Great Barrier Reef turning into an environmental stalemate

THE future of the Queensland’s Abbot Point Coal terminal and the Great Barrier Reef are emerging as flashpoint environmental issues that are delaying the development of the state’s coal industry most important export terminal.
Great Barrier Reef turning into an environmental stalemate Great Barrier Reef turning into an environmental stalemate Great Barrier Reef turning into an environmental stalemate Great Barrier Reef turning into an environmental stalemate Great Barrier Reef turning into an environmental stalemate


Lou Caruana

In the latest development, the Senate has passed the Greens’ order for production of documents to establish whether the Environment Minister Greg Hunt was aware of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s internal warnings against approving the Abbot Point coal port expansion.

Documents released under Freedom of Information show the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority internally found the Abbot Point coal port expansion would cause irreversible damage that would be impossible to offset, Australian Greens environment spokeswoman Larissa Waters said.

“We need to know whether the current Environment Minister saw these documents before approving the Abbot Point coal port expansion,” she said.

“If Minister Hunt didn’t see the documents, he must now consider this new information and reconsider his approval.

“Under our national environment law, where new information comes to light, approval decisions can be revisited.

“If Minister Hunt did know about these documents, and yet ignored the science saying the Reef damage could not be offset, it shows he is unfit to be the Environment Minister.”

The documents are due next Thursday.

Queensland Resources Council CEO Michael Roche said there is an ongoing campaign of coordinated activism aimed at shutting down Queensland’s export coal and gas industries.

“Two years after the strategy document Stopping the Australian Coal Export Boom was leaked to the media, it is valuable to see how the anti-coal (and coal-seam gas) campaign has unfolded in Queensland,” he said.

“For example, the strategy of mounting legal challenges to disrupt or delay new projects is well recorded with appeals in the Queensland Land Court over the Alpha coal mine project in central Queensland from a Canberra resident and an interest group with a postal address in Brisbane’s West End.

“Tactics for the so-called ‘Battle of the Galilee’ include organising landowners to help delay the development of mines and railways while noting the location of coal ports adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is seen as an opportunity for ‘alliance building’ with scientists and industries including fishing and tourism.

“The signatories to the strategy document have all contributed to campaigns high on slogans but void of science to support claims that shipping and port dredging are major threats to the environmental health of the Great Barrier Reef,” he said.

Roche said that although WWF and the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) were not overtly parties to the original anti-coal movement document, they appear happy playing both sides of the street.

“For example, on key environmental issues such as Great Barrier Reef water quality, WWF had played a constructive role in promoting the importance of land management practices to reduce nutrient and sediment loads entering the lagoon,” Roche said.

“Last year, WWF and AMCS were brought together by the Thomas Foundation – which previously had a proud record of funding science based conservation activities.

“The outcome is a marine ‘advocacy program’ - the so-called ‘Fight for the Reef’ campaign - whose website and other collateral is littered with untruths.”

Roche said it was sad to see WWF, which had led the charge on getting governments to focus on the biggest threat to the reef – the impact of land management practices on water quality – sink to spouting slogans about non-existent, so-called threats from ports, dredging and shipping.

“There is no science to back up these slogans, and WWF knows that to be the case,” he said.

“Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it is disappointing to see WWF in particular becoming more Greenpeace-like by the day.”