Much to cover in this somewhat late report.
On Friday 22 August, NQCC was in the Tribunal for a hearing before Deputy President of the AAT, Mr Hack. The purpose of the hearing was basically to see where Minister Hunt and North Queensland Bulk Ports (NQPB) were in the development of the case.
As previously reported, Mr Hack (and the Minister) had, earlier this year, agreed with NQCC that is would be pointless and a waste of everybody’s time and money to go to a full hearing until the alternative disposal site had been identified by NQBP and approved by Mr Hunt.
At the hearing, lawyers for NQBP told Mr Hack that it would be ‘very difficult’ for them to meet the dredge window in 2015. That window, a condition of the approval by the Minister, runs from 1 March to 30 June, and is there to make sure that dredging and dumping do not occur at particularly sensitive times (seagrass growing season, turtle nesting/hatching season, coral spawning etc). Missing the 2015 window would mean that dredging/dumping would be postponed until 2016 (unless the Minister changed the condition).
The NQCC media release about the likelihood of missing the 2015 window was disputed by NQBP, which claimed that the comment by their lawyer was taken out of context. A follow-up email, accompanied by the relevant bits of the transcript of the Tribunal, hearing went unchallenged.
But then came the big ‘news’. Media across Australia picked up a story from the Australian Financial Review, claiming that offshore disposal was to be replaced by onshore disposal of the dredge spoil. However, as the day wore on, it became clear that no such decision had been made. Although the Minister seemed to be pushing for it, NQBP had not identified a preferred site and were continuing to evaluate both offshore and onshore sites. NQCC was not surprised by this; NQBP is required to evaluate alternative sites under the Sea Dumping Act, the National Assessment Guidelines for Dredging, and the Guidelines for the Public Environment Report from 2012.
The issue has continued to generate considerable media interest, but NQCC is taking all reports with a goodly pinch of salt and waiting to see where the alternative site is proposed to be. In the meantime, it put out another media release (Further changes at Abbot Point?) and continues to respond to media calls for comment along those lines.
The next hearing is scheduled for 3 October, but it is unclear whether or not NQBP will have settled on a site. If and when they do, it will be open to assessment by the Department and GBRMPA prior to any Ministerial decision.