Comparisons between two of Australia’s greatest, large-scale environmental challenges – the Murray Darling Basin (MDB) and the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) – are sometimes drawn. The $13 billion government commitment to the MDB aside, both challenges have long-term environmental plans in place. The Basin Plan aims to bring the MDB back to a healthier and sustainable level, while continuing to support farming and other industries for the benefit of the Australian community. The Reef 2050 Plan outlines management measures to ensure the GBR continues to improve on its Outstanding Universal Value every decade between now and 2050 to be a natural wonder for each successive generation to come.
Looking at the aims of the two plans and their implementation to date, it is fair to say that the Basin Plan has a more balanced triple bottom line approach than the Reef Plan. The fact that more than 2.6 million Australians call the MDB home and six jurisdictions are collectively responsible for delivering its environmental plan probably has a lot to do with this, but it could be argued that consideration of the needs of all communities and established industries should be equal regardless of the governance arrangements.
The potential for Queensland agriculture to expand through high value export markets, and subsequently sustainably increase state revenue and jobs, has never been greater. At the same time, the ask of the sector to shoulder more environmental and stewardship responsibilities has also never been greater. To realise both requires government policies that recognise and enable the potential, while encouraging and rewarding the responsibilities.
As such, government reef policies aimed at delivering a stable, workable framework for farmers, Reef catchment communities and the environment that can endure and meet triple bottom line requirements are critical. Applying a blanket approach to regulating agricultural activities across all six Reef regions in the belief that this will rapidly reduce run-off from farms is misguided and it does not enable agriculture’s potential or encourage and reward its responsibilities.