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Environment and Communications References Committee - 21/07/2014 - Great Barrier Reef

ANDERSON, Mr David Murray , Chief Executive Officer, Ports Australia

KAVENEY, Mr Thomas John , Environmental Policy Advisor, Queensland Ports Association

[11:24]

CHAIR: Welcome. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. The committee has your submissions. I invite you both to make an opening statement and then the committee will ask you questions.

Mr Anderson : I will make an opening statement on behalf of both our organisations. Chair and senators, Ports Australia and Queensland Ports Association appreciate the opportunity to engage with the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee on its inquiry into the management of the Great Barrier Reef. Ports Australia is the peak national industry body representing port authorities and corporations, both publicly and privately owned, and the QPA, the Queensland Ports Association, is our state affiliate with whom we have a very close working relationship. Both organisations have made submissions to this inquiry. At the core of these submissions is the theme that the ports community is utilising its best endeavours to exercise a very high standard of stewardship of their respective environments while also facilitating and developing sustainable freight services and community connectivity. Both these goals are also centrepieces of government policy.

I will make a few observations about my constituency and the Great Barrier Reef, if I may. Queensland GBR ports and associated activities have existed for over 150 years. The GBR is a multiuse area and ports have played a long and significant part in shaping the economy and community fabric, not only in the GBR region but in all regional areas of Queensland. Our ports have highly developed knowledge of their respective environments and commit considerable resources to their stewardship. Ports in Queensland and nationally have been key to our national wellbeing since settlement. Now, as always, Australia is a highly trade exposed economy, with a relatively high proportion of its GDP generated by seaborne trade. The world is becoming more and more globalised and Australia's current and future livelihood is based on its success as a trading economy.

Queensland relies on efficient ports that can adapt quickly when required to meet the dynamic demands of the global marketplace. Ports are thus a necessity in the transport and supply chain that Queensland simply cannot do without. Our industry, we strongly believe, has a strong reputation of safe and sustainable growth and development and has been solely responsible for, or a significant contributor to, many of the environmental monitoring programs or initiatives underway in the Great Barrier Reef. A recent independent review commissioned by Ports Australia of 43 dredging projects in tropical and subtropical Australia indicates a strong record of achievement in looking after our environment.

By way of further example, Queensland Ports have developed and funded nearly all of the seagrass research and monitoring in Queensland for a period of more than a decade. Our marine water quality and ecosystem monitoring programs extend well outside our port boundaries and continue to set benchmarks for leading practice. Queensland Ports undertake rigorous and transparent environmental assessment for all major projects undertaken. The programs developed in ports lead the way in strong industry-government collaboration.

Ports in Queensland are not just about coal; they are about exports and, importantly, essential imports to sustain our economies. For example, Townsville is the container hub for Northern Queensland, while Mackay is the landing point of many essential imports to sustain our economies and industries. Queensland Ports trade around $45 billion worth of cargo each year—a very considerable contribution to the state domestic product.

Dredging has been very much in focus, as we in the ports community are very much aware. There has been an intense focus on dredging in the Great Barrier Reef in recent years. Our navigation channels and shipping arterials that service our nation of ports are of equal importance to everyday Australians, as are landside, road, rail and air freight networks. This is a very important conversation for us. We do not believe the conversation should start with dredging. It should start with our shipping channels and the importance of our shipping channels. Often these vitally important pieces of economic infrastructure are the forgotten infrastructure, but, like our road and rail networks need to be protected, they need to be maintained and they need to be developed as our trade grows.

Senators would be aware that there are essentially two types of dredging. We undertake maintenance dredging to sustain channels at depths necessary to safe navigation and we undertake capital dredging that increases the capacity to accommodate larger vessels, increases in trade and so on. All dredging and at-sea placement activities are subject to detailed management measures to ensure impacts are effectively managed and do not result in unapproved impacts. Dredge material is not placed on habitats of high conservation value and never on coral reefs. Most placement areas in the GBR retain the material and, where dispersal does occur, monitoring studies have shown this is limited and has not affected areas of high conservation value. The sediment impacts from dredging are in minor in comparison to those from river discharges and cyclones.

