Govt ignored reef authority's concerns about dredging

THE Federal Government was warned dredging and LNG projects in Gladstone Harbour should trigger a strategic assessment of impacts to the Great Barrier Reef two years before the World Heritage Committee intervened.

An APN investigation has established the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority twice warned the federal Environment Department in 2009 of its concerns.

The warnings included concerns the Gladstone Ports Corporation's Western Basin dredging project should trigger a "strategic assessment" of all developments in the harbour.

Documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws also revealed the Authority warned of a potential failure of Commonwealth environmental approval processes if the assessment was not completed.

But despite the advice from the independent agency tasked with protecting the World Heritage Area, it is understood no action was taken until the World Heritage Committee intervened in June 2011.

Revelations of the warnings follow reports this week which raised questions over the Labor Government's handling of appointments to the GBRMPA board, amid allegations of potential conflicts of interest.

The Authority's concerns were sent in April and June 2009, more than a year before then-Environment Minister Tony Burke approved the Western Basin dredging project.

An internal memo warned of the potential cumulative effects the dredging project, Queensland Curtis LNG and Santos LNG proposals could have on the reef and World Heritage Area.

It warned that unless all the projects in the harbour were integrated into a strategic assessment up front, the environmental assessment process would fail to properly consider the impacts to a significant area of the World Heritage Area.

The memo also cited several other projects in the harbour, including previous maintenance and capital dredging, as evidence of "significant historic activity and the fragmented approach to EPBC consideration".

"The GBRMPA's view is that the department should consider this referral as an opportunity to cease fragmented assessments and require a strategic assessment of all the currently known and planned development proposals within Gladstone Port and Gladstone State Development Area," the memo reads.

"Given the clear plans and consequential actions based even on the LNG developments alone there is an immediate need to look at the EPBC implications of the development of the Port of Gladstone strategically."

It is unclear whether the department told Mr Burke about the Authority's concerns before recommending he approve projects in the area, as neither party would answer questions about it for this report.

The department declined to answer a series of questions related to why action was not taken on the advice immediately, and whether it could assure the public there was no failing of the environmental assessment of any projects in the harbour.

Instead, a spokeswoman sent a statement which said the department "does not comment on the nature of its advice to government or the specifics of its internal decision-making processes".

A GBRMPA spokeswoman said while the Authority remained concerned about the cumulative impacts on the reef, it did not have "direct regulatory responsibility" for environmental laws.

She said the Authority was one of a number of organisations that provide advice to the environment department, which tells the Minister of its recommendation before the Minister makes a final decision.

The Authority has also begun an investigation into the allegations surrounding the recent board appointments, on the advice of new Environment Minister Greg Hunt.

Mr Burke referred all questions back to the department.

Council commence $150,000 CBD footpath works

Premium Content Council commence $150,000 CBD footpath works

“We want walking to be the clear choice for health, recreation and transport.”

Coastal thoroughfare to undergo $980,000 transformation

Premium Content Coastal thoroughfare to undergo $980,000 transformation

“It’s important to ensure Captain Cook Drive is well maintained for both locals and...

Foundation aiming to spoil CQ Mums this Mother’s Day

Premium Content Foundation aiming to spoil CQ Mums this Mother’s Day

“I’d encourage locals to pick up a bunch or two and put a smile on the dial of your...