Labor failed to win any seats north of Queensland’s southeast corner at the federal election. This highlighted the divide between those in the fairyland inner suburbs of Australia’s cities and those of us who live in reality-land, where much of the country’s income is generated from mining and agriculture.Source: Peter Ridd for News Corp
Reef science may be beyond the latte crowd
The backtracking by Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on the Adani coalmine indicates Labor realises it is in serious trouble with the forthcoming state elections. But it is facing another Adani-like debacle with its Great Barrier Reef protection legislation that will go before parliament this month.
This legislation will drastically affect sugar cane, cattle and every major agricultural industry along the Queensland coast. Fertiliser and pesticide application will be restricted, massive fines will be applied for transgressions and a huge bureaucratic burden will be imposed on farmers. For them it will be like having a government official continuously sitting in the tractor next to them.
It will strangle the sugar industry that is already struggling — the Mossman sugar mill north of Cairns is facing collapse and recently needed tens of millions of dollars of government cash to continue. When the mill collapses, the farms go with it.
The motivation of the new reef legislation is laudable: to save the reef. But, as with Adani, much of the science behind this legislation is poorly quality assured and unreliable. In north Queensland we could never understand why the Adani mine was targeted as a reef killer when it is no different from the thousands of coalmines around the world.
The carbon dioxide produced by burning coal goes around the world irrespective of where it is mined or where it is burned. Opposition to Adani, to us regionals, looked like a way for a city dweller to feel good by pretending to do something about the reef.
Some of the “science” on which the new reef legislation is based looks very dubious.
For example, mud from farms is supposed to be killing the reef yet data shows that there is almost no mud whatsoever on the outer reef where 99 per cent of the corals live. It is all pristine white coral sand.
Pesticides from farms are generally not detectable on the outer reef even with the most sensitive scientific equipment.
To get over the inconvenient problem that the main reef, which is often more than 100km from shore, is obviously totally unaffected by farming, scientists focus on the “inner reef”. These are the tiny fringing reefs close to land that have less than 1 per cent of the coral. Unlike the offshore reefs, they are occasionally affected by river water in floods. But even here, work by sedimentologists across 25 years finds that mud from farms represents an exposure about 100 times less than from natural mechanisms. The natural mechanism is resuspension of mud by waves stirring the seabed, especially in strong southeasterly winds and cyclones.
A similar argument applies for the nutrient pollution by farm fertiliser. About 100 times more nutrients cycle through the system naturally. And pesticides are at worst in extremely low concentrations on these near-shore reefs. The water quality of the reef is actually excellent and determined by the vast quantities of sparkling pure water that flows into and out of the reef from the Pacific Ocean.
Because the “science” has not been checked, tested or replicated properly, it is hard to tell what is solid and what is not. We may well be focusing on the wrong issues that face the reef and wasting resources to protect it while damaging every major industry in the north.
Many of us outside the inner suburbs know that much of what we hear about the reef may not be true — just like Adani. The viability of many small towns along the coast is in jeopardy. We need far more rigorous checking of the science before we implement new legislation that will add huge costs to some of our major industries for probably little or no environmental benefit.
This is not denial; it is common sense.
We need a team of genuinely independent scientists to audit the science. There are many excellent scientists who can do this audit and who are outside the scientific “bubble” that is responsible for advising the government.
Let’s hold off for the moment on new rules that will strangle industry.
It also may stop the state government from making another Adani-sized mistake.
Peter Ridd is an independent scientist who was unlawfully dismissed from James Cook University in Townsville.