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Abbot Point (Part Three): Stopping Hunt dumping on the Reef

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(Image via wwf.org.au)

In the third part of his illuminating series, Lachlan Barker looks at why Greg Hunt is so keen to dump dredge spoil on the Great Barrier Reef — and what you can do to stop him.

[Read Part One]

[Read Part Two]

INITIALLY, I was going to do a long expose on why Minister for Not Caring Two Hoots About the Environment, Greg Hunt’s, proposal to dump three million tonnes of dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was not ecologically sound.

But then I realised — you all know that already, so instead I’ll briefly deal with what he says he is going to do.

Greg Hunt's plan, if he succeeds in dumping, is to offset this damage but improving the water quality flowing onto the Reef.

He writes in a press release there will be a

'150 per cent net benefit requirement for water quality. The result will be a long-term net reduction of fine sediments entering the Marine Park from land-based sources.'

So I contacted some of my scientific sources about this; they recommended I speak to Professor Hugh Possingham, an ecologist and the director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) at the University of Queensland.

I asked Professor Possingham how Greg Hunt's plan would work.

He replied:

"I think this will be through land use changes."

This is valid comment, for to be fair to the coal industry, agriculture is a far greater threat to the Barrier Reef in the short term. Sediment runoff is a major threat as it flows out onto the Reef, covering everything, asphyxiating the coral building organisms and denying the plants access to sunlight to photosynthesise.

Coal’s longer term threat is with rapid sea level change, drowning the coral, which needs to be exposed for some part of the day.

So if Greg Hunt is, at least, going to tackle the issue of sediment runoff — then that's something to be taken from this disaster.

But if there are to be land use changes, then presumably it's the farmers along Queensland rivers who will have to change the way they do things.

I then contacted the Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, the Qld Agriculture Minister John McVeigh, the National Farmers' Federation and the Canegrowers association.

I asked all of the above if they had had any communication from Greg Hunt about land use changes in Queensland following the Abbot Point redevelopment.

I have had no reply from anyone, leaving us to speculate that the glowing 150 per cent improvement of water runoff onto the Reef he mentioned is just barefaced greenwashing to deflect anger from the Abbot Point redevelopment.

But enough of what's bad, what can be done to stop it?

Leading the opposition on the Abbot Point redevelopment is Greens Senator Larissa Waters.

She has decided to be proactive and send a message to Greg Hunt in the lower house, with a Senate motion, opposing the dumping.

I asked her:

The Senate recently voted to ban the dumping at Abbot Point, I thought that the senate could only vote on legislation sent to it from the lower house? How then does your motion work?

Her reply:

Senate motions are not legislation, rather a statement for Senators to vote on. Successful Senate motions send a strong message to the government, however, the government is not obliged to act on them.

So a symbolic gesture, but proactive nonetheless.

Then I asked:

Will it have any affect on the Environment Minister Greg Hunt? (In your opinion.)

Senator Water's reply: 

The Senate is sending a strong message to the Environment Minister, which echoes community outrage about his approval of the world’s largest coal port in the Great Barrier Reef.

As I've mentioned throughout these articles, one of the hardest parts for me has been trying to understand how the minister could even contemplate this action; how could he consider it rational, or even sane?

So I put this to Senator Waters:

Can you comment on the minister's mind set?

Her reply:

The Environment Minister is bending over backwards to please the big mining companies at great expense to our Great Barrier Reef and the 63 000 people who rely on a healthy reef for their job.

Next:

Do you believe Greg Hunt is planning to push through the Abbot Point redevelopment at all costs, no matter how much protest there is?

Senator Waters:

The Abbott Government needs to stop ignoring the community and pushing ahead with industrialising the Reef for the big mining companies.

The Greens will continue to stand firm with the community against our Reef being reduced to a dumping ground for dredge sludge.

Freedom of Information documents have revealed the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority found the Abbot Point coal port would cause significant, irreparable damage to this World Heritage Area that would be impossible to offset.

With dropping coal prices, we’ve seen Anglo American, BHP, Rio Tinto and Lend Lease all pull out of the Abbot Point coal port.

The Abbott Government needs to wake up to the economic reality, start listening to the science and stop ignoring the community.

If so, why is he so vehement about this development?

The Environment Minister is doing the bidding of the big mining companies instead of representing the many Australians who love the Great Barrier Reef.

Does the GetUp! sponsored campaign, to fund a court case to stop this dredge spoil dumping, have any chance of succeeding?

Community members are challenging the merits of the granting of a sea dumping permit for offshore dumping of the sludge for the expansion of Abbot Point. Whether the case is successful will depend on the evidence adduced. The draft documents revealed through FOI are damning, and show that officers within the GBRMPA recommended against offshore dumping. However, it is impossible to predict whether the case will be successful in the courts, but the fact that it has been crowd funded shows the depth of community sentiment against using the Reef like a rubbish tip for dredge sludge.

So, thankfully, there is someone in Canberra who is doing what they can to get a bridle on the runaway horse that is the Abbott Government.

If you wish to take some action yourself, you can contact Senator Waters at senator.waters@aph.gov.au, and offer support for her work.

Alternatively, GetUp! are driving financial and petition campaigns to stop the dumping on the Reef, and can be found here.

And, finally, in the interests of balance, if you like what Greg Hunt is planning to do, you can contact him through his Facebook page.

Here is a sample message you may want to type:

Dear Greg,

I think it's great that you're gonna dump shit all over the Reef, can you dump more than three million tonnes?

Those hopeless, pinko, lentil-munching Greenies are hopping mad, so I don't have to think about it anymore, you are obviously doing the right thing.

Read more by Lachlan Barker on his blog cyclonecharlie88.blogspot.com.au.

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(Image via greenpeace.org.au)

 
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