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Threat of more cuts in pipeline

Prime Minister Julia Gillard.JULIA GILLARD has warned she will slash spending further if necessary as she unveiled a $5.6 billion flood plan comprising a $1.8 billion one-off tax rise for middle and high income earners and $3.8 billion in scrapped or deferred greenhouse, industry and road programs.
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The $5.6 billion plan, the first estimate of the infrastructure damage bill from flood-affected Queensland and Victoria, risked blowing out, she said, and any further impost would be met by cutting the budget rather than raising the levy.

The government avoided a temporary increase to the Medicare levy and instead increased income tax levels.

For a year beginning from July 1, income tax on earnings between $50,001 and $100,000 will be increased 0.5 per cent and on earnings over $100,000 by 1 per cent.

About 4.8 million workers will pay the extra tax, while everybody on $50,000 and under, as well as people affected by the floods, will be exempt.

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, who will visit the flood-ravaged Lockyer Valley today, said the $1.8 billion should have been found by more budget cuts and the Coalition would oppose the levy. He was defied by the West Australian Liberal Premier, Colin Barnett, who said ”most West Australians are willing to contribute a little bit more to help Queensland get back to its feet”.

The Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh, said she understood ”no one wants to pay more but the people of Queensland didn’t want this disaster either”.

Ms Gillard stressed the levy and budget cuts would pay for infrastructure only, not disaster relief or helping the uninsured.

She revealed the floods would wipe 0.5 of a percentage point off economic growth this year.

The budget cuts include the abolition of the $430 million ”cash for clunkers” election promise, and the $234 million remaining in the Green Car Innovation Fund. Another $500 million in solar energy programs was scrapped and road projects worth $1 billion were deferred between one and three years so the funds and labour could be redirected to flood areas.

Ms Gillard also axed Kevin Rudd’s signature carbon capture and storage program and the global carbon capture and storage institute.

It is understood the Industry Minister, Kim Carr, was angry at the cuts to business, especially the green car fund, and he expressed his anger in cabinet yesterday, arguing manufacturing was a priority area for assistance.

A senior source said the scrapping of the carbon reduction policies was ”a clear message that we are clearing the decks” for a carbon price.

Many of the greenhouse policies had been criticised because they were expensive ways to cut emissions compared with a price on carbon. For example, cash for clunkers would reduce carbon emissions at $400 a tonne.

”The key to these carbon abatement program savings is my determination to deliver a carbon price,” Ms Gillard said.

The legislation for the spending will be introduced when Parliament resumes the week after next. The independents in both houses were all non-committal yesterday, saying they wanted to see more detail and many still wanted a permanent disaster relief fund. The Greens were open to the levy but opposed cutting the greenhouse programs.

To help with the demand for labour during reconstruction, Ms Gillard said the government would fast-track approval for temporary 457 visas to import skilled workers. There would also be relocation assistance for 4000 unemployed people moving to areas where workers were needed.

Of the $5.6 billion, $2 billion will be paid immediately to Queensland. Ms Gillard dismissed concerns money would be wasted like it was with some stimulus spending, saying it would be managed by the Queensland Reconstruction Authority. Payments to other states would be made though the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements.

”I want to get this done, I want to get it done quickly, and I want to get it done right,” she said.

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WAFarmers calls for correct facts in GM debate

THE Western Australian Farmers Federation (Inc.) (WAFarmers) has called for all parties wishing to wade into the discussion on genetically modified (GM) versus organic farming methods, and the implication of each, should ensure that they are well informed and rational in their discussion.
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The call follows a media release issued today from Shadow Agriculture Minister, Mick Murray, which has a number of errors in it including his understanding of who WAFarmers members are and who is eligible to apply to the Australian Farmers Fighting Fund.

WAFarmers President, Mike Norton, noted that GM is a topic that many people are passionate about on both sides of the debate, but this does not negate the need for true facts, reason, and a level-headed discussion.

“While there has been much publicity about the situation in Kojonup, there are many unknowns about the situation particularly to those who are not directly involved.

