Governance and management arrangements
This chapter examines the evidence received about governance
arrangements and decision-making processes relating to the management of the
Great Barrier Reef, including:
general comments on the overall management of the Great Barrier
the role, resourcing and independence of the Great Barrier Reef
Marine Park Authority;
cooperation and coordination between governments, including the
government's one stop shop proposal;
decision-making processes relating to the Great Barrier Reef;
the role and value of the Strategic Assessments and proposed
Long-Term Sustainability Plan.
General comments on the overall management of the Great Barrier Reef
Most submitters and witnesses were in agreement that more needs to be
done to prevent and, indeed, reverse the decline of the Great Barrier Reef. For
example, Professor Hoegh-Guldberg told the committee that 'not enough is being
done' and that 'current Australian and Queensland government efforts to stop
the rapid decline of the Great Barrier Reef are proving inadequate'.
Shipping Australia agreed that 'a persistent and bigger effort will be
required in the future to achieve complete protection of the reef from further
Ms Wendy Tubman of the North Queensland Conservation Council (NQCC) told
the committee that the 'parlous state of the reef' means that 'almost by
definition we have to say that things are not working'. She identified 'lack of
political will' as the key underlying problem and expressed concern that 'governments
want to find simple and speedy solutions to what is an extremely complex issue'.
Mr Jeremy Tager agreed that the political culture surrounding the Great
Barrier Reef needs to change:
...the politics of the reef is the impossible dream, the notion
that you can build massive coal ports and coalmines, dredge and dump on a scale
so far beyond anything that has happened in the past and even beyond what I can
imagine and that you can protect the reef at the same time by imposing
conditions and offsets is pure fantasy. Until that changes, I'm afraid nothing
Several submitters and witnesses also expressed a desire to move away
from a 'business as usual' approach.
Mr Tager suggested that 'the solutions at a general level are really clear:
reverse declines, avoid impacts and build resilience'. He cautioned that 'you
cannot manage away all impacts; you must learn to say no' and:
...when you have opportunities to demonstrate a commitment to
protecting the reef...you make those decisions.
Mr Richard Leck from WWF-Australia agreed that concrete action is needed:
To date, the response we have seen from both governments has
been to announce a series of reviews, inquiries and plans, many of which total
thousands of pages. What I think the Australian people, and certainly
conservation groups like WWF, want to see is real solutions, not the endless
reports that document the reef's decline.
In contrast, the Minerals Council of Australia supported 'the current
program of science based Strategic Assessments, management plans and
development strategies as the right mix of approaches to complement and
strengthen the existing regulatory framework', although noted that that effort
will be needed to ensure 'success in implementation' and 'that the outcomes
sought are achieved'.
Dr Oliver of the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) also
...the significant accomplishments of the Commonwealth and
state governments and in particular the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
Authority in its work to establish world-leading management practices and new
globally recognised standards for the protection and multiple-use management of
At the same time, he described managing the pressures on the Great
Barrier as a 'Sisyphean task': It is
huge, it is complex and it is never-ending.
The committee also notes that the Outlook Report 2014 recognised that
'progress in reducing threats is slow' and there are difficulties in 'achieving
positive outcomes', given the complexity of the issues.
Nevertheless, the Australian and Queensland Governments expressed
...we have the processes, resources, environmental protection
mechanisms, and the appropriate level of investment in place to ensure that the
Great Barrier Reef continues to be among the best managed and protected World
Heritage areas in the world.
However, as the Outlook Report 2014 concluded:
A business as usual approach to managing threats will not be
enough. Achieving a healthy and resilient Great Barrier Reef into the future
will require continued focus and even more effective action...Without promptly
reducing threats, there is a serious risk that resilience will not be improved
and there will be irreversible declines in the Region's values.
Role and resourcing of GBRMPA
As outlined in Chapter 2, GBRMPA was established under the GBRMP Act in
1975 and is responsible for the protection and management of the environment,
biodiversity and heritage values of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The
Australian and Queensland Governments advised that:
In managing the Marine Park, GBRMPA must have regard to, and
seek to act in a way that is consistent with the objects of the GBRMP Act, the
protection of the world heritage values of the GBRWHA, and the principles of
ecologically sustainable use – including the precautionary principle.
The Australian and Queensland Governments submitted that:
Australia and Queensland are world leaders in marine park
management, and have a long history in this area. The Great Barrier Reef Marine
Park Authority was created almost 40 years ago to protect the reef. The first
agreement between the Australian and Queensland governments to jointly manage
the reef was signed in 1979, and just two years later we were privileged to
receive a World Heritage listing.
Professor Pandolfi described GBRMPA as:
...one of the key agencies that provides liaison between the
scientific evidence on the reef and the science from the reef, and
incorporating that into the management of the reef. Without the marine park
authority, the scientists are left with a muddle of individuals to deal with.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority represents a place where we can go
to tell government what the science is about the reef, and they can use that
information to transfer into real management practice.
Others expressed concern about GBRMPA's role. For example, Professor
Terry Hughes expressed concern that GBRMPA is being disempowered, and that it
is 'no longer the one-stop shop custom-designed institution for managing and
governing the Great Barrier Reef that it once was'.
Similarly, WWF-Australia and the Australian Marine Conservation Society
submitted that there has been a progressive 'erosion of clarity of
responsibilities' and a dilution in the independence of GBRMPA over the years.
Some submitters and witnesses therefore suggested that the role of GBRMPA needs
to be expanded, or that GBRMPA needs greater power.
Several witnesses and submitters referred to the objects of the GBRMP
Act. As noted in Chapter 2, the main object of the GBRMP Act is to 'provide for
the long term protection and conservation of the environment, biodiversity and
heritage values of Great Barrier Reef Region'. However, Mr Colin McKenzie of the
Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators (AMPTO) queried whether GBRMPA is
adequately applying the Act in practice.
