Failure of both major parties to address Queensland coal expansion puts Reef in danger

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Feature Story - 4 September, 2013
With the election just days away, both major parties have failed to address the biggest emerging threat to the Great Barrier Reef - industrial coal port developments and climate change. But after the election, they won’t be able to ignore it, with decisions due within weeks on three major coal-export projects.
Reef Fate © Nancy Quinn

So far the reef protection policies announced by the Labor Party and the Liberal-National Party ignore the biggest industrialisation plans the Reef has ever faced – the massive expansion of the Queensland coal industry.

Neither party has told the electorate where they stand on plans for up to eight new coal terminals along the Reef coast, which will involve millions of tonnes of dredging and thousands more coal ships crossing the reef every year.

Instead, the big parties have chosen to focus on improving the quality of water flowing into the reef from coastal rivers and killing off the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish.

While these are both real problems that deserve funding, this alone is like putting a band-aid on a broken leg.

 Unless we rapidly reduce global greenhouse emissions, the long term future for the Reef is grim with a predicted increase in coral bleaching, severe cyclones, and the creeping threat of ocean acidification which can dissolve corals.

Australia’s largest single contribution to climate change is our coal exports, and Queensland has plans to double its coal exports, by opening huge new mines in the Galilee Basin and shipping the coal out across the Reef.

On the other hand, the Greens have announced a policy to put an end to damaging port expansions such as Abbot Point, ban new industrial-scale dredging in the Reef World Heritage Area and oppose new coal mines and exports.

After the election, whoever wins government will quickly be forced to show where they stand, with decisions due by November on dredging and dumping at Abbot Point, the huge new Terminal Zero development, also at Abbot Point, and a massive coal mine in the Galilee Basin – Kevin’s Corner.

The new Environment Minister, whoever he or she may be, will have the opportunity to stop these destructive developments, which threaten the outstanding environmental values of the World Heritage Area around Abbot Point, and will fuel climate change.

In deciding whether to allow Terminal Zero and the dredging proposal, the new government will send a clear signal to UNESCO on whether they will take the action required to prevent the Reef from being listed as “in-danger” next year.