The Sustainable Ports Development Bill 2015 (Qld) (Bill) was introduced to the Queensland Parliament on 3 June 2015. The Bill aims to implement many of the Australian Government’s commitments set out in the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Planand the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee’s recommendations to better protect the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (Great Barrier Reef WHA).

Earlier this year, UNESCO World Heritage Committee released a draft decision which proposed not to list the Great Barrier Reef on the “in danger” list. UNESCO confirmed this draft decision at the 39th meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Bonn, Germany in July 2015. Despite this, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee is concerned about the conservation of the Great Barrier Reef and has urged the Queensland Government to implement the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan and submit an update on its implementation to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre by 1 December 2016.

The Bill regulates activity in major bulk ports including the Port of Abbot Point, the Port of Gladstone, Port of Townsville and the ports of Hay Point and Mackay (Priority Ports).  When passed, the new law will:

  • require the Minister to make master plans for all Priority Ports. The Minister must be satisfied that the master plan adequately considers the principles of ecologically sustainable development;
  • require the Minister to make port overlays to implement the master plan and regulate port development in a master planned area;
  • restrict new port development in the Great Barrier Reef WHA to within current port limits;
  • prohibit development of port facilities outside existing port limits and within a State marine park;
  • prohibit capital dredging in the Great Barrier Reef WHA, unless it is:
    • for the purpose of establishing or constructing new port facilities, or improving existing port facilities within a priority port’s master planned area; or
    • part of a project which is the subject of an active environmental impact statement process which started before the commencement of the Bill;
  • prohibit sea-based disposal of capital dredging material into the Great Barrier Reef WHA; and
  • mandate the beneficial re-use of capital dredging material (e.g. disposal on land).

What happens next?

The Bill has been referred to the Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources Committee (the Committee). A public hearing is planned for 13 July 2015. The Committee will table a report in the Queensland Parliament on 1 September 2015. The Queensland Government is keen to pass the Bill into law to meet UNESCO World Heritage Committee’s recommendations.

Consequences

The new legislation will clearly focus development of new export facilities within the Priority Ports. It is intended that there will be no new port development within the Great Barrier Reef WHA other than within a port’s existing port limits established under the Transport Infrastructure (Ports) Regulation 2005 (Qld). Additionally, development within the Priority Ports will be heavily regulated and subject to close Ministerial oversight. The long-term restrictions of the proposed law may well have a material impact on export industries. The protections afforded by the Bill reflect the Queensland Government’s firm commitment to safeguard the Great Barrier Reef.