Environment Minister Tony Burke
Environment Minister Tony Burke

MP explains delay of inquiry into Gladstone Harbour health

THE Federal Environment Minister has laid the blame for a six-month delay to an investigation into the management of Gladstone Harbour on an idea to pursue the inquiry under the state government's Health Harbour partnership.

Minister Tony Burke on Tuesday released the terms of reference for the Independent Review of the port of Gladstone; more than eight months after UNESCO requested the investigation be undertaken.

After the World Heritage Committee visited the harbour in March last year, it recommended in June the Commonwealth Government investigate the management of the harbour and its environmental health.

Some six months later, Minister Burke announced the government would start the inquiry, appointing the chairwoman of the Australian National Commission to UNESCO, Anthea Tinney, to lead the investigation.

The delay has meant the findings of the review will not be available to the committee when it decides whether to place the entire Great Barrier Reef on the World Heritage Sites in Danger list in June.

Mr Burke said the delay was because the Commonwealth had been scoping out the possibility of conducting the inquiry within the state government's Healthy Harbour Partnership, rather than independently.

Now, both the Federal Government and the state government have started their own inquiries into harbour management, independent of each other.

"Enough time has been wasted seeing whether or not it's possible for the review to be conducted jointly," Mr Burke said.

"Now that both processes are underway, my view is let them do their job, get a proper scientific assessment and cooperate as much as possible."

Mr Burke said while he decided against such a move, he was still pleased the state government gave every indication it would co-operate with the Federal Government's inquiry.

But Mr Burke has stipulated the findings of the federal review be handed to him on June 30, missing the committee's scheduled deliberations between June 27 and 29.

He also appointed two scientists to the review panel on Tuesday - Associate Professor Eva Abal and Professor Richard Kenchington.

"The review will draw upon a range of scientific and expert information," Mr Burke said.

"It will look at current and future planning for development, as well as management, monitoring and reporting programs.

"It will also look at environmental concerns in the area, including the environmental performance of developments and operations and the impacts of other significant threats affecting the Great Barrier Reef."

Mr Burke said he remained committed to the independence and transparency of the review, including taking into account all scientific and expert information, not only information provided by the state government or the port authority.

"The review will draw upon a range of scientific and expert information including the work being done by the Gladstone Healthy Harbour Partnership, which brings together industry, community, scientists and government to focus on continuous improvement in the health of Gladstone Harbour," he said.

"The review panel will be calling for public submissions and more information will be available through their website.

"This is an opportunity for interested parties to have their say."

For more information about the review, go to environment.gov.au/gladstonereview.

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