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Byron Shire
February 28, 2021

Australia ‘failing World Heritage Convention obligations’

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An academic expert on international law believes dredging and other impacts on the Great Barrier Reef may be in contravention of Australia’s obligations under the World Heritage Convention (WHC).

Australians for Animals Inc (AFA) commissioned Dr Christopher Ward, the chair of the Australian International Law Association, to examine whether the federal government’s approvals for the ongoing destruction of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area are in violation of the convention.

‘In my opinion it is strongly arguable that Australia is not in full compliance with its obligations under the WHC in a number of respects,’ Dr Ward sad.

‘The failures have potential to lead to the Great Barrier Reef being placed on the heritage in danger list.

‘Paragraph 80 of the Operational Guidelines provides that the World Heritage Committee may include a property on the List of World Heritage in Danger if (i) the property is on the World Heritage List; (ii) the property is threatened by ‘serious and specific danger’; (iii) major operations are necessary for the conservation of the property.

‘There is little doubt that the Marine Park faces many challenges. These include climate change and consequential coral bleaching, the loss of marine habitat as a result of dredging and other activities, vessel pollution and land-based pollution.

‘These challenges require serious, consistent and pro-active management.  In my view there are strong arguments that support the conclusion that Australia is not fully complying with its international obligations under Articles 4 and 5 of the WHC and that the Great Barrier Reef is consequently in danger.’

Dr Ward’s advice deals with approvals for Abbot Point, Gladstone LNG development, the loss of listed species, major dredging approvals and the impacts of climate change.

Ward’s advice has been sent to the World Heritage Secretariat in Paris.  AFA will also be requesting the European Parliament and US Congress to pass resolutions calling on the Abbott government to uphold its obligations and the WHC by giving priority to protecting the Reef and the marine biodiversity instead of red-carpeting the mining industry.

The Abbott government’s efforts to down environmental legislation designed to protect the Reef and other Australian World Heritage areas ensure that Australia is now seen internationally as an environmental vandal.

Dr Christopher Ward is chair of the Australian International Law Association and a visiting fellow at the ANU.

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