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Great Barrier Reef Marine Park sea dumping – case summary

26 June 2014

EDO Qld represented North Queensland Conservation Council (NQCC) in their challenge to the decision of Minister Hunt (now responsible for the decision of his delegate at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority) to grant a permit on 31 January 2014 for the dumping of up to 3 million cubic meters of dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and World Heritage Area. The delegate’s statement of reasons for his decision is available here.

NQCC’s application was filed on 27 February 2014 in the AAT in Brisbane and asserts that the decision to grant the permit was not correct given the requirements of the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981.  In particular, NQCC contends the decision is inconsistent with the London Protocol, an international agreement which includes the obligation to prevent, reduce and where practicable eliminate pollution caused by sea dumping. It also establishes an assessment regime for sea dumping permit applications.  NQCC’s media statement about the action is available here.

The dumping permit had been requested by North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation (NQBP) as part of its proposal to make the port of Abbot Point one of the biggest coal export facilities in the world. Abbot Point lies between Bowen and Townsville, less than 50kms from the Whitsunday Islands.

The first AAT conference was held on 23 April 2014, with a follow up directions hearing on 6 May 2014, where two additional parties were added to the proceedings: permit holder NQBP, and the Businesses United for Reef Protection Inc.

Preliminary matters have included removal or redaction of several documents that the Minister had previously provided to the AAT and the parties, and also the issue about how the case should appropriately progress. This is because one key uncertainty is exactly where the dump site should be in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.  Minister Hunt’s 10 December 2013 approval of the dredging and dumping under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 requires NQBP to investigate and report on any alternative dump site with equivalent or lesser environmental impacts than the site already approved.

Whilst NQPB initially wanted to progress with some aspects of the litigation without completion of the alternative dump site investigation, at a preliminary hearing on 23 May 2014 all parties agreed to the AAT adjourning the matter.  The AAT has subsequently heard applications by the Australian Financial Review and Australian Broadcasting Corporation for access to tribunal documents; EDO Qld submissions assisted the AAT in deciding that subject to some redactions, most documents are available to the public upon request.

On 26 June 2015 the AAT ordered the cancellation of the permit with the consent of the parties.  This was because on 2 June 2015 regulation 88RA of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Regulations 1983 commenced, which bans the dumping of capital dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. This made the sea dumping permit redundant and so the case was finalised.

 
NOTE: NQBP required separate approvals for the dumping of dredge material under the (Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981 (Cth)) and for carrying out dumping activities in the GBR Marine Park (under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 (Cth)). These were both granted on 31 January 2014. The approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Protection Act 1999 (Cth) (EPBC Act) to undertake the program of dredging and dumping near Abbot Point to facilitate the project is the subject of a current separate action in the Supreme Court being taken by Mackay Conservation Group. Read more…