For example, Mr Jeremy Tager suggested that there needs to be 'greater
enforcement of the overriding objectives' of the GBRMP Act.
Ms Moorhouse of the Alliance to Save Hinchinbrook suggested that the
object should be strengthened along the lines of the preamble to the Wet
Tropics World Heritage Protection and Management Act 1993 (Qld), which
states that the area 'should be established and maintained as a world heritage
area of the highest standard'.
NQCC submitted that 'there appears to be confusion' at high levels of
...how the objects of the GBRMP Act should influence the use of
the [Marine Park]. The [Marine Park] is regularly referred to by both Federal
and State governments as a 'multiple use park', without acknowledgment of the
fact that the Act allows uses only to the extent that they are consistent with
the main object of providing for the long term protection and conservation of
the Great Barrier Reef Region. Greater emphasis on the primary object is needed
if the [Great Barrier Reef] region is to survive.
In contrast, the Minerals Council emphasised the need for the Great
Barrier Reef to remain available for multiple uses, particularly given the
importance of the industries located adjacent to or exported through the reef
to the Queensland and national economies and local communities.
Independence of, and confidence in,
Concern was also expressed about the independence of GBRMPA, with several
submissions and witnesses emphasising the need for GBRMPA to be a strongly
For example, Professor Hoegh‑Guldberg told the committee:
Continuing to have a strong Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
Authority is really important—maintaining that independence, which has been
eroded somewhat over the past decade. But rebuilding that independence is
really important, because this goes beyond politics.
Shipping Australia submitted that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
Act 1975 'provides GBRMPA with sufficient legislative backing to work
as an independent body to act in the best interest of the long-term health of
Shipping Australia further stated that 'GBRMPA conducts continuous assessments
of the health of the [Great Barrier Reef] and addresses any shortcomings
However, other witnesses and submitters expressed concerns that GBRMPA's
independence has eroded in recent years.
For example, CAFNEC submitted that it has 'serious concerns regarding actual
and perceived independence of GBRMPA'.
Mr Coates from CAFNEC explained confidence in GBRMPA has been undermined as a
result of concerns about the independence of the GBRMPA Board, the Abbot Point
decision and whether GBRMPA has 'the resources it needs to do its job.
Several submitters and witnesses raised issues relating to the composition
of the GBRMPA Board. In particular, it was suggested that some current members
of the GBRMPA Board may have a conflict of interest. For example, Southern
Cross Sailing Adventures suggested that the independence of GBRMPA has been
'compromised' by the appointment of two directors with mining interests on the
five person board'.
Mr Jeremy Tager similarly told the committee that 'individuals with deeply
vested financial interests in the coal industry' have been appointed to the
The committee notes that there was an investigation into these
allegations of conflicts of interest, which were found to be 'unfounded'.
Nevertheless, it seems from evidence to the committee that a perception of bias
and lack of independence remains. As CAFNEC submitted:
The perceived or real conflict of interest of GBRMPA board
members with mining or other interests was not alleviated by an exonerating
investigation or the subsequent divestment of some of the interests by a GBRMPA
Others queried why the Chief Executive Officer is also the Chair of the
Marine Park Authority, suggesting that the Chair of GBRMPA should be an
independent person, appointed by the Minister, who 'should be ensuring that the
GBRMPA is performing correctly'.
Ms Moorhouse of the Alliance to Save Hinchinbrook similarly noted that the Chair
and the CEO of GBRMPA 'are vested in the same person', which she described as
'a bit like somebody making a recommendation and then sitting on the
Ms Tubman of the NQCC also suggested that GBRMPA needs to have larger
board with a greater skills base, and in particular members with marine science
experience or qualifications.
In response to questioning on this issue, Dr Reichelt noted that he was the
only one with scientific qualifications on the board but that there was also a
'traditional owner with traditional marine values' and a 'marine diving
The committee notes that the role and independence of GBRMPA, including
the composition of the GBRMPA Board, was examined in detail in the review of
the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975 in 2006.
The Australian and Queensland Governments submitted that this review:
...concurred with the original conception of a dedicated
statutory authority responsible for advising and acting on behalf of the
Australian Government in relation to management of the Marine Park. The Review
Panel considered the statutory authority allows for a focused, specialised and
expertise-based approach to management, as well as providing a degree of
independence from government, while being accountable to government.
Relationships with stakeholders
Some submitters, such as the Cairns Local Marine Advisory Committee,
praised GBRMPA for its 'genuine willingness to engage with stakeholders and
community members and actively seek input to policies and management
However, this was in contrast to other evidence. For example, the
Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators, submitted that:
Over the last two years there has been a significant drop in
consultation and interaction with the industry. The Tourism Recreation Reef
Advisory Committee (TRRAC) has not met to discuss any issues other than the
strategic assessment and many issues are now reaching crisis point. As the only
industry user group that pays for access to the GBRMP, our industry should be
able to at least be listened to.
Ports Australia also expressed concern that their attempts to be
'willing participants in a clear and transparent assessment processes are not
reciprocated by GBRMPA':
Port proponents have increasingly experienced less certainty
with environmental assessment and approval conditions from the GBRMPA... we
require a coherent management approach from GBRMPA that provides clarity on
process and adherence to specified time frames instead of capricious regulation
that adds a significant cost to projects and is becoming increasingly detached
from the macro-economic goals of the Government.
Abbot Point decision
Several submissions and witnesses expressed concern at GBRMPA's role in
the approval process in relation to Abbot Point (as discussed in Chapter 6). The
evidence to the committee indicated that the recent decision by GBRMPA to
approve the dumping of dredge spoil near Abbot Point has undermined community
confidence in the role and independence of GBRMPA.