“WAFarmers, along with some other industry representatives, have been trying to establish the facts around the situation and will continue to do so.

“Obviously a number of parties have their own agenda to push in relation to this situation. This is their right, but let’s not lose sight of the facts, surrounding legislation and the individuals involved.

“Unlike Mr Murray, WAFarmers is well aware of who its members are and is engaging with them,” concluded Mr Norton.

WAFarmers will hold its annual review of its genetically modified organism policy in late February 2011.

All WAFarmers members have the opportunity to have their views heard at this review through their local Zone or Commodity Council.

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Future of $5.6b package in hands of Greens and independents

Bob KatterJULIA GILLARD’S $5.6 billion flood reconstruction package faces a rocky ride through Parliament with the Coalition implacably opposed to the $1.8 billion levy and independents and Greens in both houses all concerned about accountability, the nature of some budget cuts, and the lack of a permanent natural disaster fund.
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The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, supported the $3.8 billion in budget cuts and project deferrals announced by Ms Gillard yesterday but reaffirmed his opposition to the levy.

He said the government should fund the entire $5.6 billion with budget cuts and said the Coalition would announce in the next few days where the extra $1.8 billion could be found.

”I strongly support urgent spending on flood reconstruction in Queensland and Victoria but the Coalition strongly opposes this unnecessary new flood tax,” he said.

The Western Australian Liberal Premier, Colin Barnett, defied Mr Abbott and supported the levy while Victoria’s Liberal Premier, Ted Baillieu, agreed the budget should be cut further.

Ms Gillard, who will introduce the legislation when Parliament resumes on February 8, accused Mr Abbott of hypocrisy given he took to the election a $3 billion paid parental leave policy to be funded by a levy on big business.

She said if Mr Abbott considered a levy good enough to fund an election promise, ”how could it not be good enough to fund the reconstruction of Queensland?”

In the lower house, the independent MP Bob Katter railed against the package, saying there should be a permanent disaster relief fund.

Fellow independents Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and Andrew Wilkie said their minds were open and they wanted more detail. Mr Windsor said he still preferred a natural disaster fund to be funded by a continuing levy, and he needed to be convinced the money from Ms Gillard’s package would be spent wisely and where it was needed.

”I’m undecided,” he said.

In the Senate, Nick Xenophon said he wanted to study the detail and would need to be reassured that the money would be wisely spent. Steve Fielding concurred.

The Greens, who must approve the legislation in both houses, said they were ”open” to the flood levy but opposed to the axing and capping of carbon reduction programs.

”[We] will seek discussions with the government about alternatives, including deferring top-end corporate tax cuts as well as establishing a long-term disaster relief fund to face up to the reality of climate change,” the acting leader, Christine Milne, said.

One of the cuts included redirecting $350 million from the $800 million Priority Regional Infrastructure Program which was established as part of the deal to win the independents.

Mr Oakeshott said he did not consider this a breach of the deal by the government and Mr Windsor was also unperturbed.

The Queensland Labor MP Shayne Neumann, whose seat of Blair was ravaged by the floods, said Mr Abbott was being selfish and was out of touch with the desire of Queenslanders.

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US gives full approval to GM alfalfa

USDA’s decision today to fully approve Roundup Ready alfalfa without conditions was met with immediate praise from the US National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and BIO.
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NCFC president Chuck Conner said, “In deregulating RRA without conditions, USDA has upheld the integrity of regulatory process for biotechnology crops that has existed since the adoption of the Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology in 1986.” Conner, who was USDA’s Deputy Secretary during the Bush Administration, called Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s decision “a victory.”

A statement from NCFC noted “the approval comes just over a month after APHIS issued its environmental impact statement (EIS) concluding that RRA posed no risk under the Plant Protection Act. The EIS was prepared in accordance with a 2007 order issued by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, which found procedural problems with APHIS’s initial deregulation of RRA.”