I will now make reference to the Queensland Ports Strategy. The Australian port industry has led the way in sensible and sustainable development planning through the production of national guidelines on portmaster planning. The Queensland government has, in part, adopted this framework and has moved swiftly in this regard and has demonstrated commitment to long-term sustainable industry outcomes with the development of the Queensland Ports Strategy, released in June this year. We are developing a rigorous planning framework for our ports community in Queensland. The Queensland Ports Strategy has identified five priority port development areas which will focus on and regulate port development along the Queensland coast with a specific focus in the GBR region. It will legislate the requirement of long-term master plans to be developed for each of the priority ports—each to be supported by an environmental management framework and committed to high values.

Ports Australia and Queensland Ports Association strongly support this work and we are very much involved in it and are committed to working to achieve sustainable environmental and economic outcomes under this umbrella. We have in fact put a substantial amount of work into an inclusive master planning framework, which has attracted strong interest and recognition from other stakeholders.

Finally, Ports Australia, in cooperation with our colleagues in the QPA, is a member of the Reef 2050 Partnership Group established by the federal Minister for the Environment, the Hon. Greg Hunt MP, and the Queensland Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection, the Hon. Andrew Powell MP. This group involves all key stakeholders, including NGOs, and has been charged by ministers to formulate a reef management plan based on strategic assessment and specifically designed to address issues raised by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. Each of the participants has been charged with formulating strategies applicable to their own activities, and in this respect the ports community is endeavouring to be very proactive.

We have contributed to this strategy very constructively so far. We make reference to the rigorous planning framework being developed for Queensland ports under the Queensland Ports Strategy that require the master planning that I previously referred to. It also includes our commitment to developing a dredging code of practice and to share the results of our monitoring and monitoring expertise and deliver transparency wherever possible.

CHAIR: Thanks very much, Mr Anderson. A number of submissions to the inquiry have made mention of the fact that World Heritage Committee is or was contemplating putting the reef on the In Danger List. How did the ports community react to that?

Mr Anderson : We react like the rest of Australia. We do not like the idea at all. We think that, in many respects, the process is based on information that is not totally correct. We have been working with departments to ensure that the World Heritage Committee is provided with robust scientific information. Also, and as I previously mentioned, we are working very closely and constructively with departments and other stakeholders on a reef management plan—the Reef 2050 plan—so that we can address those issues collectively and as unanimously as possible.

CHAIR: Other submitters have said that the Reef 2050 plan might be too late, because there is damage happening at the moment. What do you say to that?

Mr Anderson : It cannot be too late. I do not believe that. We know the science tells us that ports are not a significant contributor to the damage to the reef such as it has occurred. The Crown of Thorns, weather events and run-off from catchment areas are the main contributors, and we would take the view that we should use every endeavour to address those issues. It is not a question of being too late; it is a question of ensuring that we restore, to the extent that it has been damaged, a vital Heritage asset.

CHAIR: Thank you. You commented about capital dredging and you said one of the reasons for it is that vessels are getting larger. For the benefit of the committee, would you explain what you mean by that. Are there particular industries that will have larger ships? What ports will be most affected by the fact that you need dredging to accommodate the larger ships? What are those ships exporting from Australia?

Mr Anderson : That is not universally the picture. There are certain influences on the size of ships. Certainly, for example, container ships are getting a lot bigger. In the 1980s an 1,800-TEU vessel was considered a large vessel. Now they are making them up to 18,000 TEUs, which they are using on east-west services between the big hubs like Shanghai and Singapore, but there is a trickle-down effect to Australia. At one stage, we thought a 4½ thousand-TEU vessel was a large vessel; now we are seeing the occasional arrival of a 6,000-TEU vessel. Where bulk ships are concerned, it is my view that some ports will never depart from the capesize vessels, but the Panama Canal developments and so on are having impacts on the dimensions of some of those vessels. But my best estimate is that we will not see huge increases in the actual size of bulk vessels in most of our coal trades, certainly.

