The Environmental Protection (Great Barrier Reef Protection Measures) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 came back to the Queensland Parliament this week with no changes to the Bill itself. It is a similar story to what we saw with vegetation management legislation last year. At the time of writing the Reef Bill hadn’t yet passed, but it will, and many farmers will understandably be disillusioned and deflated by this.
Where the environment is concerned, agriculture continues to be asked to shoulder a greater stewardship load with little reward for these services and while losing much needed business flexibility and growth opportunities. Farm businesses do not want to be relieved of their environmental responsibility, they just want more effective and fairer ways to tackle some of the issues that are often driven by others who do not have to wear the costs. For some businesses, these two environmental policy shifts are challenging enough, but when you consider the cumulative impact of government policies across portfolios the challenges become even greater.
For example, add to the above the cost of electricity and water – the enablers of intensified, high yield and high quality production – which are not a ‘fair cost’ for many agricultural industries. As trade-exposed price takers that receive the second lowest level of support in the OECD, farm businesses have virtually no ability to offset these costs. In addition, we are in the middle of regulatory pricing reviews for electricity and water where future affordability will be determined by policy decisions. And adding to that, two new reform processes – drought and water metering, monitoring and compliance – are just getting underway.
Individually, each of these policy reforms may seem reasonable. Collectively, it is very different picture. Throw in a long running drought and low commodity prices due to supermarket price wars and market manipulation by foreign governments, the cumulative impact of government policies become insurmountable and they are challenging the profitability and viability of many farm businesses across the Reef catchments. We must have a more holistic approach to policies impacting agriculture.