The Great Barrier Reef could be at risk if the Queensland government acts on a parliamentary committee’s recommendation and declares Cairns a “priority port”.
The committee reviewed the Palaszczuk government’s Sustainable Ports Development Bill, which aims to protect the reef coast by stopping new ports being built.
But its recommendation to instead declare Cairns a “priority port” could thwart this goal, conservations argue.
‘This recommendation would make Cairns an industrial port and could lead to millions of tonnes of dredging,’ Australian Marine Conservation Society’s Gemma Plesman said.
There are now four existing priority ports – Gladstone, Hay Point/Mackay, Abbot Point and Townsville.
Naming a fifth would effectively break a promise made to the World Heritage Committee to protect the reef, WWF campaigner Richard Leck agreed.
However, the report notes the unanimously devised recommendation only be adopted on proviso the environmental effects on the reef are considered first.
It also stipulates the government’s UNESCO commitments and the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan, as well as the economic benefit, be assessed before any change takes place.
In a statement, State Development Minister Anthony Lynham indicated the government wouldn’t adopt the report’s proposal.
‘The Queensland and Australian governments committed to UNESCO for only four priority regional ports, and that commitment must stand,’ he said.
Dr Lynham said the government wouldn’t divert from elements of the bill which form part of the Reef 2050 plan, calling it “essential” to the tourist attraction’s ongoing wellbeing.
‘The Reef 2050 (plan) is one of the central planks of the case we presented to UNESCO earlier this year,’ he said.