Where we talk about increasing the capacity of channels, it is about the increase in trade as well. I know it is not in the Great Barrier Reef, but, if you look at the channel servicing Newcastle, it is quite narrow and defined by the heads and so on, which means that there will always be a theoretical limit to the number and size of vessels you can get in and out of that port. Likewise, I would think we will largely see capesize vessels servicing our coal trades in Queensland into the foreseeable future. I would certainly invite my colleague to comment on that, but that is my impression.

Mr Kaveney : I agree with what David said. I do not think we are going to see a massive increase in the size of vessels that are coming to Queensland. There is a global trend that vessels do get larger over time. We have seen that for decades, but the capesize vessel limit is probably what we are looking at and most of the channel development that goes on at the moment is to accommodate those. There are also cruise ship sizes. They are increasing all the time and some of the projects underway are to accommodate some of those as well.

Senator McGRATH: Much has been made of the explosion in port development. Has this occurred? How have shipping numbers been affected or grown?

Mr Anderson : We would argue that there has been no explosion in port development. What you see with port development is that you have big, finite pieces of infrastructure that might have a life of 60 years having to be brought on. So you cannot increase a port's capacity in marginal chunks; you have to say, 'Right, we'll put on two new berths that might increase the size of the port theoretically by 50 per cent.' So you have these big, chunky investments that take place from time to time.

What we know is that, when the commodity trades have been going well, historical growth rates are about twice our GDP—around five per cent. My best guess, going out into the future, would be that the long-term trend will grow at something like global GDP, say three per cent per annum on average.

Senator McGRATH: You have four shipping channels that go through the Great Barrier Reef—is that correct?

Mr Anderson : There are certainly designated channels, yes.

Senator McGRATH: What would be the value of exports that go through the Great Barrier Reef?

Mr Anderson : About $40 billion to $50 billion a year.

Senator McGRATH: Some of the previous witnesses giving evidence have called for additional regulation—I would use the phrase 'red tape'. I notice the penultimate paragraph on page 3 of your submission. Would you care to comment about calls for additional regulation?

Mr Anderson : Senator, are you still referring to shipping?

Senator McGRATH: Yes.

Mr Anderson : The Great Barrier Reef, the World Heritage area, would be one of the most rigorously regulated in the world. The things that come to mind are compulsory pilotage; there is now a VTS manned 24/7 seven days a week the whole extent of the reef, which is in constant contact with shipping using the area and is monitoring shipping traffic in the area. It would be our contention that AMSA does a very good job in managing vessel traffic up there. There has recently been—it is still in the stage of finalisation—a North-East Shipping Management Plan, similar to one that was done in the north-west, that essentially says: looking into the future, what increases in shipping traffic are we going to get? Do we have appropriate navigational infrastructure to deal with it? Do we have an appropriate regulatory regime to deal with it? It is a risk analysis looking into the future. It even maps things like whale paths and cyclones to ensure that it takes everything into account.

Senator McGRATH: Why is dredged material placed offshore?

Mr Anderson : I will flick to Tom in a minute on that one. Essentially it is placed offshore, firstly, because it is the best option both economically and ecologically, in the main. That is the short answer.

Mr Kaveney : I could add to that. What we are talking about is the dredging of marine sediments and the placement of marine sediments back into the marine environment. It is not a particularly alien concept to return that material to where it has come from. Globally it is seen as best practice in many situations. Keeping that sediment in the coastal process system is often very desirable. The impacts that can occur from the placement of material in the marine environment are well understood and can be well managed.

