Green group takes legal action over Abbot Point dredging

The Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Tourism and Events Queenslan
The Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Tourism and Events Queenslan

Environmentalists will launch court action against the federal government and its decision to allow dredging and spoil dumping in Great Barrier Reef waters for the expansion of coal export terminals at Abbot Point.

The Mackay Conservation Group, given $150,000 raised by activist group GetUp!, will file documents in the Federal Court on Monday challenging the decision on the grounds that the government failed its legal obligations to protect a world heritage site by approving the project.

It is the second legal challenge to the proposed Abbot Point development. Last month the North Queensland Conservation Group launched an appeal against a separate decision to allow the dumping of dredge spoil in reef waters by the authority which oversees the marine park.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt approved the Abbot Point project in December under strict conditions, including the dredging and dumping of 3 million tonnes of sludge in the reef's waters to expand coal export terminals.

The Abbot Point development is one of many resource projects proposed for the coastline along the Great Barrier Reef.

Industrial development and other threats has raised the concern of the World Heritage Committee, which has asked the Australian and Queensland governments to install several measures to better protect the reef or else risk it being considered "in danger".

The Mackay Conservation Group is challenging the Abbot Point decision through a provision in the national environment laws that allows for a judicial review by the Federal Court of any decision made.

Group campaigner Ellen Roberts said the review would test national environment laws protecting world heritage sites that had never been tested in court in this way before.

"If we are successful then potentially the decision could have implications for other world heritage areas as well," she said.

A spokesman for Mr Hunt said the government approved the Abbot Point project in line with national environmental laws and with "some of the toughest conditions and safeguards in Australian history".

Brad Fish, chief executive of the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation, said on Friday the focus on dredging had taken the debate about the reef's future away from the real issues threatening its survival.

He pointed to an article by University of Central Queensland coral ecologist Dr Alison Jones and marine scientist and consultant Dr Brett Kettle posted on The Conver-sation that said green groups had wrongly argued dredging and dumping were a major threat to the reef.

The article said this diverted attention from other more important risks facing the reef and research into more programs that would boost its resilience and recovery from disturbances, such as cyclone damage and coral bleaching.

Other scientists say the Abbot Point port expansion is a significant threat, with 200 signing an open letter in January urging the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to block the dredge spoil dumping in reef waters saying the best available science was clear that the coal terminal expansion would have a detrimental effect.

This story Green group takes legal action over Abbot Point dredging first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.