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‘Sustainable Ports Development Bill’ introduced into Qld Parliament today

3 June 2015

EDO Qld welcomes the Government’s Sustainable Port Development bill to protect the Great Barrier Reef from dredging, dumping and port expansion, announced in Parliament last night.

The Bill is a great start in Labor’s attempts to implement many of the key commitments made to save the Reef, which have also been enshrined in the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan – an agreement between the Australian and Queensland government to demonstrate to the World Heritage Committee that we are doing everything we can to protect our precious Reef.

The Bill laudably introduces many important promised initiatives, including:

  • prohibiting sea dumping of capital dredge spoil from port development;
  • limiting capital dredging to priority ports of Abbot Pt, Townsville, Gladstone and Mackay-Hay Point; and
  • limiting port development to the 12 existing ports along the Great Barrier Reef coastline.

The Bill contains some good, clear rules banning and restricting dredging dumping and port expansion, however, significant further action needs to be taken to protect the reef and meet commitments made in the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan.

Some key commitments that have not been included in the Bill are:

  • no ban on trans-shipping in the GBR Marine Park;
  • no ban on sea dumping of all capital dredge spoil – this complete ban was provided by the Commonwealth Government over the GBR Marine Park, leaving our Government to ensure the ban was in effect for the Queensland jurisdiction. Our Government needs to step up and match that ban;
  • no ban on capital dredging and port development for non-port related development, such as marinas; and
  • no ban on capital dredging and port development in the GBR Marine Park – the Commonwealth Government hasn’t agreed to implement this ban, and Queensland hasn’t implemented this ban through this Bill, contrary to their promise.

EDO Qld believes many of the omissions from the Bill are due to the Government’s concerns they are unable to regulate in Commonwealth-governed Great Barrier Reef Marine Park waters.

“This is a complex and arguable point of law, but a commitment is a commitment and the reef must be protected,” EDO Qld CEO and Solicitor Jo-Anne Bragg said.

“Either Minister Hunt needs to step up and ensure these prohibitions are implemented through Commonwealth law or the Queensland Government needs to find other ways of implementing them,” she said.

UNESCO’s draft decision on the status of the Reef World Heritage Area requests that Australia and Queensland rigorously implement all of its commitments of the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan.

“Australia is already on probation from UNESCO World Heritage Committee and the eyes of the world are on us. The Government must act swiftly to address these legislative issues before we report back in 18 months or risk an ‘in-danger’ Reef listing,” Ms Bragg said.

EDO Qld feels the Bill is a good first step, but it is just a first step and significant further action needs to be taken to truly ensure our Reef is able to recover from the impacts it has endured and prosper well into the future.

“EDO Qld lawyers will continue to work with the Government and organisations like WWF and Australian Marine Conservation  Society to closely examine the bill to ensure rules are effectively enforced and evaluate whether or not improvements are needed for enforceability, transparency and accountability,” said Jo-Anne Bragg.

Read EDO Qld’s full submission here.