ENVIRONMENT, Heritage and Water minister Mark Butler has deferred a decision on the controversial Abbot Point expansion for another three months, just weeks after telling media the Federal election would not delay the issue.
If approved, 3 million cubic metres of dredged material from the Abbot Point Coal Terminal, near Bowen Basin in Queensland, would be disposed of in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park area. Mr Butler was due to decide by 9 July, however he “stopped the clock on [the] department’s assessment of the Abbot Point Capital Dredging proposal for a period of three months”.
“A number of reports have only just been delivered to me, which potentially impact on the Abbot Point assessment,” Mt Butler said.
“Given the significance of the Abbot Point development both in terms of the economic development of the region and the potential environmental impacts on the Great Barrier Reef, I have decided to release these reports for public information.
“I am conscious of the balance between the economic benefits and environmental concerns associated with any decision on Abbot Point.
“The various, significant environmental imperatives must be considered, as does the potential for jobs growth, which is vital for a range of coastal and inland communities.”
The $6.2 billion proposed Abbot Point expansion involves the construction of four additional coal terminals which would provide a further annual capacity of 120 million tonnes and support developments in the Bowen, Surat, and Galilee basins.
Combined with other port expansions, this development would make Abbot Point one of the world’s largest coal ports, with seven terminals and a capacity of almost 300mt per annum.
Australian Greens environment spokesperson Senator Larissa Waters said the deferral was a missed opportunity for the government to reject the application. “The Reef didn’t need another deferral from Labor today – this threat needed to be ruled out once and for all,” she stated.
“No amount of extra information will change the fact that this plan would see 3 million cubic metres of dredge spoil dumped in a World Heritage Area.
“We don’t need to dredge and dump in the Great Barrier Reef to expand a coal port which will turn the Reef into a shipping super highway, at the end of the fossil fuel era – we have renewable alternatives.
“Whether the final decision is now left to a Rudd or Abbott Government post-election sadly won’t make much difference, judging from the old parties’ track record – both have approved every coal and coal seam gas project to come before them under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act.”
Bowen Business Council member Bruce Hedditch told media the deferral was a positive step because it would mean the decision would be less politicised.
He said there would have been problems with either a rejection or acceptance of the proposal.
“After the election is a new government, a majority will be able to make a sound decision based on the evidence in front of it,” Mr Hedditch said.
Mr Butler stated that the new deadline would not necessarily prevent an earlier decision, with media indicating he could make the call within a month.