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Updates to Queensland’s Reef Protection Regulations: What your industry needs to know

19 May 2021

#Agribusiness, #Planning, Environment & Sustainability

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Updates to Queensland’s Reef Protection Regulations: What your industry needs to know

New requirements (deferred from 1 June 2020) will be introduced to Queensland’s Reef Protection Regulations from 1 June 2021 to reduce land-based sources of water pollution from agricultural and industrial sources entering the Great Barrier Reef.

The new requirements present an update to the Great Barrier Reef protection measures prescribed by Chapter 4A of the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) (EPA) which were introduced on 1 December 2019.

The new requirements were originally due to commence on 1 June 2020, however, they were delayed in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the agricultural community and industry had a suitable amount of time to prepare for the changes.

All six reef regions are included in the new requirements – Cape York, Wet Tropics, Burdekin, Mackay Whitsunday, Fitzroy and Burnett Mary.

The Cape York region will see regulation under this scheme for the first time. Prior to the new requirements, the Reef Protection Regulations did not apply to existing producers since the area had already met its water quality targets.

Requirements for new cropping and horticulture

From 1 June 2021, new or expanding commercial cropping and horticulture activities in the above six reef regions that are located on at least five hectares of land (which does not have a cropping history) will require an environmental authority (EA) before any activities can occur.

The requirements for new cropping and horticulture are known as ERA 13A.

The new requirements apply to most types of crops, including:

  • grains
  • horticulture
  • sugarcane
  • banana production.

The new requirements do not apply to:

  • crops that are grown in a closed system (e.g. hydroponically)
  • forestry and timber production
  • non-commercial crops (e.g. where graziers grow fodder crops for their own cattle).

The EA requirements for new or expanding cropping and horticulture activities allow for the expansion of agriculture while improving water quality at the Great Barrier Reef. They will operate alongside existing minimum practice agricultural standards for sugarcane, grazing and bananas where these are prescribed by regulation.

The ERA Standard

The ERA Standard is an application document that lists the eligibility criteria and standard conditions. Following public consultation which closed on 17 February 2021, the Department of Environment and Science is finalising an ERA Standard for new cropping and horticulture. A draft copy is available on the Department’s website here.

Types of EA

There are three types of applications for EAs:

  • standard application – this is a simplified process for growers who can meet the eligibility criteria and standard conditions outlined in the ERA Standard
  • variation application – this is a flexible process for growers who can meet the eligibility criteria but wish to vary one or more of the standard conditions in the ERA Standard
  • site-specific application – this is a comprehensive process for growers who cannot meet the eligibility criteria in the ERA Standard. This application requires site-specific information to be provided for the activity.

Producers can apply for an EA by contacting the Permits and Licensing Management area within the Department of Environment and Science. 

Requirements for new, expanded or intensified industrial land use activities

From 1 June 2021, new, expanded or intensified regulated industrial land use activities such as sewerage and water treatment plants, land-based aquaculture or mining in any of the above six reef regions must satisfy new discharge standards.

Existing point source emitters do not need to change operations unless they expand or significantly change operations in a way that would require a new or amended EA. The Point Source Water Quality Offsets Policy (2019) guides whether environmental offsets may be used to achieve no net residual impact.

The new requirements will operate in addition to regulation under the EPA and the Great Barrier Reef Basins End-of-Basin Load Water Quality Objectives (2019).

Compliance and enforcement

The Department of Environment and Science operates a compliance program to ensure Queensland’s Reef Protection Regulations are complied with. Ongoing non-compliance may result in enforcement action in accordance with the Department of Environment and Science’s Enforcement Guidelines.

More information

The Government is holding a series of information sessions on the new requirements for producers, advisers and anyone interested between May and June 2021. You can register for these sessions here.

To check if your property falls within one of the reef regions, you can enter your property online here.

If you would like more information, you may send a request to the Department of Environment and Science here, or contact a member of our team.

Authors: Gerard Timbs, Kylie Wilson & Nicola Nearhos

The information in this publication is of a general nature and is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavour to provide accurate and timely information, we do not guarantee that the information in this article is accurate at the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future.

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