For example, Mr Colin McKenzie of the Association of Marine Park Tourism
Operators told the committee that they have had a 'close working relationship'
with GBRMPA in the past but were 'disappointed, shocked, dismayed, even angry
at the decisions we have seen from GBRMPA'.
In this context, the committee notes that the Australian National Audit
Office has recently commenced an audit to assess the effectiveness of the Great
Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's regulation of permits and approvals within
the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Ms Wishart of the Australian Marine Conservation Society told the
committee that GBRMPA's advice had also been ignored in relation to other
decisions, such as the Fitzroy Delta transshipping proposal (mentioned in
Chapter 5), where GBRMPA's advice was that the proposal had 'unacceptable high
risks and should not have been referred'.
Zoning in the Marine Park
In contrast, several submissions and witnesses expressed support for
GBRMPA and its management of the rezoning process. In 2004, after a
considerable period of consultation, GBRMPA introduced zoning maps depicting
permitted activities in various areas of the Great Barrier Reef. Some areas
were defined as off‑limits areas while other zones prohibited certain
specified activities, such as commercial fishing. Professor Hughes observed
that the rezoning of the Great Barrier Reef was recognition by GBRMPA that the health
of the marine park was suffering as a result of human activity.
The zones were designed to enable better management and protection of plants,
animals and habitats in accordance with best practice principles.
For example, AIMS submitted that GBRMPA 'has established an
international reputation as a leader in marine park management':
In the last [Great Barrier Reef] rezoning plan, it led the
way in setting new international benchmarks for establishment of no-take areas
that are comprehensive, adequate and representative. GBRMPA's international reputation
is, in part, based on the emphasis it has placed on scientific information to
manage the GBRWHA.
Submitters noted that the zoning plans were positive steps towards
improving the overall health of the Great Barrier Reef. Research shows that
both fish numbers and the average size of fish have improved in zones where
fishing has been prohibited.
Shipping Australia submitted that although the zoning restrictions have helped
to protect the health of the Great Barrier Reef, the patrol and enforcement
capabilities of GBRMPA have not been sufficient to prevent prohibited
Professor Hughes noted that there have been and continue to be issues with
fishing, particularly with bycatch and with poaching.
The Cairns Local Marine Advisory Committee suggested that GBRMPA needs to play
a greater role in fisheries management.
Professor Hoegh-Guldberg submitted that additional areas may need to be
rezoned in order to improve resilience of the Great Barrier Reef ecology to
accommodate the emerging threats of climate change. Furthermore, it was
suggested that the current zoning plan should be revisited at least every 10
years to assess whether new areas of zoning are required to combat the effects
of increased urban and industrial activities. It was also submitted that,
before rezoning takes place, GBRMPA should comprehensively consider the impacts
of land-based activities when deciding what and where to protect.
Funding and resourcing of GBRMPA
and reef management
Submissions and witnesses were also concerned about resourcing for
GBRMPA, and particularly recent cuts to GBRMPA's budget and staffing levels.
It was suggested that GBRMPA actually needs more funding for its increasing
For example, CAFNEC submitted that it has 'serious concerns regarding
resourcing of GBRMPA', and that:
...recent cuts to GBRMPA funding are very poorly timed: they
come at a time when more resources are required to address the serious ongoing
problems and threats faced by the GBR.
CAFNEC submitted that GBRMPA needs increased resourcing, particularly in
the areas of compliance, ecological research into threats, and fisheries
The Australian Coral Reef Society expressed the view that the government
'needs to invest more heavily in the management of the Great Barrier Reef and
watershed improvement in particular'.
The Australian Coral Reef Society further submitted that:
We are also significantly dismayed to see that the
Commonwealth government has significantly cut the funding of the GBRMPA at a
time when the reef is in its worst state ever.
Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg suggested that Australia is not putting
enough resources into managing the threats to the reef:
...the economic value of this ecosystem is enormous, yet we are
spending a tiny fraction on what are clear threats to the reef. If you were
running a business, you would not be spending a part of one per cent on
research and development or minimising risk; you would be spending a lot
more—10 per cent or so.
Professor Pandolfi of the Australian Coral Reef Society told the
committee that GBRMPA is being compromised by 'severe cutbacks':
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has been held up
as the world's best practice in a reef management context. Its budget has been
severely cut; there has been a recent round of severance and many of the top
scientists within GBRMPA are moving on.
Mr Jon Brodie expressed a similar concern that:
...all the people who are competent in this field in the Great
Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority are about to leave, disillusioned with what
is happening in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and with the fact
that their advice [in relation to Abbot Point] was overturned by the chair of
the marine park authority.
The Cairns Local Marine Advisory Committee agreed that, 'given the
extent of corporate knowledge set to leave the organisation with voluntary
redundancies, there is a question mark over the capacity of the Authority to
deliver existing programs to a meaningful and worthwhile extent'.
In response to questioning on this issue, Dr Reichelt of GBRMPA advised
that they had reduced from around 220 full-time equivalent staff to 'about 200
or just less' and that 'a number of senior people' have left GBRMPA 'for their
Several tourism industry representatives noted that they help GBRMPA collect
an Environmental Management Charge (EMC) from visitors. The EMC is currently
set at $3.50 per day per visitor. The committee heard that this will rise to
$6.50 in 2015.
The committee notes that the GBRMPA website states that the EMC is a
charge associated with most commercial activities, including tourism
operations, non‑tourist charter operations and facilities, operated under
a permit issued by GBRMPA and that:
The funds received from the EMC are vitally important in the
day-to-day management of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and in improving
its long-term resilience.
