What’s next for the Reef?

Feature Story - 31 January, 2013
Our hopes were raised slightly when we read some of the newspaper headlines on the Australian Government’s report to UNESCO about protecting the Great Barrier Reef.

Many reports implied that Environment Minister Tony Burke had knocked back several destructive coal terminal projects on the Queensland coast. In the Sydney Morning Herald for example, he was quoted as saying he he “would not give an inch” to Queensland’s government over further port developments in sensitive areas such as Gladstone.

Sadly, the facts show that this is not the case.

UNESCO requested the report at a meeting in St Petersburg in June 2012. The most important part of their request to the Australian Government was “to not permit development that would impact on the outstanding universal value of the Reef.”

In the time since he first became aware that the Reef faced a potential "in danger" listing, Minister Tony Burke has approved a raft of projects that could spell disaster for area. This includes three gas terminals, a destructive dredging program, and huge coal shipping terminal at Abbot Point -- all in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

He’s also allowed a further seven coal terminals to enter the planning system for assessment -- all  since becoming aware that the Committee might place it on the “in danger” list. There’s no commitment that Tony Burke won’t approve more coal terminals or dredging that threatens dugongs, turtles, fish and other marine life.

As Senior Climate and Energy Campaigner Dr Georgina Woods said:

“Tony Burke has already approved a new coal terminal and allowed various new developments into the approval process. The Reef needs action, not promises. Until Tony Burke says "no" to all of the coal terminals proposed for the Great Barrier Reef coast, his assurances are meaningless.”

If the Government will not take action to protect the Reef, the Australian community must. We’ve stopped plans to drill for oil on the Great Barrier Reef in the past. Now we must escalate the pressure and again say no.