The USDA decision on biotech alfalfa had been closely watched because the final EIS included an option that would have required several conditions for planting biotech varieties – an option that quickly became known as “co-existence.” That option was opposed by those who wanted a science-based decision that recognized the safety of Roundup Ready, but it was supported by organic growers who feared contamination from stray genetically engineered pollen.

Jim Greenwood, president and chief executive officer of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), said in a statement on Jan. 27, “Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s decision is based on sound science and two decades of regulatory precedent…This action also supports President Obama’s pledge to support science-based decision-making and to steer away from policies that create barriers to economic growth.”

Roundup Ready alfalfa was developed by Monsanto and Forage Genetics International (FGI). The USDA decision comes in time for spring planting, Monsanto noted. Monsanto, FGI and other alfalfa seed companies have varieties of Genuity Roundup Ready alfalfa seed in stock and ready for sale.

Roundup Ready alfalfa was commercialized in 2005. More than 5000 farmers had planted Roundup Ready alfalfa on over 250,000 acres before a court ruling regarding USDA’s administrative process halted further sales and planting. Today’s announcement authorises resumption of the sale and planting of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready alfalfa.

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Locust threat rears head again

THE State Government says it will help local councils in the coming weeks to combat significant bands of locust hoppers, and move to curb their threat in autumn.
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Agriculture minister Michael O’Brien said locusts were now particularly prevalent in the Barossa Valley and some areas of the Mallee, Riverland and Mid North.

“Second generation locusts have started to band together in some of these areas, presenting a potential threat to autumn sowing,” Mr O’Brien said.

“Unless we get on top of this second generation of hoppers now, there will be far greater problems in autumn.

“The next few weeks will be critical, as once the locusts are on the wing there will not be a viable treatment option.

“We will be assisting councils where they have identified significant banding of locust hoppers.

“This support will include chemicals and assistance in targeting locusts and, using contractors, treating significant hopper bands on roadsides and public land.”

Mr O’Brien said there would not be any aerial spraying at this stage.

“The locust targets are too dispersed and bands too small for safe or effective aerial treatment,” he said.

“We cannot spray aerially near townships, watercourses, vineyards or fruit blocks.

“If left untreated, locusts can make a meal of ovals, reserves, racecourses, roadside edges and they are even attracted to golf courses.

“While the state’s grain harvest is mostly in the bin and locusts are no threat to current production, they will pose a threat at sowing time if locust populations aren’t kept under control now.”

Biosecurity SA executive director Will Zacharin reminded landholders they have a primary responsibility to treat locusts on their properties.

“Where croppers are undertaking summer weed control after recent rains, they may be able to kill

two birds with one stone,” Mr Zacharin said.

“It’s possible to mix some insecticides with herbicides, so landholders should check the labels for suitability, and if they see locusts banding, consider combining locust control with their summer weed control.”

Mr Zacharin also offered advice to homeowners who find locusts in the garden.

“It’s important to understand that young locusts will munch on anything green and grassy,” he said.

“Home owners need to assess whether they should take action to treat locusts in the garden.

“Your local garden centre will be able to provide advice on the most suitable insecticides, or alternatively see our fact sheets on locusts and home gardens at 梧桐夜网pir.sa.gov419论坛/locust.”

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Caution for fishing industry in flood-affected areas

MINISTER for Primary Industries Fisheries and Rural and Regional Queensland Tim Mulherin has urged fishers to be cautious about taking catch from flood-affected areas.
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“The fishing industry continues its precautionary approach in Moreton Bay with a voluntary stoppage on fishing in the area most significantly impacted by flood run-off,” Minister Mulherin said.

“With the amount of sediment and debris in the water, this approach is a very sound measure from south-east Queensland’s commercial and recreational fishing sector.

“Government along with industry is monitoring water movement to see how the flood plume dissipates before making any further decisions about fishing in the area

“Reports of red spot have been received about some fish from the Burnett River and Moreton Bay including bream and whiting,” Minister Mulherin said.