All funds received as EMC payments are applied directly to
management of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park including education, research,
ranger patrols and policy development.
However, the committee heard some resentment about the charge from the
tourism industry in light of recent decisions made by GBRMPA. For example, the
Whitsunday Charter Boat Industry Association submitted that:
It seems extremely ironic that tourism collects an
environment management charge for the GBRMPA who then do a risk assessment on
the impacts of dredging and sea dumping and finds that it is medium to high to
the environment and high to stakeholders. They then pass the permit for this
action to the detriment of the only industry that collects money for the GBRMPA
in the form of an environment management charge.
As Professor Terry Hughes noted:
Tourism is the big loser in this shift away from protection
of the Great Barrier Reef. The tourism industry have been exemplary in
supporting management of the Great Barrier Reef and they feel very
threatened—rightly so—by these dredging projects.
Tourism operators further queried, for example, why there is no charge
for sea dumping permits.
However, industry groups pointed out that they contribute to a range of
programs in the Great Barrier Reef region. For example, Mr David Anderson,
Chief Executive Officer of Ports Australia, told the committee that Queensland
Ports have 'developed and funded nearly all of the seagrass research and
monitoring in Queensland for a period of more than a decade'.
Similarly the Queensland Resources Council submitted that their industry:
...makes significant direct contributions to the protection,
management and improvement of the [Great Barrier Reef] environment. For
instance, during the 2012/13 financial year resource companies contributed
almost $40 million to a broad range of environmental programs that had a direct
or indirect benefit to the management and protection of the GBR. Additionally,
future spending on [Great Barrier Reef] related environmental programs, based
on current commitments, is expected to be in the order of $250 million over the
next 5 years.
Prioritisation of spending
Several submissions and witnesses emphasised the need to prioritise
management actions to ensure efficient and effective use of funds to manage the
Great Barrier Reef. For example, Professor Hoegh-Guldberg suggested that it is
'really important to prioritise' in terms of spending to manage the reef:
To improve Reef health, we need to significantly invest in
better management of current activities...as well as restoring key ecosystems...Not
only is increased investment needed from the private and public sectors, we
need to ensure this money is spent to most cost‑effectively address the
key risks to the Reef's health. A cost-effective prioritization of management
actions that explicitly considers the economic costs, feasibility, and
biodiversity benefits of a range of marine and terrestrial management actions
to identify priorities has not been done in the [Great Barrier Reef], and is
urgently required if we want to spend the limited budget effectively. 
In terms of priorities, CAFNEC suggested that 'maintaining northern reef
health' should be a priority, 'to conserve existing ecosystem values and
function and provide the basis for recovery of southern reefs'.
Coordination and cooperation between governments
The committee also received evidence on the importance of coordination
between all levels of government involved in management of the Great Barrier
Reef and its catchments. As AIMS observed:
...responsibility for protecting the health and integrity of
the GBRWHA is not solely GBRMPA's. There is a pressing need to ensure that we
have a coherent and active program of environmental management across all
levels of Government...
Other witnesses and submitters also emphasised the importance of a
coordinated effort involving all stakeholders working together in partnership.
For example, Dr Jamie Oliver of AIMS told the committee that restoring the reef
'will require concerted and coordinated efforts between all stakeholders'.
The Minerals Council of Australia similarly submitted that collaboration
between government, industry, landholders and other key stakeholders on
programs to improve the Great Barrier Reef should be encouraged.
A representative of the Department of the Environment observed that there is 'a
very large swag of partners working very proactively towards the future
protection of the reef'.
In their joint submission to the inquiry, the Australian and Queensland
Governments referred to their history of working together, including the
'Emerald Agreement' in 1979 and the Great Barrier Reef Intergovernmental
Agreement, signed by the Prime Minister and Queensland Premier, in 2009. They
noted that this agreement 'recognises that key pressures on the Reef cannot be
effectively addressed by either government on their own', the:
...objective of this agreement is to ensure an integrated and
collaborative approach is taken by the Australian and Queensland governments to
manage marine and land environments within and adjacent to the [Great Barrier
Reef World Heritage Area].
One stop shop proposal
A key issue raised during the committee's inquiry relating to the
coordination between governments was the proposed 'one stop shop' approach to environmental
assessments and approvals in the context of the Great Barrier Reef.
The Australian and Queensland Governments have signed a Memorandum of
Understanding to create a 'one stop shop' for environmental approvals. A
refreshed assessment bilateral agreement was signed in December 2013. This
agreement accredits Queensland Government assessment processes for the purposes
of the EPBC Act. The Commonwealth is currently still responsible for making the
final approval decision under the EPBC Act.
However, the Memorandum of Understanding also included a commitment to develop
an approval bilateral agreement within 12 months. A draft approval bilateral
agreement was released for public consultation on 14 May 2014. The draft
agreement proposes the accreditation of Part 4A of the State Development and
Public Works Organisation Act 1971 (Qld) and Chapter 5 of the Environmental
Protection Act 1994 (Qld). If this approval agreement is finalised, actions
that are assessed and approved under these processes will not require further
approval under the EPBC Act, including actions that may
significantly impact on the Great Barrier Reef.
The submission from the Australian and Queensland Governments referred
to the one stop shop proposal as evidence of 'significant progress' towards
responding to the World Heritage Committee's 2013 decision which urged
Australia to ensure that 'legislation protecting the property remains strong
and adequate to maintain and enhance Outstanding Universal Value'.
However, the committee notes that, in its most recent decision in June 2014 (made
after the Governments' submission), the World Heritage Committee considered
that it 'would be premature to transfer decision-making powers from Federal to
State levels' before the Long-Term Sustainability Plan is completed, and that
any transfer should be postponed to allow further consideration.
