CANE industry leaders have pointed to key failing in policies designed to protect the Great Barrier Reef at Senate hearing being held in Brisbane this week.

Grower representatives from eight Canegrowers district organisations along with state Canegrowers chairman Paul Schembri say the Palaszczuk government’s escalation of regulation for farming in reef catchment areas has exposed significant deficiencies in the way governments develop policies.

Canegrowers’ four key recommendations to the Senate inquiry were:

– Removing the regulatory burden on growers and adopting long-term support for on-farm innovation.

– Restoring growers’ confidence in policy through a review of the way the science used, to justify it is managed and scrutinised.

– Ensuring water quality targets are credible and realistic.

– Developing trustworthy methods for evaluating improvements in farm practices and water quality.

“Fundamental to our concern is that the cane industry has been regulated for 10 years and there is no evidence that this heavy-handed approach is driving any meaningful change in the industry,” Canegrowers Innisfail chairman Joe Marano said.

“What has been driving change is our best management practice program, Smartcane BMP, and other projects which have focused on and worked with growers.

“A blunt regulatory strategy risks eroding this spirit of cooperation and, because of flaws in its design and intent, risks the future of the sugarcane industry.”

An analysis by Canegrowers shows the Queensland economy would cop a $1.3 billion hit if the Palaszczuk government proceeded with regulations that would push nitrogen use down 30 per cent below industry best practice levels.

“This misguided intent to push nitrogen use below best practice levels is behind reef targets, programs and report cards that are rolled out by governments,” Canegrowers Herbert River chairman Michael Pisano said.

“It puts the future of our industry and communities at risk with no direct evidence it would be of any benefit to the Reef.”

In addressing the science used by government to justify the regulations, Canegrowers is advocating for a review and overhaul of way that research on water quality is funded, managed, scrutinised and used to develop policy.

“We want a more open and robust process around the research, free of political interference,” Canegrowers Burdekin chairman Phil Marano said.

“Growers have shown a willingness over past decades to engage in environmental and sustainability programs where the approach is open cooperation and collaboration – and these are achieving results.”

Canegrowers is also calling for an independent review of the seriously deficient Paddock to Reef program of the Queensland Government which purports to assess industry progress towards water quality targets.

“The current process undervalues and seriously underestimates growers’ achievements by only looking at activity within government programs,” Canegrowers Mackay chairman Kevin Borg said.

“This leads to a distorted view of reality and the incorrect claim that change is not happening fast enough, and regulation is necessary.”

Canegrowers believes addressing all of these issues will rebuild the confidence of the community, and growers, in the design and implementation of measures to address impacts on the Reef.