Australia has an excellent track record with regard to dredging projects. They are undertaken all around the country. Understanding what impacts can occur and how you might manage them is a well-developed science. Bringing material to shore is sometimes necessary where you might have contaminated material, where disposal options are limited or where you are looking to reuse the material for reclamation or rehabilitation purposes. Globally the disposal of material onshore as disposal of a waste product is not seen as generally being a favoured option given the other environmental impacts that can occur. So marine disposal is very often—not always—the best outcome.

Senator RUSTON: Would it be reasonable to say that the impacts of dredging and the disposal of the dredged material have perhaps been overly emotionalised and overstated, in your opinion?

Mr Anderson : Yes.

Mr Kaveney : I think overstated or misunderstood, in many instances. Most of the science that we have shows that the disposal into the marine environment does not have significant impacts. Ports Australia have undertaken a review of 43 dredging projects in tropical waters off Australia in recent times. Only in two instances did those dredging projects have results that were beyond what was anticipated, where turbidity levels were higher than were expected. The resulting environmental impact from that turbidity was still lower than assumed.

Senator RUSTON: Are you required to put offsets in place to deal with this so that if you cause an impact you have to have a counter de-impact?

Mr Kaveney : Where impacts are assessed as being significant then there is a requirement to offset for those impacts. So, yes, there is that standard approach and policy and environmental approval and impact assessment, and offsets are then delivered according to the scale of those impacts.

Senator RUSTON: You said a minute ago that this particular area is one of the most overly regulated, controlled and managed places in the world. Do you think the regulation and controls are delivering positive results—just within your scope of impact and activity on the reef?

Mr Kaveney : There are always improvements that can occur to the regulatory regime that we work under. But regarding the track record of those 43 dredging projects and the results that they delivered, David was referring to shipping regulation in his earlier response, but the same applies to dredging, where we have a highly regulated system. And we are not seeing instances of severe environmental harm or unexpected results. So I think you could say that the regulatory framework is working well. I think it could be improved. There are some instances where it could be streamlined and coordinated better but, on the whole, absolutely. And I think Australia is one of the leading practitioners in that space.

Mr Anderson : In response to an earlier question, we do get our backs up at any suggestion that we are wilfully doing damage through dredging. We take a highly precautionary approach. Our members put a lot of resources into environmental management and stewardship. They have a very good understanding of their environments, which they build on all the time through their monitoring programs. And the answer to your other question is yes, the science and literature by and large tells us that the impact of dredging on the reef is not significant, and sometimes we think that is overblown.

Senator WATERS: There was a recent report by the Centre for Policy Development that said that port capacity on the Great Barrier Reef was being utilised at only about 65 per cent—that is, a third of the ports were empty, or a third of each port was empty, on average. What is your assessment of the port capacity in the Great Barrier Reef ports? Is that report accurate?

Mr Anderson : We can talk about it on a port-by-port basis, which is probably more relevant, because each of those ports has its own supply chains, has its own markets, has its own different types and grades of coal. If we can take Abbot Point for starters, it is pretty much close to capacity at the moment. But the compelling point for me is that investment in port assets goes for a life of, say, 50 or 60 years. People are not going to make investments, and the private sector certainly is not going to make investments, in increased port capacity unless they have reasonable surety of contracts and supply. I cannot address specifically that figure of 65 per cent. I would certainly like to have a closer look at it, and we could give a detailed response to the committee on that subject. We would be very happy to do so.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. That would be helpful. Did you have anything to add from Queensland?

Mr Kaveney : I think there is a need to understand the difference between what is often called nameplate or engineering capacity—what a terminal might be designed in terms of its engineering feasibility to produce, and that is what the nameplate capacity of 50 million tonnes might refer to—and exports. Exports from those terminals never run at that 100 per cent. That is the engineering capacity. And there is a range of other factors that affect the ability to get product through the terminal, and that includes supply chain issues and climate conditions. In Queensland we had a series of major cyclones and wet seasons that greatly affected particularly coal production for many years, so those production rates were down. And I think we have seen over the last 12 months that that rate is going back up towards what you might expect. On a global standard you would expect somewhere around 75 to 80 or 85 per cent of terminal capacity being actually what is achievable.