Some submitters and witnesses expressed support for the proposed one
stop shop proposal. For example, the Minerals Council of Australia suggested
that there is a 'need to improve the coordination and consistency of existing
regulatory processes' and that this 'can be achieved through the implementation
of approval bilateral agreements'.
The Queensland Ports Association similarly supported a 'single and
centralised approach to policy development and environmental assessment'. The
Association suggested that the 'combined reform of the State planning process
with Commonwealth accreditation' could provide:
...a simplified and more efficient legal and policy framework
that gives a clear 'line of sight' alignment of broad national and state
policies right through to project approvals and delivery.
Ports Australia similarly expressed support for a more streamlined
assessment and approval process, noting that there is a need for a 'higher
degree of consistency and regulatory certainty', as well as better
communication with proponents. They suggested that:
As part of the government's one-stop-shop process and the
internal strategic review of the Department, we propose that assessments and
referrals under the EPBC Act, Sea Dumping Act and the GBRMP Act should be
undertaken by a single, Canberra based team...One team would reduce the burden on
proponents, make the internal processes considerably more efficient, eliminate
duplication and reduce the overlap between different regulators who are
essentially undertaking a similar function.
Mr Anderson of Ports Australia further noted that the Australian Government
will continue to 'stay very close to the process', for example, by 'embedding
staff in the state agencies to ensure that the standards that are safeguarded
by the EPBC Act continue'.
However, other submitters and witnesses were concerned about the
government's one stop shop proposal. A key concern was that if, Commonwealth
approval powers were delegated to the Queensland Government, a conflict of
interest may arise as the Queensland Government has been a vocal supporter of
major economic developments or, in some cases, the actual proponent.
A related issue was that the Queensland Government may not allocate sufficient
resources to impose and enforce the relevant conditions in development
approvals necessary to protect the Great Barrier Reef.
For example, CAFNEC submitted that:
We have little confidence that the Queensland Government will
allocate the resources, or have the appropriate culture, to impose and enforce
the conditions necessary to protect the Reef.
Mr Richard Leck of WWF-Australia described it as a 'very inopportune
time' to be transferring assessment and approval powers, explaining that their
concerns included that:
...there have been significant rollbacks in environmental
protection at a state level for the reef. There have also been issues with
enforcement of and compliance with the state government's own approval
conditions for their developments that they have approved.
Mr Leck also suggested that there would be an inherent conflict of
interest in situations where the Queensland Government (and in particular, the
Coordinator‑General) was responsible for approving projects for which it
is the development proponent:
...the Coordinator-General would be charged both with the
promotion of major projects in Queensland and with their approval as well. To
WWF that removes a whole bunch of checks and balances that should be in place
to ensure that big projects do not damage the reef.
Professor Mumby of the Australian Coral Reef Society was similarly concerned
that the proposal would remove:
...the oversight that Commonwealth provides over decisions that
would affect the Great Barrier Reef, including proposals from state governments
themselves. It means that the state governments would be able to propose a
development that affects the Great Barrier Reef and authorise it as well,
without significant oversight.
Ms Wishart of the Australian Marine Conservation Society also expressed
a concern as to whether third-party appeal rights might be lost under the one
stop shop proposal.
Queensland Government representatives told the committee that judicial review
'is in the legislation before the Queensland parliament'.
As to whether those rights are comparable with those in the EPBC Act, in
answers to questions on notice, the Queensland Government advised that:
Under the new Part 4A of the State Development and Public
Works Organisation Act 1971 (Qld), decisions in relation to assessment and
approval of coordinated projects under the Approval Bilateral Agreement between
Queensland and the Commonwealth is subject to the Judicial Review Act 1991 (Qld)
(JR Act). Case law relating to standing under the JR Act indicates that, in practical
terms, there is close congruence with the 'extended' standing provisions of the
Dr Chris McGrath acknowledged that there is a 'complex system of laws
that regulate activities impacting on the GBR'.
However, Dr McGrath told the committee that, under the current system, the
Commonwealth plays an oversight role and has in a number of instances 'showed
real independence in oversight and planning'. He expressed concern that the one
stop shop proposal will:
...effectively give approval of the major projects to the
Coordinator‑General in Queensland, who is a powerful public servant who
is pretty well dedicated to development of the state. So you are taking final
approval from the federal environment minister and effectively giving it to a
state bureaucrat who is dedicated to development of the major projects...to the
very entity that has shown a poor track record in the past. That has got to be,
objectively, a problem.
Professor Barbara Norman submitted that there should be a:
...clear statement of national responsibility for the
environmental outcomes in the Great Barrier Reef region by the Australian
Government. The responsibilities of international obligations and long term
stewardship is a matter of national interest and should not be delegated to
subnational governments, and subjected to significant local and regional vested
Indeed, it was suggested that the Australian Government needs to
maintain and improve its Great Barrier Reef assessment and approval powers.
For example, Ms Wishart suggested that there has been too much rhetoric about
'green tape'. She cited a number of examples of significant failures in current
regulation, and urged that there needs to be 'greater protections' for the
Great Barrier Reef. This included the approval of dumping dredge spoil for
developments at Abbot Point; transshipping proposals near the Fitzroy Delta;
and the Gladstone Harbour (as discussed in Chapters 5 and 6 of this
Some of these issues with decision‑making processes are discussed later
in this chapter.
It was also suggested that the one stop shop proposal is inconsistent
with the World Heritage Committee's recommendations in relation to the
management of the Great Barrier Reef (as noted above).
WWF-Australia and the Australian Marine Conservation Society expressed further
concern that 'this transfer of powers is happening very rapidly' and will be
completed before the Long-Term Sustainability Plan for the reef is written.
