst many farmers are participating and making a difference, others are not. Those NOT participating are essentially free-riders that are undermining the effort and investment made by their peers.
  • This is the primary reason that WWF-Australia and AMCS has so strongly supported effective regulations, as the key missing piece in government policy, to help get practice change on track to achieve the water quality targets. Effective regulations along with long-standing government and industry investment supporting adoption of best management practices, provides the right policy and investment mix to achieve the 2025 water quality targets.
  • We (AMCS and WWF-A) urge the committee to refuse this “Reversal Bill” to help safeguard the future of our Reef and to recommend improvements to ensure the achievement of the 2025 water quality targets. 

For further information about water pollution and the reef, read our Q&A here.