Mr Anderson : I think also it is worth noting that the Queensland Ports Strategy, in designating five growth areas, has generated a more rigorous conversation about supply chains and the utilisation and efficiency of our supply chains, which I think will generate positive environmental outcomes, because it will put the impetus there for us to get the best out of our rail networks and our supply chains generally, and our channels, through our ports.

Senator WATERS: You say demand is picking up again. What was your reaction to the withdrawal of Abbot Point by BHP, by Rio, by Lend Lease and the withdrawal of the Mitchell group from the Fitzroy delta and the withdrawal of Xstrata from their Balaclava port facilities? Why is industry abandoning—

Mr Kaveney : My statement was not that demand was picking up; my statement was that production was picking up again, in terms of the existing coal production and the existing markets.

Senator WATERS: What was your reaction to those industry decisions to withdraw from port capacity?

Mr Kaveney : I think it was plainly reflective of the market at the moment; it is as simple as that. If the market is not there and the economics for developing new projects do not exist, then, as David was saying, investment will not directly follow.

Senator WATERS: If these big players do not want new ports, why are we building them?

Mr Kaveney : We are not particularly building all of those projects. There is some data that I have here, which Senator McGrath might have been interested in, with his earlier question, showing that there have been a range of proposals put forward—and there always are, for new developments—since the World Heritage Committee expressed its initial concerns relating to the GBR. They have been port related—25 projects referred under the EPBC Act. Of those, only five have been approved, and none have commenced. So I do not think we are seeing this rapid expansion in port development.

Senator WATERS: That is because industry is pulling out.

Mr Kaveney : What we are seeing is a process that people go through, depending on the economics at the time, of project feasibility. And then whether projects proceed will be determined by that.

Senator WATERS: Would your organisation support building those ports anyway, despite industry citing excess port capacity as one of the reasons for withdrawing from Abbot Point and other more southern reef port proposals? Do you still want to build them?

Mr Anderson : I have not entirely come to grips with your question. You are still implying that there is massive port development occurring along the coast. We can talk about it on a port-by-port basis. As I said to Senator McGrath before, these are big lumpy investments, and some of them are going ahead based on commercial judgements about future demand and supply. Otherwise the proponents that have pulled out of these projects sometimes go ahead with assessments and put them on the shelf and wait for the market to pick up and then make a judgement as to whether that 50- to 60-year life investment is worthwhile. But ultimately it is the market that is responding.

Senator WATERS: I suppose that is my question: are you in favour of building the ports anyway, even though those big industry players have currently said, 'We don't need extra port capacity'?

Mr Anderson : We are in favour of facilitating port development where commercial proponents feel that there is a good reason for doing so. And putting up private investment is the ultimate test.

Senator WATERS: Given that those big players have withdrawn their support for Abbot Point, does that now mean that you also will withdraw your support for expanding Abbot Point?

Mr Anderson : No, it does not mean we will withdraw our support.

Senator WATERS: I am trying to follow the logic of your earlier statement.

Mr Anderson : And I would question your language in saying, 'They have withdrawn support for Abbot Point'. What they have withdrawn is their immediate proposals for investment, but that is not to say that when the market picks up they may not go ahead.

Mr Kaveney : Some players have withdrawn, but there are still companies involved in the process that do believe that they have a viable project, and they are the ones that are proceeding. I think you are trying to link together projects that have been withdrawn with an expansion that is not planned. I think there is serious planning going on for projects by companies that believe they have viable economic projects.

Senator WATERS: Do you agree with the World Heritage Committee's recommendations that there should not be new ports in pristine areas and that there should not be any port expansions where those expansions would damage the values of the reef?