However, Shipping Australia submitted its understanding that the draft Long‑Term
Sustainability Plan will at least be released for public comment before the
approval bilateral agreement with Queensland is finalised.
In response to questioning on this issue, the Department of the Environment
The Government has considered the World Heritage Committee's
request to postpone the accreditation of Queensland planning systems until the
Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan is released. The Government intends to
release the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan for public comment before
the Approval Bilateral Agreement with Queensland is considered for
The Australian and Queensland Governments advised that any accreditation
of Queensland processes under an approval bilateral agreement will only take
place after Queensland has met the relevant standards embedded within the EPBC
Act. The Australian Government has developed 'an Assurance Framework to ensure
standards are maintained under approval bilateral agreements'.
A representative of the Department of the Environment explained that there are
'122 standards for protection that exist under the EPBC Act' and that:
...the work that has been undertaken with Queensland on the
strategic assessments provides considerable confidence about the way in which
the Queensland system works. 
She further noted there 'are number of measures in the assurance
framework for the one-stop shop' which provide for a 'stepped level of intervention'.
These include arrangements such as: a senior officials committee to oversight
the operation of the agreement; processes of audit, monitoring and compliance
with the agreement; the ability for Queensland to decide to opt out of the
agreement if it feels it is not going to be able to meet the standards; and the
ability of the Commonwealth Minister to call in a project under certain
circumstances. Finally, she noted that the EPBC Act also includes the ability
to terminate an approval bilateral agreement if that should be necessary. She
These are all intended to step the regulation or the
oversight of the agreement up to a point so that it is not necessary for
projects to be considered by the Commonwealth minister and so that it is not
necessary to ever consider the termination of the agreement.
Role of GBRMPA under the 'one stop
The role of GBRMPA under the one stop shop proposal was also raised as
an issue, with some submitters and witnesses worried that GBRMPA would be
sidelined by the bilateral agreements.
For example, the Australian Coral Reef Society was concerned that under the
proposal GBRMPA would be:
...relegated to simply an advisory role over plans advanced by
the State to develop infrastructure that might affect the GBR. This is
unacceptable and clearly undermines the ability of the GBRMPA to undertake its
In response to questioning on this issue, a representative of the
Department of the Environment noted that:
There are two roles of GBRMPA under the system as it operates
presently. One is to provide technical advice to the department as one part of
constructing an assessment under the EPBC Act, and that role will continue,
with an MOU between GBRMPA and the Queensland government in order for them to
provide an equivalent level of technical advice to the Queensland government.
In terms of the roles of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority under its
own act, I am not aware of any plans to revisit those powers.
In answers to questions on notice, the Department further explained
The Approvals Bilateral Agreement, if endorsed, would allow
Queensland to assess and approve actions that are taken within the state
waters, or may significantly impact on, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and
World Heritage Area.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority continues to be
responsible for permit requirements under the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
Act 1975 (Cth).
The Australian Government continues to be responsible for
permits under the Sea Dumping Act 1981 (Cth) and for approvals for actions
under the EPBC Act that are taken within a Commonwealth area of the Great
Barrier Reef Marine Park and World Heritage Area or are undertaken by a
As noted above, the need for better coordination and even streamlining
of decision-making processes was discussed during the committee's inquiry. However,
a range of additional concerns were also raised about decision‑making
processes in relation to the Great Barrier Reef and, in particular,
environmental assessment and approval processes.
As noted in Chapter 3, several submissions and witnesses expressed
concern about the fact that regulatory decision-making is often underpinned by
scientific work and environmental assessments which are commissioned and
provided by proponents. It was suggested that this may affect the independence
of that scientific work.
As noted in Chapter 5, and in the context of the Abbot Point case study,
another issue raised was whether alternative measures are being adequately
A further concern related to the adequacy of conditions of approval and their
enforcement. This issue is also discussed in further detail in the Gladstone
Harbour case study in Chapter 6. For example, Mr Coates of CAFNEC told the
We also have very serious concerns about the current trend in
Queensland of approving projects with conditions without adequate consideration
or knowledge of the effectiveness or the practicality of the conditions,
combined with a lack of political will and resourcing for the enforcement of
The Australian Coral Reef Society also suggested that 'approval
processes should be revisited in the context of climate change'. The Society
argued, for example, that the scenario of a 'one in a 100-year storm' may no
longer be adequate given sea level rise and changes to storm intensity the
resulting from the changing climate.
As outlined in Chapter 3, concern was expressed that activities and
developments are being approved with conditions requiring further research to
discover the impacts of those activities and developments. It was suggested
that this was inappropriate and not consistent with the precautionary
Another issue was the ability of the environmental assessment process to
deal with the cumulative impacts of developments. The issue of cumulative
impacts is discussed further later in this chapter.
Professor Hughes told the committee that the environmental impact
assessment processes is 'deeply flawed' and needs to be reformed'. In this
regard, he had particular concerns about the use of offsets, telling the
committee that offsets need to be abandoned.
Indeed, although the Australian and Queensland Governments' submission
discussed offsets under the heading of 'recent regulatory and
many submitters and witnesses to this inquiry did not appear to consider
offsets as a 'regulatory improvement'. Rather, concerns were raised about the
use of offsets as conditions of approval for decisions relating to developments
impacting on the Great Barrier Reef.
The conditions relating to the proposed offsets in the Abbot Point port
development were discussed in further detail in Chapter 6.
For example, Mr McCabe of the Capricorn Conservation Council told the
committee that 'offsets can work in theory but we have little evidence that
they ever have'.
Ms Tubman of the NQCC described the use of offsets as 'smoke and mirrors'.
