Media response - Abbot Point documents

Published: 02/03/2014

The following is a response to media enquiries about documents relating to Abbot Point which were the subject of an FOI request received in September 2013.

All of the documents released under this FOI are preliminary working drafts which were never submitted to the delegate, the senior manager responsible for GBRMPA’s decision, for consideration. As such they do not represent the views of the agency.

GBRMPA is an independent regulatory agency which is required to make an independent decision under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 and the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981. Consistent with our Act, we took into account the fact that the Minister had provided an approval, as well as the recommendation report that the Environment Department had provided to the Minister. Absolutely no political pressure was brought to bear on GBRMPA.

It’s important to note that the draft permit assessment was conducted before stringent conditions, the strictest ever imposed on an application of this type, were put in place by the Environment Minister to avoid, mitigate and offset any harm to the environment. This included a requirement for North Queensland Bulk Ports (NQBP) to offset the amount of fine sediments released into the environment by 150 per cent.

The draft permit assessment does identify concerns raised by our staff as well as fishing and tourism stakeholders, which is why GBRMPA subsequently imposed 47 strict conditions when we approved the application — these are by far the strictest conditions that we have ever imposed on such a project.

GBRMPA’s conditions include a requirement that disposal not proceed if prevailing oceanographic conditions — waves, currents and wind — are such that sediment would travel towards sensitive habitats such as corals and seagrasses or the Catalina World War 2 wreck.

An independent technical advice panel must also be established as well as an independent management response group, comprising community representatives and expert scientists. Membership of these groups must be approved by GBRMPA.

In addition, a five-year water quality monitoring program — the longest ever required for such a program — must be implemented in addition to real-time monitoring.

Compliance with these conditions will be overseen by a full-time GBRMPA staff member who will be based at the port during the dredging operations.

Without these robust conditions, GBRMPA is likely to have said ‘no’ to the permit application.

Our position has long been that a preferred environmental outcome for the Great Barrier Reef is that development should be restricted to existing ports and a focus be given to ensuring high environmental standards are in place.

Our decision is entirely consistent with that strategic long-term viewpoint as Abbot Point is one of five major existing ports. It also has access to deep water, which means less dredging would be required than in other locations.

Russell Reichelt

Name: GBRMPA media
Contact: (07) 4750 0846