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Caley Valley wetlands dumping – case summary

16 March 2015

North Queensland community group, the Alliance to Save Hinchinbrook, commenced court proceedings seeking judicial review of Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s rushed assessment of the decision to dredge and dump on the Great Barrier Reef coastline.

The Alliance to Save Hinchinbrook (ASH), which was formed 19 years ago to protect sensitive coastal wetlands, was represented by lawyers from the Environment Defenders Office Queensland and funded by donations from thousands of GetUp! members.

After two court cases were lodged challenging the original highly controversial proposal to dredge at Abbot Point and dump in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, the Queensland Government submitted two fresh applications to Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt.

Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Protection Act 1999 (Cth) (EPBC Act), the Queensland Minister for Economic Development, Deputy-Premier Jeff Seeney, applied for Minister Hunt’s approval for two developments at Abbot Point affecting the Caley Valley Wetlands, a nationally and internationally significant migratory shorebird habitat.

The two new proposed developments aimed to increase capacity of the Port of Abbot Point to export coal from proposed mines in the Galilee Basin:

  • EPBC 2014/7355 – Abbot Point port and wetland project – for the construction of a rail embankment, onshore placement ponds to treat and hold dredged material for future re-use, and other on-shore works affecting the Caley Wetlands
  • EPBC 2014/7356 – Abbot Point dredging and onshore placement of dredged material – for the dredging and piping of the dredged material on-shore.

The planned mines, rail infrastructure and coal ports are being developed by mining companies including Adani Enterprises, GVK Hancock and Waratah Coal.

Margaret Moorhouse, ASH spokesperson, said the Caley Valley Wetlands at Abbot Point are of national significance and needed to be protected.

“The wetland is important habitat for 15 migratory shore birds, which represents almost half the total number of migratory shore birds listed under the EPBC Act. To secure the protection of coastal ecosystems and the integrity of the ecology of the whole Great Barrier Reef, it is essential that we protect all such wetlands,” she said.

Revel Pointon, lawyer from Environment Defenders Office Queensland, said this case challenged early stages of the Federal assessment in the Federal Court under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 (Cth).

“The case alleges errors of law in Minister Hunt’s decision to allow assessment by preliminary documents, rather than more thorough assessment processes, and to allow a short public consultation period, ” she said.

Although the case was listed for a Federal Court hearing on 16 and 17 March 2015, the case is now over as the new Queensland Government officially withdrew its applications to Federal Environment Minister Hunt on 12 March 2015. This came after the Queensland Government officially announced its plan to not dump dredge spoil on the Caley Valley wetlands.

A number of EDO Qld clients, including the Alliance to Save Hinchinbrook (ASH), are waiting for more details to emerge regarding the proposal to dump the spoil on unallocated industrial land at the T2 site at Abbot Point.

This new proposal will need to undergo a fresh application process, which will no doubt now involve more careful assessment in light of the concerns ASH raised with Minister Hunt in the case.