Mr Anderson : We support the Queensland Ports Strategy, which designates—

Senator WATERS: That was not my question, with respect.

Mr Anderson : It designates five growth areas, as you are aware. In terms of the World Heritage Committee's recommendations, that is something that we accept and that we are working with the Queensland government on. We have to be pragmatic about that. Ultimately we contend that when we undertake port developments we use a highly precautionary approach to safeguarding the environment, but we would have to look at that on a case-by-case basis.

Senator WATERS: Do you support those recommendations of the World Heritage Committee?

Mr Anderson : Yes, we support the recommendations.

Senator WATERS: On the ports strategy, what is your view on whether it implements the World Heritage Committee's recommendations? We heard some very strong views earlier today that it is a business-as-usual strategy. What is your view?

Mr Anderson : I think Minister Hunt and Minister Powell have made serious endeavours to get the parties together and agree on the 2050 implementation plan.

Senator WATERS: They got together and agreed, but do you believe that the strategy reflects the World Heritage Committee's recommendations?

Mr Anderson : I have been on that group, and I can say that coming out of that group is a determination to put rigour and sharp definition into outcomes and actions, not just some fluffy expressions of intent. And certainly speaking for the ports community we are endeavouring to assist in delivering that. So my answer is that this is the best shot we have yet of addressing the World Heritage Committee's concerns.

Senator WATERS: You described it as 'rigorous', although we heard from earlier witnesses that it does not apply to anything that is currently on foot. It applies only for a period of 10 years. It applies only to capital dredging outside the five major port areas that the strategy itself allows to proceed to be expanded. Are you going to stand by that remark that it is rigorous?

Mr Anderson : Yes, and I will add to that if I may. Let's take your points one at a time. First of all, you say it is restricted to capital dredging. I take from that an implication that you have reservations about maintenance dredging.

Senator WATERS: I am simply stating what the strategy says and seeking your view as to whether it is rigorous or not.

Mr Anderson : Yes, I do believe it is.

Senator WATERS: Have you read the recent Australian National Audit Office review of compliance with conditions federally, including as it relates to port development?

Mr Anderson : Yes, I have read the ANAO report.

Senator WATERS: What was your assessment of that report, which found that conditions compliance was poor and underenforced by the federal regulators?

Mr Anderson : I do not necessarily agree with all the recommendations or all the findings of the ANAO report. What I do believe is that we have audit officers to assist us—auditors with independence from other agencies—to improve our processes. The best response I can make is that we as an industry sector are working very hard with both the DOE in Canberra and Minister Hunt, and others, to make sure that those processes are as rigorous as possible. Ports Australia, like our colleagues in other industry sectors, are not interested in diminishing standards; we are interested in better process.

Senator WATERS: Do you support the federal government giving away its responsibilities to protect the Great Barrier Reef from projects that have a significant impact and giving those to the Queensland government?

Mr Anderson : The federal government is not giving away its responsibilities. It still has responsibilities under its appropriate legislation. What it is doing is—

Senator WATERS: It will not be administering those responsibilities.

Mr Anderson : It is delegating them to the states, and I know—again, from discussions we have had with agencies about it—that they are looking very seriously at how they protect those standards in that relationship.

Senator WATERS: And my question was, do you support that approach?

Mr Anderson : We support a streamlining of the process, yes.

Senator WATERS: So you support there not being a federal government player but the Queensland government being charged with delivering both federal and Queensland standards?

Mr Anderson : I do not accept the contention that the federal government will not continue to be a player. It is going to stay very close to the process. It is embedding staff in the state agencies to ensure that the standards that are safeguarded by the EPBC Act continue to be, and there are a number of other areas—

Senator WATERS: Except those standards do not need to be reflected in state laws. But perhaps that particular debate is for a different forum.

Mr Anderson : What is your relationship with the fishing industry, particularly around Gladstone and Abbot Point? Perhaps that is a question for Mr Kaveney.

