10 November 2023
Department of Environment and Science
By Email: EPAct.Policy@des.qld.gov.au
Re: Review of Powers and Penalties Under the Environmental Protection Act
AgForce is a peak organisation representing Queensland’s cane, cattle, grain and sheep, wool & goat producers. The cane, beef, broadacre cropping and sheep, wool & goat industries in Queensland generated around $10.4 billion in on-farm value of production in 2021-22. AgForce’s purpose is to advance sustainable agribusiness and strives to ensure the long-term growth, viability, competitiveness and profitability of these industries. Over 6,000 farmers, individuals and businesses provide support to AgForce through membership. Our members own and manage around 55 million hectares, or a third of the state’s land area. Queensland producers provide high-quality food and fibre to Australian and overseas consumers, contribute significantly to the social fabric of regional, rural and remote communities, as well as deliver stewardship of the state’s natural environment.
AgForce welcomes the opportunity to make this submission to the Department of Environment and Science in response to the review of the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) (the Act), which reinforces our position from our submission made in May 2023 to the Confidential Exposure Draft Environmental Protection and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2022.
As communicated to the Queensland Government previously in relation to land uses that compete with agriculture, such as renewable energy projects and small-holder mining, AgForce stands by Board-endorsed Land Use Protection Principles (see Appendix 1). In line with these principles, AgForce supports Queensland Government in proactively engaging with impacted agricultural stakeholders.
Whilst AgForce acknowledges that this review is concerned with the adequacy of penalties and powers under the Act and not directly related to the agricultural industry, AgForce would like to make comment on some provisions that we see have the potential to impact primary producers.
Recommendation 15: Consideration should be given to creating an offence for breaching the general environmental duty.
AgForce has concerns that any creation of an offence following a breach of the General Environmental Duty, even when no actual harm has occurred, will result in over-regulation. The fact that an offence will occur when there is a ‘failure to take all reasonably practical measures to prevent or minimise harm that will or is likely to occur’, is concerning. The scope of this recommendation is particularly concerning for graziers, farmers and sugar cane growers in the reef catchment. For example, will graziers face criminal liability for failure to de-stock in times of drought when it is likely that there will be reduced ground cover which could potentially result in sediment run-off, even if no sediment run off occurs?
If this were the case, such an offence would be completely ludicrous and could potentially lead to all producers in the reef catchment being fined or imprisoned for potential outcomes which may not actually eventuate.
Ultimately, AgForce sees that the scope of such a provision imposing criminal liability leaves uncertainty as to what will constitute a breach of the General Environmental Duty, particularly in reference to the reef regulations. If this provision is adopted into legislation, AgForce requests that the Reef Regulations are amended to clearly articulate in what circumstances the General Environmental Duty is taken to have been breached.
Recommendation 12: The power to amend Environmental Authority conditions be expanded to allow the Chief Executive or the Minister to amend conditions where the Minister or Chief Executive considers the environmental impact of the activity is not being appropriately avoided, mitigated or managed.
AgForce sees that this recommendation is particularly beneficial to keeping resource authority holders accountable however, AgForce has reservations as to the potential for this new power to be abused to the detriment of the agricultural industry. Policies on agriculture tend to change with the government of the day and AgForce sees that by giving the Chief Executive or the Minister powers to amend the conditions on an environmental authority only opens up the agricultural industry to more uncertainty, particularly for producers who require an Environmental Authority to operate, such as graziers converting to farming in the reef catchment.
AgForce thanks the Department of Environment & Science for the opportunity to provide feedback and looks forward to continued engagement to better practices for all stakeholders involved.
If you have any questions or require further information please contact Anna Fiskbek, Policy Advisor by email: email@example.com or mobile: 0407 813 470.
Chief Executive Officer