Protecting the Barrier Reef is the Fin end of the wedge
When you take on a job like being Environment Minister there’s some hits you can see coming. You expect you’ll get a whack when you protect an endangered plant which if people saw in their garden, they’d presume was a weed. You know there’ll be some red hot political point scoring if jobs are meant to be put at risk to make way for the interests of some thrice mutated rare frog.
But what I never expected was to have the Queensland Liberal National Party go after me for wanting to look after koalas and the Great Barrier Reef.
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman had turned up to his first COAG meeting with the other Premiers and the Prime Minister saying he’d be willing to help speed up processing times for business by enforcing the national environmental standards when he gives state approvals. But only a fortnight later he flicked the switch from wanting to enforce those standards to wanting to tear them down.
The example which he thought went way too far was my decision to put the koala on the threatened species list. Even though koala numbers in Queensland have plummeted by 40% since 1990 in Queensland he argued this was a bridge too far, citing the wonderful koala things he believed he was responsible for when he was a Mayor.
It got even sillier this week when his Deputy Premier went after me for caring too much about the Great Barrier Reef. There’s an application on its way to me from Rio Tinto for its South of Embley project. The original application didn’t refer to an increase in shipping movements as a result of the project, but it came out in the Environment Impact Statement that vessel movements would go up significantly and some of these additional movements will be through the Great Barrier Reef.
So I’ve insisted that these vessel movements need to be taken into account when the final decision comes to me. The company is off doing this work now in good faith, and my department has been working to make sure subsequent delays are minimised.
There’s someone claiming to be a journalist at the Australian Financial Review by the name of Matthew Stevens who has decided the Queensland Government hasn’t gone nearly far enough in its rhetoric and is adding a fair bit of his own.
So for two days in a row now he’s invented motivations for me, guessed at how advice was put together and taken up the cause himself. You can’t be precious in politics about someone having a go at you, but it’s important to note that at no stage has this bloke made any attempt to contact me or my office to verify whether any of his claims are true. I put in a letter to the editor correcting the record yesterday which the Fin has decided to not publish. A phone message I left for the editor was not returned.
Even from a purely business perspective it would have been madness for me to ignore the impact of shipping. The easiest way for an environmental decision to be overturned in the courts is if you fail to consider something which was relevant. Consider the impact on Rio Tinto if I had issued an approval which was then overturned in court in eighteen months time and they had to start all over again.
The Queensland Government claimed my demand that shipping through the reef be considered is a classic example of Federal state duplication. The only problem with that argument is the Queensland process didn’t consider those shipping impacts at all.
With the mining boom there are a series of projects coming up which potentially add up to very significant increases in shipping movements through the reef. Demanded that those impacts be considered doesn’t necessarily mean the projects won’t be able to proceed.
But to ignore those cumulative impacts would be negligent.
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