DeLacy slams reef controversy

FORMER Macarthur Coal chairman Keith DeLacy has warned that “misguided do-goodism” is a threat to the Great Barrier Reef and Australia’s economy.
DeLacy slams reef controversy DeLacy slams reef controversy DeLacy slams reef controversy DeLacy slams reef controversy DeLacy slams reef controversy

Former Macarthur Coal chairman Keith De Lacy. Courtesy of ABC.

Lou Caruana

His comments followed the release of a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation report criticising the development of new coal ports on the Queensland coast.

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke is now under pressure to deny approval of key coal terminals in north Queensland, after UNESCO called for a strategic assessment before considering future coastal development as well as an independent review of the port of Gladstone.

It warned the government to improve conservation efforts by February to avoid placing the reef “in danger”.

DeLacy and mining groups responded by saying the reef was already properly managed.

“The Great Barrier Reef is truly one of the great wonders of the world,” DeLacy said in an opinion article in The Australian.

“But it is a massive self-correcting ecosystem with great powers of renewal.

“It is under no threat from fishing or tourism or shipping.

“It seems to me the reef and particularly our lifestyle and economy are under more threat from misguided do-goodism.”

The report was prepared by UNESCO after a visit to the Reef in February and expressed concern about “the unprecedented scale of coastal development currently being proposed within and affecting the property”

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman says the UNESCO report shows the previous state government was approving of "ad hoc" development.

"They are totally right, we do need a proper plan for the Queensland coast in terms of how these developments will proceed and how future ports will be developed and operate and I very much take that on board and we're prepared to work with the Commonwealth to achieve that," he reportedly told the ABC.

The Queensland Resources Council warned that new coal developments – including AustPac Capital’s Wongai underground coal project in north Queensland – faced an uphill battle for approval if the government heeded UNESCO’s recommendations to limit port development near the reef.

The proposed $500 million Wongai coal project, which is on land owned by the Kalpowar Aboriginal Land Trust, has been given “significant project” status by state Coordinator-General Barry Broe.

The project has the potential to operate as an underground mine for at least 30 years, export 1.5 million tonnes of coking coal per year and generate up to 250 construction jobs.

It is classified as an indigenous proposed project under a heads of agreement with Aust-Pac Capital.

Broe said a significant project declaration was not an indication of approval but a reflection of the state and regional significance of the project and the start of a comprehensive environmental assessment process.

QRC chief executive Michael Roche said: “No wonder UNESCO is concerned if the Australian government’s own report makes the extraordinary claim that port capacity will grow from the current 256 million tonnes to some 953 million tonnes – a 260 per cent increase.

“The next state party report from the Australian government must correct this extraordinarily misleading and damaging data.”

As part of a reef-wide shipping study, independently prepared reef shipping forecasts were released by the QRC.

“This reef-wide study is being prepared by maritime experts as part of an Abbot Point cumulative impact assessment being developed by coal companies and port operators in consultation with state and federal governments and agencies, including the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority,” Roche said.

“The study shows there are currently 4800 large commercial vessels travelling annually to ports adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef.

“Of these, about 2500 – 52 per cent – are coal ships, with the remainder carrying other bulk commodities, general cargo and tourists.

“By 2020, annual movements by large commercial vessels are forecast to reach 7500 – with coal ships accounting for 4000 to 4500 [or] 53-60 per cent.

“These are the facts of the matter and should form the basis for formulating plans to manage shipping risks to the reef, regardless of whether the vessels involved are exporting commodities or importing essential cargo for Queensland communities.”

Roche said shipping through the Great Barrier Reef had been growing steadily for decades and during that period incidents had reduced dramatically.

“With the advent of mandatory reporting systems and the extension of the radar and satellite monitoring of shipping movements by AMSA, groundings have fallen from 1 per year to 0.16 since 1996,” he said.

“In the past three years there has been one major incident – the equivalent of one incident for every 15,000 ships travelling through the reef.”