Annastacia Palaszczuk.
Annastacia Palaszczuk. DARREN ENGLAND

Labor's new Great Barrier Reef law sets off warning bells

DOUBT has been cast on the state's latest Great Barrier Reef protection laws, amid a mooted multibillion-dollar funding shortfall.

The laws are designed to force farmers to modify farming practices to reduce run-off leaching into the Reef's catchment area and damaging it.

Scientists have told the parliamentary committee charged with probing the new laws that they believe it would cost $10 billion over 10 years to achieve the reduction needed to protect the Reef.

The Palaszczuk Government, however, has so far allocated about $830 million over five years to land rehabilitation and water quality.

About 13.8 million over four years was also set in last year's budget to "assist farmers in transitioning to minimum practice standards".

The LNP has seized on the funding discrepancies to accuse the Government of botching the reforms.

The Great Barrier Reef. Picture: Josh Smith/Canon Australia
The Great Barrier Reef. Picture: Josh Smith/Canon Australia

Opposition environment spokesman David Crisafulli said the testimony of the scientists was proof the Government's funding would fall far short. "What's happened in this headlong rush to implement these laws is that we haven't done an impact statement on agriculture, we haven't spent enough time talking with community, and it runs the risk of being another botched rollout of a program with good intention, but poor implementation," he said.

The $10 billion figure was raised by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in its submission to the Innovation, Tourism and Environment Committee.

It estimated $1 billion a year would be needed over 10 years to bring all farms "up to low or moderate risk-practice status".

The sum was first published in a study by environmental body Alluvium in 2016, which said $8.2 billion was needed to meet targets across four out of five Reef catchments.

Professor Jon Brodie, one of three authors in ARC's submission, said $10 billion was not that much when talking about the importance of the Reef.

"It was only $1 billion a year … In some ways it is very trivial, given the importance of the Great Barrier Reef," he said. "This is a relatively small amount."

Prof Brodie said he believed most of the money should come from the Federal Government.

Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch defended the laws.

She said the Government had been supporting agricultural industries to voluntarily improve their practices.

"However, uptake has not been fast enough and therefore water quality has continued to decline," she said.

"That is why the Palaszczuk Government is accelerating efforts to safeguard the future of the Reef and protect the thousands of jobs that rely on it.''

"In relation to the report Alluvium referred to, possible measures range from those that we are already undertaking as part of our commitment to improve water quality, to more comprehensive measures, which were priced accordingly.

"The report also goes on to make clear that, of those suggested measures, some were more cost effective than others."