Aerial of the Great Barrier Reef.
Aerial of the Great Barrier Reef. C Veron

Greens bill on Great Barrier Reef protection gains supports

A BILL to force Australia to abide by the United Nation's recommendations to protect the Great Barrier Reef has been backed by the Law Council of Australia.

But while the council supported the bill, the ports industry and Queensland Government has come out against it on the grounds it was not needed.

The Greens bill to enshrine the UN World Heritage Committee's recommendations on the reef into national environmental law is being examined by a Senate inquiry.

Submissions from the Gladstone Ports Corporation, Ports Australia, Queensland Ports Association and the state government have all opposed the bill.

Those submissions variously described the bill as pre-empting the strategic assessment ordered by Unesco, creating industry uncertainty and threatening the state's economic position.

In a letter attached to the state's submission, Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney said the bill "failed to recognise the robustness" of the state's environmental assessment processes.

Mr Seeney also wrote it would result in a "significant negative impact on Australia's and Queensland's sovereign risk profile globally", particularly in Asia.

A submission from GPC chief executive Leo Zussino said the port was "acutely conscious of its responsibilities to the community", including minimising impacts on the reef and the surrounding environment.

Mr Zussino wrote that much work was underway in response to the Unesco recommendations and as the outcomes of the work were not yet available, the bill was "premature and probably unnecessary".

He wrote impacts on the reef from the 46 million cubic metre dredging program underway in Gladstone Harbour were "not significant in terms of environmental quality and impacts on the marine ecology, and very localised".

Mr Zussino also wrote the bill also appeared to seek greater restrictions on port development than those actually recommended by Unesco.

However, the Law Council's environment and planning committee submission said the bill was "an appropriate and proportionate response" to the committee and International Union for the Conservation of Nature's concerns expressed over the reef in the past two years.

The council wrote the amendments directly addressed the recommendations, including helping to ensure the Commonwealth fulfilled its international commitments to protect the reef's outstanding universal value.



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