Fisheries Queensland have warned fishers to steer away from catching fish that show any signs of red spot which shows as black burn-like marks, or deeper ulcers with red centres on the fish.

Red spot, which often shows up in times of stress, is typically caused by a fungus. Occurrences of red spot would not be unexpected along any part of the coast that has experienced significant flooding recently.

Fish showing red spots should not be caught or consumed.

Fish kills should be reported to the Department of Environment and Resource Management hotline on 1300 130 372.

Climate Change and Sustainability Minister Kate Jones said all agencies involved were working closely to assess the impacts and determine appropriate action for the long term recovery of the Bay.

“There is no doubt this massive natural disaster has had a huge impact on our environment,” Ms Jones said.

“That’s why we are undertaking the largest coordinated marine monitoring program in Queensland’s history to look at the impacts of the flood plume on Moreton Bay and the Great Barrier Reef, as well as waterways throughout the state.

“Scientific teams are continuing to test for nutrients, turbidity, salinity and ph levels, as well as additional testing for metals, pesticides and fuels.

“Test results from the first round of sampling last week are currently being analysed with results expected by the end of this week.”

Scientists from the Department of Environment and Resource Management and their research partners are working closely with the fisheries teams in the Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation and scientists at Queensland Health, who are analysing the samples taken from the bay to consider impacts on seafood and human health as well as the environment.

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‘We didn’t ask for this’

A new federal levy to pay for post-flood reconstruction may be unpopular but necessary, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh says.
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The state and federal oppositions have condemned the announcement of a federal flood levy to be imposed on people who earn more than $50,000 next financial year.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard yesterday unveiled a raft of spending cuts and details of the one-year levy to pay for an estimated $5.6 billion bill from the flood devastation across Australia this summer.

Ms Bligh said taxpayers who earned between $50,000 and $100,000 would pay a 0.5 per cent levy on any income above the $50,000 in the 2011/12 financial year.

Those earning over $100,000 would also pay an additional 1 per cent on the portion of income above $100,000.

Ms Gillard, who also flagged delays to Queensland road projects and cuts to federal climate change programs, said the levy would equate to about $1 a week for someone earning $60,000 a year.

She also announced the federal government would make an immediate $2 billion payment to help kick-start rebuilding work in 60 Queensland flood-affected communities.

Ms Bligh welcomed the $2 billion transfer, saying it would give the state government confidence to do its own budget calculations and kick-start the rebuilding work.

The Premier said the Queensland Reconstruction Authority – which would decide how to spend the $2 billion – would be a “completely transparent, fully audited and legislated body”.

“When it comes to the levy, I understand that no one wants to pay more, but the people of Queensland didn’t want this disaster either,” she said.

Ms Bligh said the nation had come together in the past and imposed levies for various reasons, including the gun buyback levy after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996.

A levy was also imposed on plane tickets to cover workers’ entitlements after the Ansett collapse, while an extra cost was added to milk between 2000 and 2009 to fund a dairy industry assistance package.

Ms Bligh thanked the nation in advance for helping Queensland through paying a levy.

“We as a nation have come together in the past and put on levies for many reasons,” Ms Bligh said.

“I think the people of Queensland are at least as important as all of those other levies in the past.”

However, the state opposition branded the levy as “another kick for Queenslanders”.

Opposition Leader John-Paul Langbroek called on the state and federal governments to fund the reconstruction without bringing in new taxes.

Mr Langbroek said householders were already struggling with increases to the cost of petrol, electricity, water and vehicle registration.

“The response to a flood that caused so much economic damage to Queensland is not another tax,” Mr Langbroek said in a statement.

“The last thing that Queenslanders need is a flood tax on top of the other effects of the floods.”

Mr Langbroek said retailers and small businesses would directly feel the impact of the reduction in consumers’ take-home income.

Australian residents and businesses have already dug deep to support the Queensland flood appeal. Total donations stood at $176 million yesterday.

Ms Bligh brushed off suggestions the levy would see donations to the flood appeal dry up and said she hoped Australians understood funds donated to the appeal would help flood-affected mums and dads, while the levy would fund major infrastructure rebuilding work.

