An aerial view of Abbot Point’s Terminal 1 with its coal stockpile. A second legal attempt to stop expansion of the port will be initiated in Queensland’s Federal Court.
An aerial view of Abbot Point’s Terminal 1 with its coal stockpile. A second legal attempt to stop expansion of the port will be initiated in Queensland’s Federal Court. Contributed

Abbot Pt must learn lessons from Gladstone Harbour

LESSONS must be learned from Gladstone Harbour and the approvals process around a proposed dredging project at Abbot Point, a Senate inquiry has found.

The report of the five-month inquiry into the management of the Great Barrier Reef called for a ban on any further dumping of dredge spoil in the reef's World Heritage Area.

It examined at port development, agricultural run-off, climate change and other factors affecting the reef; calling for more staff and resources for the Environment Department and more "stringently worded, monitored and enforced" conditions on environmental approvals.

The inquiry, dominated by non-government senators, also hit out at the Abbott Government's plans to hand over environmental approvals to the Queensland Government.

It urged the parliament not pass a government bill to do so and also urged the government not to accredit the state with "development approval processes", rather, leaving approvals with the Commonwealth public service.

However, it stopped short of recommending further investigations into what it described as an "environmental disaster" in Gladstone harbour, which some witnesses had called for during hearings.

Instead, the committee reported it did not believe such an investigation was warranted, but that "lessons need to be learned from the Gladstone harbour experience" and that it was "crucial to ensure that this type of problem never occurs again".

The committee also acknowledged numerous reviews of the harbour's management which revealed "flaws in the conditions placed on approvals as well as in compliance and monitoring".

"Indeed, the bund wall review identified 'deficiencies' in the performance of environmental regulators and Gladstone Ports Corporation (a state owned corporation)," the report reads.

The committee also proposed expanding its planned audits of the reef's management, including initiating an "audit of the performance of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority".

It also called for more resources and staff for the Australian Institute of Marine Science, which advises the marine park authority on key scientific issues around the management of the reef.

While Environment Minister Greg Hunt is yet to respond to the report, Greens Senator Larissa Waters on Thursday introduced a bill in the Senate to ban all dumping the reef's World Heritage Area.

She said a ban simply on dumping in the marine park "would not go far enough", as the environment did not recognise the jurisdictional boundaries between the two areas.

The report also follows news earlier this week that the proponents of the Abbot Point dredging project may be considering putting three million cubic metres of dredge spoil on land, rather than dumping it offshore in the marine park.

Mr Hunt has said he would prefer such options were explored, but as no formal application had yet been made, he could only assess it once a permit variation was filed.


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