Senate hears it for the Reef

Action-outside-Senate-Inquiry-in-townsville-300x223Last Wednesday, NQCC was one of a dozen speakers giving evidence before the Senate Committee hearing into the Australian and Queensland government’s protection of the Great Barrier Reef.

In her address (Address to Senate Reef Hearing in Townsville, July 2014), which kicked off proceedings, NQCC Coordinator Wendy Tubman pointed to a problem that was echoed throughout the day’s proceedings: The lack of political will to make real and effective changes to how the Reef is managed.

She, like others following, called for greater independence for GBRMPA and the need for governments to take the science seriously, rather than rely on political spin to cover a basically business as usual approach. From NGOs, scientists and bureaucrats the message was the same: The Reef is facing catastrophe, the scientific evidence is in, the people are united, and the ball is well and truly in the governments’ courts.

A copy of the notes to which Wendy spoke are here and the full hearing will be reported in Hansard. For now, some notable points made throughout the day were:

From AIMS’ Jamie Oliver: We need to find and use alternatives to proponent-funded Environmental Impact Statements; there is virtually no disagreement amongst scientists on the nature and extent of the problems that the Reef faces; there were deficiencies in the modelling of the dredge plume that was done for Abbot Point; and that funding cuts to AIMS would mean a cut-back in research into the fundamental building blocks for future applied research.

Prof. Terry Hughes from JCU was very clear. He said that that recent permits to allow sea dumping should be revoked; that sea dumping and new dredging should be banned; that there should be no new coal mines, the EIS process should be overhauled, the offset procedures abandoned, GBRMPA re-empowered and a fund and plan for the Reef catchment established along the lines of the Murray-Darling Basin. Prof. Hughes noted that the export of coal is counter to attempts to cut emissions and protect coral, and that, unless port governance and climate change policy was addressed UNESCO would put the GBRWHA on the World Heritage in Danger list.

JCU’s Jon Brodie stated that the Abbot Point process had resulted in the quickest, cheapest and dirtiest solution being accepted, that the opinions of very competent people at GBRMPA had been ignored, and that the progress that had been made in limiting sediment run-off into the Reef region was at risk as a result of the Abbot Point decision.

A lunchtime rally outside the venue for the hearings (The Holiday Inn) was well-attended by community and media. It heard from Senators Larissa Waters and Anne McEwen – and found time to demonstrate a new craze – poll-dancing for the Reef.