Mr Coates from CAFNEC expressed concerned about the 'move towards offsets as a
solution to environmental damage', and in particular the use of:
...offsets that are unrealistic, have inappropriate time lines,
are not enforced and are not backed by credible science. They will not achieve
the stated goals and are not an acceptable justification for allowing damaging
The committee also notes that it recently conducted an extensive inquiry
into environmental offsets, which included consideration of the offsets in
relation to Abbot Point and Curtis Island, and a discussion of the problems
with the use of offsets in the marine environment and in relation to World
Heritage Areas such as the Great Barrier Reef. The committee notes that a
number of recommendations in that report are particularly relevant to the use
of offsets in the context of the Great Barrier Reef, including, for example,
the EPBC Act Offsets Policy be revised to provider greater
guidance on developments in which offsets are unacceptable, including a list of
'red flag' areas, such as World Heritage and critically endangered ecological
communities and species (recommendation 6); and
the Department of the Environment develop a separate offsets
policy in relation to the marine environment (recommendation
A key discussion during the committee's inquiry was whether the
cumulative impacts of activities and developments affecting the Great Barrier
Reef are being adequately addressed and considered in management and
decision-making. For example, CAFNEC were concerned that:
There is no legislative or policy framework that consider[s]
cumulative impacts, with the narrow exception of the Reef Water Quality
In contrast, the Minerals Council of Australia submitted that 'there is
an increasing focus on the assessment of cumulative impacts as part of EPBC
The Outlook Report 2014 noted that there is concern that the
resilience of the Great Barrier Reef is being seriously, and increasingly
It was noted that resilience is determined by a range of variables and
therefore a loss of resilience generally 'cannot be attributed to any single
cause, but is almost certainly the consequence of impacts from all the
different activities and influencing factors, and their accumulation through
The Outlook Report 2014 noted that 'the ability to address cumulative
impacts remains weak'.
The Outlook Report 2014 concluded:
...threats have the potential to work in combination to weaken
the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef ecosystem and therefore its ability to
recover from serious disturbances...An increasing understanding of the cumulative
effects of threats has highlighted the need for a management approach that
takes into account all threats affecting an area and for a combination of
Reef-wide, regional and local solutions.
The Coastal Zone Strategic Assessment 2014 Program Report
acknowledged this problem, stating that:
Despite the fact cumulative impact assessments are considered
in EPBC Act decisions, there is currently no established methodology to inform
the preparation of project-specific assessments in relation to regionally based
Dr Reichelt of GBRMPA told the committee that the need to manage
cumulative impacts was addressed in the Strategic Assessments.
The committee also notes that one of the outcomes of the Strategic Assessment
is for cumulative impact assessment policy and guidelines to be developed to
help a transparent, consistent and systematic approach to identifying,
measuring and managing collective impacts on the region and its values.
However, the committee notes that one of the purposes of Strategic Assessments
is to deal with cumulative impacts on matters of national environmental significance.
The Strategic Assessments are discussed further below.
Strategic Assessments and the Long-Term Sustainability Plan
As outlined in Chapter 2, the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments recently
finalised their 'comprehensive Strategic Assessment' of the Great Barrier Reef
World Heritage Area and adjacent coastal zone. The Great Barrier Reef Strategic
Assessment had two key components: a marine component led by GBRMPA and a
coastal component led by the Queensland government. The Commonwealth and
Queensland Governments advised that the Strategic Assessments 'will inform a
long‑term plan for protecting the reef and coastal zone'.
The committee notes that most of the evidence to its inquiry was
received prior to the release of the final Strategic Assessments. Nevertheless,
some submitters and witnesses were very supportive of the Strategic Assessment
process. For example, the Minerals Council of Australia submitted that the Strategic
Assessments 'represent a leading practice approach which could be emulated in
other parts of the world'.
Queensland Ports Association suggested that the draft Strategic
Assessment is a 'testament to the strong, coordinated approach to environmental
management within the region'.
However, as noted in Chapter 5, the Queensland Ports Association also submitted
its view that the Strategic Assessment 'significantly overstates the risks and
impacts of dredging and dredge material placement at-sea' and 'significantly
under represents the role and need for ports and shipping'.
Finally, the Queensland Ports Association called for the 'coordination and
alignment of the various reviews, inquiries, Strategic Assessment and
operational activities' and suggested that 'further standalone or separate
process[es] must be avoided where possible'.
The Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) similarly submitted
that the Strategic Assessments 'comprehensively reviewed the multiple elements'
of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area system.
In AIMS' view, the Strategic Assessments have 'effectively synthesised a number
of critical issues' and propose 'ways forward to enhance the management and
protection' of the Great Barrier Reef. AIMS commended GBRMPA and the Queensland
Government for 'their compilation of this resource in a relatively short time
At the same time, other submitters and witnesses identified a number of
deficiencies in the Strategic Assessments.
In particular, AIMS suggested that they tended to 'downplay or leave the bad
news until the end of the sections':
For example, the statement that "at the scale of the [Great
Barrier Reef] region, most of its habitats and species are assessed to be in
good to very good condition." may be technically correct, but as most of
its KEY habitats and vulnerable species (corals, seagrasses, seabirds, dolphins,
dugong, turtles) are in very poor to poor condition and declining in the
southern GBR, it would seem appropriate to lead with this point.
AIMS also submitted that:
...the depth of coverage across the many topics is variable
with respect to the attention paid to, and quality of, knowledge synthesis.
Scientific literature specific to the [Great Barrier Reef] is generally well
referenced, however the international science related to our understanding of
general drivers and impacts in tropical systems is not as comprehensively
It was also suggested that the treatment of cumulative impacts needed
strengthening in the Strategic Assessments.
Ms Wishart suggested that the World Heritage Committee was expecting the Strategic
Assessments to deal with the issue of cumulative impacts.
