Agforce boss defends farmers' data flush
AGFORCE has gained extra time to consult with almost 3000 farmers about amendments to the Great Barrier Reef protection measures, thanks to parliamentary delays.
Last Thursday the rural lobby group deleted data submitted by farmers, on the day the amendments were expected to be passed in the Queensland Parliament.
Agforce chief executive Michael Gueri interpreted the changes to mean the Queensland Government could override privacy laws to take farmers' data from third parties such as Agforce.
"We have to hold six years of data and the government can request it,” he said.
"And if you don't provide it you're breaking the law.”
It only discovered its interpretation 36 hours before the parliamentary session and had a limited amount of time to consult farmers.
Agforce representatives rushed through phone calls to contact 72 farmers that had completed the program, and 170 others that signed a form stating the data could be shared with the government.
"We haven't really lost anything because the data remains with the graziers,” Mr Gueri said.
According to the Queensland Government, the new legislation would ensure advisors such as Agforce would have to keep and produce records of regulated agricultural activities on request.
Farmers that were accredited under the recognised Best Management Practice program would be considered "compliant” with regulated minimum standards.
The amendments has been postponed to the next parliamentary sitting date on Tuesday, May 14, which gave the rural lobby group time to have a "more considered way” of using the data according to farmers' permission.
Mr Gueri said farmers voluntarily shared that data to improve their business and land management strategies, but the land they wanted to improve risked incriminating them.
Most farmers cared about the environment and about the barrier reef, but improving their land management through the program would be faster and more effective than being deterred by government, Mr Gueri said.
He rejected comments from Environmental Minister Leeanne Enoch that removing the data did not align with the actions of environmentalists.
"It's a bit of a slap on the face for people that are driven by better environmental outcomes protection of the reef, and better biodiversity outcomes, and have invested heavily in this program over many years,” Mr Gueri said.
"What she is saying is simply not correct.”
Ms Enoch denied that the Reef Protection legislation had the ability to get that sort of data from Agforce for the benefit of the reef.
"Agforce often claims that they are true environmentalists, but this decision is not the action of a group that wants to protect the environment,” Ms Enoch said.
"It is disappointing that Agforce decided to flush so much work, and the taxpayer dollars that have been supporting it, out to sea.”
She said the data proved that some farmers had voluntarily worked to improve the quality of run-off water flowing into the reef.