New row over spoil dumping near reef

By Greg Ansley

Great Barrier Marine Park Authority blocked idea but reversed decision.

The proposed dumping will be 40km from the reef, close enough, say conservationists, to pose a threat. Photo / AP
The proposed dumping will be 40km from the reef, close enough, say conservationists, to pose a threat. Photo / AP

New controversy has erupted around the decision to allow 3 million tonnes of dredge spoil to be dumped near the fragile Great Barrier Reef.

Documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws show the Marine Park Authority late last year opposed the plan, describing it as high-risk and inconsistent with the proper management of the threatened World Heritage-listed reef.

The dredging is associated with the vast expansion of the Abbott Point coal port, which will become one of the world's largest.

A later backflip by the authority cleared the way for federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt to approve the dumping plan against intense lobbying by scientists, tour operators and environmentalists.

Hunt's approval last December joined a growing list of climate and environmental programmes dumped or under critical review by the Government since winning power last September.

These include the advisory agency the Climate Change Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, set up to finance renewable energy projects.

The Government is also intent on scrapping the carbon tax and the emissions trading scheme that was to have succeeded it, replacing it with a "direct action plan" that would pay companies and farmers to reduce greenhouse emissions, and other measures.

The Government has also dumped the Environmental Defenders Office that provided legal advice to communities concerned about mining and other developments, is slashing rebates for household solar panels, and has axed planned funding for geothermal and tidal power and clean energy employment hubs.

It is further reviewing renewable energy targets, which are claimed to have battered power companies and lifted electricity prices.

Other controversial decisions include the removal of protection for large parts of the ailing Murray-Darling Basin that largely keeps eastern Australian alive, and Hunt's go-ahead for Western Australia to kill federally protected shark species after a number of attacks.

The approval for dumping spoil near the Great Barrier Reef, at present under legal challenge by the North Queensland Conservation Council, has sparked more anger.

Draft documents produced by the Marine Park Authority in August or September last year and reported yesterday by the ABC show the authority initially refusing the dumping application by the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation, noting its high risk. Preferred options were dumping the spoil on land or extending the port's jetty to deeper water.

"As far as we can see there were no significant changes to the project itself and no circumstances that came to light that would justify them reversing their position," Greenpeace campaigner Louise Matthiesson told the ABC.

Marine Park Authority chairman Russell Reichelt said the documents were only drafts and that approval had been recommended after further study.

Writing in the Conversation, Reichelt said dumping the spoil on shore would have been preferred but was not feasible, and that 47 "stringent" conditions would protect the reef.

The reef itself would not be dredged, the spoil was not toxic and it would be dumped 40km from the nearest onshore reef, he wrote.

- NZ Herald

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