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Tuesday, 16 August 2011
Page: 8250

Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (22:10): They have battled Cyclone Ului, a deluge of unseasonal rain, Cyclone Anthony and Cyclone Yasi, and now it seems that cane growers, particularly in my electorate, are going to be subject to the machinations of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority in their deliberations over the continued use of the agrichemical diuron. The APVMA have come to the conclusion that continued use of diuron in many areas, including cane growing, poses an unacceptable risk to the environment. There is not much detailed information as to how they have come to that conclusion, but I am aware that a couple of recent studies have come out. The APVMA have requested that the manufacturers of this chemical show cause as to why the product should not be suspended, so it is under threat.

For the benefit of those in this place who do not know much about diuron, it is an important residual herbicide that is used quite extensively in the sugarcane industry. Diuron and products containing diuron, including Velpar K4, as well as tank mixes using diuron, gramoxone and 2,4-D are very widespread throughout the industry to manage broadleaf weed and vines throughout cane-growing areas.

There is a story going around that it will be all right if diuron is suspended because there are other chemicals that the industry can use. I have to say that that is quite a furphy. According to cane growers, there is no viable alternative to this chemical. I was speaking to the Chairman of Mackay Canegrowers yesterday and he told me that, while there are other products that could be used, they are massively more expensive to the farmer and quite out of reach, in fact. So, if this goes, the whole thing goes.

A report came out that was quite well timed, I might say: the first report card into the Great Barrier Reef. The media coverage made it sound extremely bad. Cane farmers were tipping thousands of kilos of diuron down the waterways and into the reef. It sounds bad, but the measures were conducted against extremely rigid environmental criteria. This was done before a lot of extra management practices were put in place by the industry. They found that there was only some minor reduction in seagrass. In some areas seagrass had grown and, in fact, there was no impact on the coral in the Great Barrier Reef in the areas that were utilising this product.

That just goes to show that the industry has been doing good things. In fact, the usage of diuron has contracted from about three kilograms per hectare to 1.8 kilograms per hectare in the last few years. Canegrowers have been doing many other things to improve the environmental conditions of the industry. In fact, as part of a $65 million plus package that involved state and federal government, just over 1,000 cane farmers invested almost $42 million of their own cash to improve practices on almost 400,000 hectares of cane-growing land. They improved fertiliser practices on 126,000 hectares by budgeting crop nutrition more precisely and using state-of-the-art technology to apply fertiliser. They have improved pesticide application to 61,000 hectares and are now using calibrated spray nozzles and the latest spraying technology. There have been all of these things done to improve the environmental situation of the cane-growing industry, but now they seem to be copping it again and they have copped it from one too many sides. The World Wide Fund for Nature photo shopped photos of rivers to make them look worse, then put that propaganda out to school kids. Then the state government made onerous reef regulations. Now there is a carbon tax which is going to hit the industry to the tune of $80 million. They do not need another hit right now. What they need is for government to get off their backs and let them do their jobs; let them continue the good environmental work that they have engaged in over the past few years.

I would say to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority: do not ban the use of this chemical. It is needed in this industry. Without it there will be serious repercussions for canegrowers right up and down the Queensland coast. If the APVMA will not act, I ask that the minister does.