A federal government statement said people who had received an Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment for a flood event in 2010/11 would be exempt from the levy.

Those eligible for the payment of $1000 per adult and $400 per child included people whose homes was destroyed or sustained major damage.

Payments were also made to people who could not gain access to their principal place of residence for at least 24 hours, were stranded in their home for at least 24 hours, or went without essential services such as electricity for at least 48 hours.

These people will not have to pay the levy.

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Live export industry commits to Indonesian improvements

AUSTRALIA’S livestock export industry will deliver further animal welfare improvements in its biggest cattle export market, Indonesia, following the release of an independent study commissioned by the industry’s Live Trade Animal Welfare Partnership with the Australian Government.
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The Independent study into animal welfare conditions for cattle in Indonesia from point of arrival from Australia to slaughter was conducted by a panel led by Professor Emeritus in Veterinary Science at Melbourne University, Prof Ivan Caple, and assessed 17 Indonesian facilities to rate the effectiveness of the industry’s animal welfare programs.

The review found the welfare of Australian cattle in Indonesia was generally good and provided recommendations for further animal welfare improvements in Indonesia. Industry has already implemented or has scheduled these improvements for action including:

improving point of slaughter training materials and further extending animal handler competency through training programs and ongoing review and support structuring journey management guidelines to ensure long-haul transport provides sufficient rest-time for livestock. delivering further feedlot management programs to expand the technical support provided to Indonesian feedlotters. LiveCorp CEO Cameron Hall said the livestock export industry is committed to making ongoing improvements in Indonesia and fully supports all of the recommendations made by the expert panel.

“We’re pleased the study has recognised the good animal welfare standards in Indonesia for Australian cattle,” he said.

“Many of the areas requiring further improvement are best addressed by extending or modifying programs currently being delivered by Meat & Livestock Australia and LiveCorp, with the support of the Indonesian and Australian Governments,” said Mr Hall.

“The industry has long recognised the importance of improving the welfare of Australian cattle in Indonesia, particularly at the point of processing, and this is reflected clearly in our action plan and our annual investment of over $1 million into animal welfare in Indonesia.

“Indonesia is Australia’s largest and most important live cattle export market and is the major market outlet for cattle producers across northern Australia. Ensuring ongoing improvements in animal welfare is critical to the long term sustainability of the trade, and continued improvement in animal welfare in Indonesia is the livestock export industry’s highest priority,” Mr Hall concluded.

Other panel members included Prof. Neville Gregory, University of London; Dr Penelope McGowan, beef cattle veterinarian and member of the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA); and Dr Paul Cusack, a nutrition and feedlot expert.

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Solid run for wool

RECENT wool price levels are real, sustainable and not a “short term blip”, Australian Wool Innovation said this week.
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Wool prices reached their highest US dollar level in 35 years last Wednesday with the Eastern market Indicator peaking at 1242 cents a kg clean, only to suffer a drop on Thursday to finish at 1191 a kg.

AWI’s market intelligence and trade reporting manager Dr Paul Swan said the Thursday price drop was only a fluctuation. The Western market Indicator decreased five cents to finish the week at 1118 cents a kg clean.

“The critical issues are the longer term trends and the fundamental drivers.

“I believe the fundamentals of the market are very, very positive and they are medium to long term – two years plus,” Dr Swan said.

“It will take years for production to recover to any substantial degree.

“Even if prices remain at present levels it will take years for production to increase, particularly against the backdrop of very high sheep meat prices,” he said.

“I believe the fundamentals are such that this is not going to be a little short term blip – it’s a culmination of a slow building of demand against a backdrop of a rundown in our stocks.”

The 1242 cent point was at the 99 percentile level for AUD prices in the last 35 years – with only nine months when higher average prices occurred in the Reserve Price Scheme days of February 1988 to January 1989, Dr Swan said.

