New legislation has been introduced into Parliament to manage development around major ports to boost economic development and protect the Great Barrier Reef. The new laws will dramatically change the way in which future development of the State’s ports is managed.

Key issues

The Sustainable Ports Development Bill 2015 (Bill) has been introduced into Parliament by the Minister for State Development, Dr Anthony Lynham. The purpose of the Bill is to boost the ongoing development of the key ports of Townsville, Abbot Point, Gladstone and Hay Point/Mackay as well as enhancing the protection of the Great Barrier Reef.

The Bill will:

  • Prohibit disposal of capital dredge spoil from ports in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (GBRWHA).
  • Stop development of new ports in the GBRWHA.
  • Require master plans for all priority ports.


The Palaszczuk government has introduced the Bill to give effect its election and Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan commitments to protect the reef by banning sea-based disposal of capital dredge material and restricting port-related capital dredging.

The Bill supersedes previous legislation introduced into Parliament last year by the former Newman government. The former government proposed the Ports Bill to manage future port development but this bill lapsed with the calling of the Queensland election earlier in the year.  Following the change of government, the new Palaszczuk government has moved quickly to introduce revised legislation.


The purpose of the Bill is to provide for the protection of the GBRWHA through managing port-related development.  This is to be achieved by:

  1. Prohibiting particular future development in the GBRWHA.
  2. Providing for the development of master plans that establish a long-term vision for the future development of priority ports.
  3. Implementing master plans through port overlays that regulate development in and surrounding priority ports.

Priority ports

The Bill declares the following ports to be a ‘priority port’:

  1. Port of Abbot Point.
  2. Port of Gladstone.
  3. The ports of Hay Point and Mackay.
  4. Port of Townsville.

Master planning

The Bill provides that the Minister must make a ‘master plan’ for each priority port. The master plan must address a range of matters including:

  • The strategic vision, objectives and desired outcomes for the master planned area;
  • Identify the state interests affected by existing uses or future development;
  • Include an environmental management framework.

Port overlays

Once a master plan takes effect, the Minister must make a ‘port overlay’ to implement the master plan.  In particular, the port overlay may regulate development.

A port overlay prevails over various planning instruments, including planning schemes under the Sustainable Planning Act (SPA) or a land use plan under the Transport Infrastructure Act (TIA) in the event of an inconsistency.

A port overlay however does not override a development scheme under the Economic Development Act although the Minister for Economic Development Queensland must consider whether a development scheme needs to be amended to remove an inconsistency with a port overlay.  Similar requirements apply to a development scheme under the State Development and Public Works Organisation Act and to the Coordinator-General.

Role of the Minister

Under the Bill the Minister is responsible for making, amending or repealing a master plan and port overlay. The relevant port authority and any affected local government must be consulted but the Minister is solely responsible for preparing, approving and reviewing the master plans and port overlays.

Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area

The Bill directly regulates a range of activities within the GBRWHA (but outside the Commonwealth marine park). These include:

  1. Prohibiting development for port facilities within the State marine park or within a restricted area that is outside a port’s existing port limits.
  2. Prohibiting capital dredging within a restricted area for the purpose of establishing, constructing or improving a port facility (other than in a priority port’s master planned area).
  3. Restricting disposal of dredge material within a restricted area unless it is impracticable to reuse the dredge material and the dredge material will be deposited on land (other than tidal land) in a way that is consistent with the principles of ecologically sustainable development.


The Bill provides a limited right to compensation where a port overlay restricts development that previously was exempt development or self-assessable under the SPA.

Transitional provisions

Development that is subject to an EIS process that started before the commencement of the Act will not be subject to the prohibitions on development for new port facilities or capital dredging.

Next steps

The Bill has been urgently introduced to Parliament to deliver on commitments before the meeting UNESCO WHC in Bonn, Germany to consider the listing of the GBRWHA as being endangered.

The Bill has been referred to the Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources Committee for consideration prior to debate and passage by Parliament.