Environmentalists, and indeed most Australians are still reeling from Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s decision to approve “several massive resource projects” on the Great Barrier Reef which include a new coal export terminal – projects that will see the dredging of 3 million cubic metres of spoil being dumped in the reef’s waters. This approval clearly ignores the evidence from scientists about the impacts of these industrial developments and activities on the reef. He has, quite clearly, “put the demands of the coal companies ahead of protecting the Great Barrier Reef.”
It is simply astounding that an Environment Minister would approve these projects especially amid warnings that the reef, which had already lost half of its coral cover in the past 30 years, would be placed on the “in-danger” list if there were major new port developments. Further warnings note that:
Dredging is a huge threat to the crystal clear waters of the Great Barrier Reef. Seabed and rock is dug up and then dumped in the Reef’s waters. Fine sediments are thrown up into the water and drift for kilometres, ruining water quality and covering seagrass beds and coral.
Just in the past five years, 52 million tonnes have been dredged in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, a recent Senate Inquiry was told.
But Mr Hunt was aware of the serious effects that dredging caused to a marine environment. He wrote an article for the Herald Sun in December 2007 about the dangers to Port Phillip on the proposed dredging by the Port of Melbourne Corporation. Here is his article in full:
Dredging casts dark shadow on beautiful Port Phillip.
THE last time I went scuba diving in Port Phillip Bay was about two years ago, Greg Hunt writes.
Like anyone who has had the privilege of exploring this serene, astonishingly beautiful marine environment, the experience affected me profoundly.
For those Melburnians who live on the perimeter of its vast shoreline, and for the many more who take part in the annual pilgrimage to the summer playgrounds on the Mornington Peninsula, Port Phillip Bay holds an almost sacred significance.
Living on the Mornington Peninsula close to the bay, I am accustomed to the way my home town is transformed each year with the coming of the warmer weather.
A lively parade of young families and individuals enjoying a day on the beach or out on the water are a constant feature of summer.
The warm weather is here once again but this year there is a large and very black cloud menacing the horizon. With the Victorian Government intent on a January start for its plan to dredge 23 million cubic metres of sand, silt and toxic sludge from the bay, there is a growing sense of foreboding on the Mornington Peninsula.
With the local economy, particularly on the southern peninsula, reliant on the tourist dollar, it is abundantly clear that the peninsula will bear the brunt of the negative impact of channel deepening.
The two years of significant turbidity forecast as a result of the dredging will inevitably have an impact on local tourist operators, particularly the recreational dive industry. Two years of diminished returns would be enough to damage many of these businesses irrevocably.
The State Government’s own assessment of the channel deepening project found that dive operators and other businesses reliant on the bay will lose almost $19 million in income as a direct result of the dredging.
Despite this, there is no provision to compensate these small business owners for the damage that channel deepening will inflict upon their livelihoods.
The Mornington Peninsula’s tourism operators will therefore become the innocent victims of a process over which they have no control. To exclude them from any hope of compensation other than via a long and costly court battle is unjust and completely unacceptable.
It is not only the immediate short-term impact of channel deepening that must be considered.
Tourists who experience murky waters and dirty beaches during the years of dredging may never return to the Mornington Peninsula.
The damage to the peninsula’s reputation for pristine beaches and sparkling waters may linger long
after the physical effects of dredging have receded.
While I accept that the project is broadly inevitable, I have written twice now to Premier John Brumby, seeking assurances that the State Government will address these concerns.
I have yet to receive the courtesy of a reply.
I will also write to the new federal Environment Minister — to highlight the deficiencies in the way the State Government intends to dispose of the spoil dredged up during the project.
I am deeply alarmed that the state has moved to give this project the green light without adequately tackling the issue of the disposal of toxic sludge dredged from the mouth of the Yarra.
The Port of Melbourne Corporation intends to dump this sludge — which is laden with heavy metals and other contaminants — in the centre of Port Phillip Bay.
As yet there appears to be no certainty about how the resulting toxic plume will behave and where it will settle.
The main reason given for dumping this toxic sludge in the bay is that it would be too expensive to dump it in landfill. This is utterly unacceptable.
There should be no cut-price option for a pollution problem of this magnitude.
There are also plans to dump spoil at a second site in the waters off Mt Martha.
This site is one of the most important snapper breeding grounds in the bay. It is an important recreational asset for local residents and tourists alike and must not be harmed.
These issues could have and should have been thrashed out satisfactorily during the independent panel’s inquiry into the supplementary environmental effects statement.
Instead, the State Government chose to hinder a full exploration of these important issues by imposing a ban on the cross-examination of witnesses.
As a result, those of us who love the bay can have no real confidence that the channel deepening project will not leave it permanently scarred. The project has not undergone the thorough, rigorous and objective investigation essential for a project of this scale and potential impact.
The State Government must address all outstanding environmental concerns before pushing ahead with dredging.
In addition, it must institute a Peninsula recovery plan to deal with the project’s inevitable fall-out on the Mornington Peninsula.
A starting point could be a dedicated fund with money set aside to compensate local businesses.
It is only fair that these small operators receive some peace of mind and an assurance that they will not be sent to the wall by the state’s channel deepening.
Greg Hunt is the federal MP for Flinders, a seat that includes Mornington Peninsula.
Yes, it is hard to believe that this warrior for the environment is the same man who has now approved the projects on the Great Barrier Reef: Projects that will see the dredging of 3 million cubic metres of spoil. In a word, unbelievable.
The title of this post, The breath-taking hypocrisy of Environment Minister Hunt is aptly named.
But I guess he’s just following orders. This interview with Leigh Sales in December 2009 reveals why, from which I quote:
… But I do enjoy the environment – I’m passionate about it; I believe in the challenges of climate change – but these are matters for Tony.
Great. He wants to do something about climate change yet is happy to leave it up to Tony Abbott – a man who thinks climate change is crap. Remember too, that he had only been sworn in a matter of days and he closed down the Climate Commission and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Wow, what a man of principle.
How does he sleep at night knowing he’s sold himself to the wrong bidder?
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