FOI docs reveal Minister Hunt ignored GBRMPA advice to not dredge and dump on Reef

Press release - 3 March, 2014
Sydney, 3 March 2013: New documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show the Federal Environment Minister Mr Greg Hunt ignored clear advice from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) that dredging and dumping approvals for the Abbot Point coal port expansion should not be granted because of the irreversible damage this would cause the Reef.

Detailed media backgrounder with links to documents here

“These previously secret documents show the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority repeatedly advised the Environment Department to reject the controversial dredging and dumping proposal because of the current health of the Reef and the long term and irreversible harm it would cause,” said Greenpeace Campaigner Louise Matthiesson. 

“Australians who love the Reef and are appalled by the approvals granted to dredge and dump in its pristine waters will be looking to Minister Hunt to explain how he can justify rejecting this expert advice, which included evidence that his water quality offset plan was ‘unachievable’.” 

The GBRMPA was preparing to refuse permits to dump in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park because it considered the consequences of dredging were unknown and viable alternatives existed to dredging on the proposed scale. It considered the water quality offset plan to be ‘unrealistic’ and ‘unachievable’.  GBRMPA also considered dumping at sea would be inconsistent with Australia’s obligations under international treaties on the prevention of marine pollution. 

In the Executive Summary of GBRMPA’s recommendation to the Environment Department on dredging the Authority noted, “The proposal to dredge and dispose of up to 1.6 million cubic metres of sediment per year … has the potential to cause long-term irreversible harm to areas of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park … in particular seagrass meadows and nearby coral reefs…” 

“The information… provided by the proponent does not adequately address the potential for further impacts to these recovering habitats. The dredge plume modelling provided by the proponent… has been found to be of limited value, deficient and unreliable.” 
Greenpeace  Australia Pacific is calling on the Environment Minister Greg Hunt to revoke the approvals and ban dumping of dredge spoil in Reef waters. 

“These new documents raise very serious concerns about the Federal Government’s stewardship of the Reef,” Ms Louise Matthiesson said. 

“It is clear that Minister Hunt and his Department were willing to put other interests ahead of the health of this World Heritage jewel and Minister Hunt must explain why. 

“The Minister’s attitude is like that of a smoker who has been told by his doctor to stop smoking then goes down to the convenience store to buy a pack of 25s,” Ms Matthiesson said.

The documents released cover up to August 2013. Although this is prior to Minister Hunt’s appointment, the details of the approval he signed off on in December 2013 were very similar to that put forward in July 2013.  Greenpeace is not aware of any significantly material changes to the project proposal during that time or any new scientific evidence which would have justified a major change in GBRMPA’s advice to the Department. 

To arrange interviews: Alison Orme Greenpeace Australia 0432 332 104
Spokesperson: Louise Matthiesson, QLD Campaigner, Greenpeace.  +61 406 041 428,

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