Finally, while AIMS agreed with the initiatives proposed in the Strategic
Assessment and associated Program Report, AIMS was concerned that they only
provide a 'limited assessment of the scope and scale of additional work and
additional resources that may be required to fully implement these
initiatives'. AIMS noted that:
If the resources needed to carry out the various
recommendations and initiatives set out in the Assessments and Program Reports
are not fully scoped and provided within appropriate time scales, the ability
of these documents to catalyse the protection of the Reef from further decline
will be significantly compromised.
In response to questioning on this issue, the Department of the
Environment noted that the Strategic Assessment agreements require the
'commitments in both Programs to be adequately resourced throughout their
The Australian Coral Reef Society remarked that the Strategic Assessments
were 'comprehensive and generally accurate'.
However, the Society was concerned that the Strategic Assessment did not
adequately consider 'future development scenarios', such as the potential for
agricultural development in north Queensland.
WWF-Australia and the Australian Marine Conservation Society submitted
that the Strategic Assessments 'represent plans for more planning, rather than
a significant investment in effective management interventions to address the
critical issues confronting the health of the Reef'.
Mr Leck of WWF-Australia applauded the Australian Government 'for getting key
stakeholders around a table and building on the absolute plethora of knowledge
that we have about the reef's decline and what is needed'. However, he
emphasised the need for the Strategic Assessment process to deliver 'clear
outcomes, not more strategic reviews, not more inquiries but actual clear
outcomes that can be implemented immediately'. At the same time, he noted that
the two assessments:
...are quite different in their outlook and their analysis of
the condition and trend of the reef...it is quite confusing when you look at them
because one paints a very positive picture of the reef and one paints a very
negative picture. How those two documents and how those two views with the
different levels of government are going to come together is a
CAFNEC told the committee that it does not consider that the Strategic
Assessments are likely protect the reef from further decline. They submitted
that it 'contains a good collation and assessment of the reef health' and 'many
positive initiatives', but does not 'go far enough in the proposed actions to
reverse these trends or minimise the threats'. In particular, they suggested
The strategic assessment reports also lack real actions and
targets and instead comprise motherhood statements that fail to link to real
actions and shifts responsibility for action on to other inadequate plans,
policies which in many cases are yet to be produced or are in draft form. 
Some submitters and witnesses were particularly critical of the
Queensland Coastal Strategic Assessment. For example, NQCC described it as
CAFNEC submitted that the Queensland report 'concludes by recommending a plan
for a plan to better coordinate plans'.
CAFNEC also queried whether the Strategic Assessments incorporated
sufficient consultation and genuine consideration of community views, stating
At this time CAFNEC has no confidence that the input that was
provided to the strategic assessments by us and other community groups and
members will be incorporated into the final draft. We have seen no consultation
whatsoever on the reef 2050 plan.
The Environment Minister noted when releasing the final Strategic
Assessment that a number of initiatives will be adopted by the Commonwealth and
Queensland Government, including:
a cumulative impact assessment policy and guidelines for a
transparent, consistent and systematic approach to identifying, measuring and
managing collective impacts on the region and its values;
a net benefit policy to guide actions aimed at restoring
ecosystem health and improve the condition of values;
a new approach to decision making based on clear targets for
maintaining the reef's Outstanding Universal Value;
no port development outside the key long-established ports of
Townsville, Abbot Point, Hay Point/Mackay and Gladstone;
a Reef recovery program to support local communities and other
stakeholders to protect and restore sites of high environmental value and
critical ecosystem functions through cooperative regional-scale management
reef-wide integrated monitoring and reporting that underpins the
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's adaptive management and provides
good feedback on the effectiveness of management actions.
Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan
As noted elsewhere, the Strategic Assessments will inform the Reef 2050
Long-Term Sustainability Plan, which aims to provide an overarching framework
to guide protection and management of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage
Area from 2015 to 2050.
The committee heard that Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan will be
released for public comment in August, with a view to refining it after comment
by the end of the year in time for consideration by the World Heritage
The Queensland Ports Association, Ports Australia and the Queensland
Resources Council expressed support for the proposed Long-Term Sustainability
Plan, noting that they had contributed to its development and are 'keen to
participate in future management activities and consultation activities'.
Shipping Australia expressed its view that the consultation process in relation
to the draft Long-Term Sustainability Plan:
...will involve genuine, open and transparent consultation with
the Australian community, affected industries and relevant scientific experts,
and genuine consideration of the broader community's views in coming to a final
However, Ms Tubman of NQCC expressed concern that the plan 'has to be
presented to UNESCO in February', so 'there is an extremely short period of
time in which comments that are made can be considered and incorporated'.
In response to questioning, representatives from the Department of the
Environment explained that the long-term sustainability plan is not just 'a
plan for a plan' and will contain clear actions:
The long-term sustainable development plan is intended to
bring all of the pieces of reef management together into an easily digestible
form so that the community can see what is being done across the whole gamut of
different programs, policies, investments and areas, between the Commonwealth,
the universities, GBRMPA, the Queensland government and all of the relevant
institutions. That is a piece of work that should be out shortly. It is a very
complex task to bring together that system of targets and visions, and to bring
those actions together into a format that is easy to understand...
Dr Reichelt from GBRMPA described the Long-Term Sustainability Plan as
'a blueprint for managing the reef for the next 25 years'. He explained that:
It will become an intergovernmental agreement to a
ministerial forum that governs the Marine Parks Act and the joint operations
with Queensland. It has a strong governance basis. The challenge over the next
four or five months will be to ensure that there is continued buy-in and
cooperation with the stakeholders—there is quite a big group of industry-sector
and conservation people working on it—and that we can put some serious
standards, targets and outcomes in that long-term plan in the same way that the
authority did with water quality guidelines 10 years ago.
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