Ports Win Great Barrier Reef Battle

By MarEx 2014-06-06 20:39:00

A strategy designed to both develop ports and protect Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has been released this week by Queensland’s Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney.

Seeney says the Queensland Ports Strategy outlines 18 actions that will provide a rigorous, systematic approach to balance economic development with protection of the environment.

“Our Government promised to support growth in the resources, agriculture, construction and tourism pillars of the economy and the Queensland Ports Strategy delivers for all those industries,” he said. Central to the strategy is the establishment of five Priority Port Development Areas where future port development will be concentrated. The five Priority Port Development Areas will be created for the ports of Townsville, Abbot Point, Hay Point and Mackay, Gladstone and Brisbane. 

“Within and adjoining the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, the Queensland Government will prohibit dredging for the development of new, or the expansion of existing port facilities outside these port precincts, for the next decade. We understand the Great Barrier Reef is unique and special to all Queenslanders and we are committed to its protection for this, and future generations. Our approach is consistent with the UNESCO World Heritage Committee’s recommendations to restrict port development in sensitive reef areas to existing major ports.”

Seeney said the strategy recognizes the importance of port capacity to the state’s economy and to provide jobs in the mining, agriculture, tourism and construction sectors. “Our government will seal our commitment to port reform through the introduction of a Ports Bill to Parliament. This bill will provide standalone legislation to enact the strategy’s key actions.”

The release of the Queensland Ports Strategy confirms that the Queensland Government intends to industrialize the Great Barrier Reef’s coastline, despite the failing health of the Reef, says Felicity Wishart from the Australian Marine Conservation Society. She says the group is shocked by the Government’s failure to even protect the Fitzroy Delta near Rockhampton, despite statements from the Premier recognizing the region’s importance.

“The Fitzroy Delta is an undeveloped natural wonderland, yet this strategy leaves it unprotected inside one of the new “Priority Port Development Areas. The Queensland government has once again shown that they cannot be trusted to manage one of the wonders of the world. The new policy won’t stop a single port development or dredging proposal planned along the Queensland coast. It makes a mockery of the Government’s claims to be protecting the Reef.”

She says the strategy:

•    locks in at least four mega ports along the Reef’s coast
•    fails to announce any protection of the Fitzroy Delta, Keppel Bay or northern Curtis Island, despite promises to the World Heritage Committee
•    fails to rule out transhipping in the Reef’s waters
•    fails to ensure the protection of the most pristine northern section of the Reef
•    fails to address the environmental disaster that occurred in Gladstone
•    leaves the door open for massive dredging at Cairns and for future expansion of all the priority port areas

“If anything, there’s now less environmental protections, less public servants to check the environmental impacts, fewer restrictions on mining companies and even less of an economic case for more ports, with the current ports operating at only 60 per cent capacity.

“With scientific consensus that the Reef is in poor health, this strategy fails to offer action to reverse the decline in Reef health. And the federal government handing over powers of approval for all these damaging developments to the State makes the future for the Reef look bleak.”

A full copy of the Queensland Ports Strategy is available here.