“This is the first real substantive peak that hasn’t been associated with a price regulation scheme in the market place – it’s demand and supply.

“Our overall view is that we have very, strong evidence now that this is the collision of really, really tight global supply of the fibre with strong demand,” Dr Swan said.

He said it was premature to claim plaudits for what the market was doing now, though AWI’s past programs have played a part and its marketing programs were yet to have their full impact on the market.

Dr Swan said the current Northern Hemisphere demand trend was genuine and “genuine trends tend to last 18-24 months at least”.

He said Australian wool prices had exceeded pre-Global Financial Crisis levels, though a number of key retail markets – the United Kingdom, Ireland, Portugal and Spain – were yet to completely recover from the GFC.

“The fact that we have over the last decade seen the emergence of a demand superpower in China really augurs well for the future.”

AWI chief executive officer Stuart McCullough said the current wool prices were sustainable.

“We know that wool is in fashion in the Northern Hemisphere.”

But fashion alone was not the only demand driver, he said.

“The other driver that we have is the ‘LOHAS’ (lifestyle of health and sustainability) consumer who is very keen to buy clean, green product and feel good at the cash register.”

The third driver is Chinese domestic affluence which was not going to slow down, he said.

“We’ve got limited supply and in some ways it is a bit of a perfect storm.

“We believe that wool should be at this level or higher given the numbers of sheep in Australia.”

Mr McCullough said AWI had to make sure that fashion-driven demand was prolonged as possible, that the LOHAS consumer is appeased and that Chinese domestic marketing is rolled out.

“All our marketing strategies this year – the HRH Campaign for Wool for the clean-green LOHAS consumer, Gold Woolmark for the Chinese domestic consumption and No Finer Feeling for general fashion – are directly focussed on those key drivers to make sure we sustain that demand for wool as long as we can.

“We want to squeeze every penny we can out of it,” he said.

“Woolgrowers deserve this – they’ve had a long time of wool being in the doldrums.”

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Caution for fishing industry in flood-affected areas

MINISTER for Primary Industries Fisheries and Rural and Regional Queensland Tim Mulherin has urged fishers to be cautious about taking catch from flood-affected areas.
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“The fishing industry continues its precautionary approach in Moreton Bay with a voluntary stoppage on fishing in the area most significantly impacted by flood run-off,” Minister Mulherin said.

“With the amount of sediment and debris in the water, this approach is a very sound measure from south-east Queensland’s commercial and recreational fishing sector.

“Government along with industry is monitoring water movement to see how the flood plume dissipates before making any further decisions about fishing in the area

“Reports of red spot have been received about some fish from the Burnett River and Moreton Bay including bream and whiting,” Minister Mulherin said.

Fisheries Queensland have warned fishers to steer away from catching fish that show any signs of red spot which shows as black burn-like marks, or deeper ulcers with red centres on the fish.

Red spot, which often shows up in times of stress, is typically caused by a fungus. Occurrences of red spot would not be unexpected along any part of the coast that has experienced significant flooding recently.

Fish showing red spots should not be caught or consumed.

Fish kills should be reported to the Department of Environment and Resource Management hotline on 1300 130 372.

Climate Change and Sustainability Minister Kate Jones said all agencies involved were working closely to assess the impacts and determine appropriate action for the long term recovery of the Bay.

“There is no doubt this massive natural disaster has had a huge impact on our environment,” Ms Jones said.

“That’s why we are undertaking the largest coordinated marine monitoring program in Queensland’s history to look at the impacts of the flood plume on Moreton Bay and the Great Barrier Reef, as well as waterways throughout the state.

“Scientific teams are continuing to test for nutrients, turbidity, salinity and ph levels, as well as additional testing for metals, pesticides and fuels.

“Test results from the first round of sampling last week are currently being analysed with results expected by the end of this week.”

Scientists from the Department of Environment and Resource Management and their research partners are working closely with the fisheries teams in the Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation and scientists at Queensland Health, who are analysing the samples taken from the bay to consider impacts on seafood and human health as well as the environment.

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