Focus on Abbot Point (and there has been much of it) since our last Update has been on: identifying which of the thousands of documents now available to NQCC can be made public; analysis of further documents (FOI documents relating to work done by SKM on spoil movement and ‘OPDs’ made available through the parliamentary process of ‘Order to Provide Documents’); and liaison with potential expert witnesses.
Following a request from a journalist from the Australian Financial Review and a request by Mackay Conservation Group (which is challenging the dredging – not the dumping – at Abbot Point) for access to documents that have been made available to NQCC, the issue of ‘who could see what’ was heard in the AAT in Brisbane on 12 June. NQCC argued that all documents that have been lodged with the Tribunal, such as submissions and affidavits should be made public. North Queensland Bulk Ports opposed release of any documents – a disappointing lack of transparency given that this is such a significant public issue. The Tribunal has agreed to the release of some documents, many with redactions. NQCC will continue to argue for public release of all documents.
The OPD documents also provided some interesting insights into the discussions between NQBP, GBRMPA and the Department about the final decisions by the Minister and the GBRMPA delegate. Major issues of concern during what appear to be sometimes tense interactions were the offsets conditions imposed by the Minister and the lack of a definite dump site.
In related matters, since the last Update, GBRMPA approved a permit to allow North Queensland Bulk Ports (that’s the same state-owned company looking to expand Abbot Point) to dump spoil from maintenance dredging at the Hay Point coal export facility. This approval rang alarm bells with NQCC – partly because it showed the ongoing willingness of GBRMPA to add pressure to a WHA that it tells us is already in poor and declining condition and under severe pressure.
Our concern was magnified by the fact that we knew, from examination of the OPD documents, that capital dredging at Hay Point in 2006 had had deleterious impacts on the marine resources in that area. (For further information, check out the story ‘No! More dumping’, on our home page.)
Also since the last Update, the Queensland government has released its Ports Strategy. This allows all projects currently on the books to proceed and makes a big deal of a meaningless moratorium on new port development until 2024. This effectively means business as usual. Five ports – Gladstone, Hay Point, Abbot Point, Townsville and Cairns –are designated ‘Priority Port Development Areas’. It seems as if the push for industrial development of the GBR coast will continue unabated. See NQCC’s reaction – distributed by way of a media release – here.
In the meantime, we await the outcome of UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting scheduled for 15-22 June. It is at this meeting that the recommendations to the WHC (that ‘World Heritage In Danger’ continue to be seen as an option for the GBRWHA, at least for another year) will be considered. Word has it that the Australia government is working very hard to convince the delegates from each of the member countries not to go with the recommendation, but to give the GBR the tick of approval.
If you have specific questions about the state of play with respect to NQCC’s action at Abbot Point, please contact us – but please understand, that, for legal reasons, we cannot provide some of the details that you might like to know just yet.
Until next time!
Photo: The existing coal loader at Abbot Point. Photographer: Peter Jones