Mr Kaveney : The ports of Gladstone and Abbot Point, which is the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation, have an ongoing relationship with all their stakeholders and the community groups. There are extensive consultation processes around those ports in terms of both their daily operation and any new developments that are proposed. That is a continual dialogue that goes on, as it does with all stakeholders in those port areas. I think you would say that a normal relationship is had with all the different port stakeholders.

Senator WATERS: Have those fishing industry representative bodies or perhaps the individual operators made representations to either of your organisations about their concerns from port expansions on the productivity of their own industry?

Mr Anderson : Not to Ports Australia, no.

Mr Kaveney : They may well have to the QPA, but I am not aware.

Senator WATERS: Perhaps if you could take that on notice, that would be helpful.

Senator BULLOCK: Mr Anderson, I note that you have got a writing style that calls a spade a dredge, so I am going to ask Mr Kaveney a question. In your report at the bottom of page 6 you refer to the Abbot Point cumulative impact assessment in the dredging project public environment report and say:

These assessments highlight that port development, including a 3 million m3 capital dredging campaign, can occur in a sustainable manner and deliver conservation objectives that maintain or improve the current environmental situation.

Would you like to expand on that?

Mr Kaveney : Certainly. The ports developments at Abbot Point, including the dredging but also the terminal developments and the rail associated with it, have undergone some of the most extensive environmental assessments study that we have ever seen in Australia—including the cumulative impact assessment report that was produced as a partnership between all of the industrial stakeholders at the port supported by, off the top of my head, 21 technical studies over a 2 ½ year period involving academics and experts from James Cook University, Southern Cross University and a range of other consulting experts. The conclusions of that study found that you could develop the port that was proposed and a level of development while still maintaining the environmental values that are represented both at the port and, more broadly, in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area. From the port's perspective, there is no doubt that they could develop that port in a sustainable way and maintain all those environmental outcomes.

Senator BULLOCK: It might be a bridge too far but maintain or improve?

Mr Kaveney : Through the investment that would occur at the port and the management arrangements that would be put in place, there was a series of identified improvements—some offsets, some through environmental conservation programs—where the condition of the environment could be improved.

CHAIR: Just talking about offsets, Mr Kaveney, can you give us an example of where Queensland Ports has had to implement an offset on a significant environmental impact?

Mr Kaveney : Yes. I could use Hay Point as an example. Part of the development of the expansion of the Hay Point coal terminal, which is currently underway, involves some reclamation of some nearshore environments, including some mangrove areas. Part of the approval process there required an offset to rehabilitate a nearby area of mangrove and wetland. That project has been undertaken. It included involvement of the catchment management authority—Reef Catchments—in that part of Queensland who are experienced in this and have undertaken a number of wetland restoration projects. The project undertaken at Sandringham Bay has seen a remarkable improvement in the condition of that environment whereby it is now providing an improved fisheries nursery habitat and is functioning more as a natural wetland in terms of filtering sediment and water quality coming through the bay. That is an excellent example of an offset that has been undertaken.

CHAIR: And that was a requirment under the EPBC Act.

Mr Kaveney : It was a Queensland and an EPBC Act requirment to undertake that work.

CHAIR: Are you undertaking any other offset projects at the moment?

Mr Kaveney : There is a series of offset projects being undertaken by ports and terminal developers. In Gladstone, the LNG projects have an enormous offset program underway. The Wiggins Island project has offsets that it is required to deliver. Part of the normal project development process now is to undertake offsets and deliver them.

Mr Anderson : We have a very open mind about offsets. We are working with parties to ensure that our contribution and our participation in offsets is as effective as possible.

Senator RUSTON: Dr Alison Jones made the comment that Abbot Point port managers have handled the public concerns very badly over the port expansion and they need to be very vigilant about any perceived impacts from the dredge spoil disposal. However there has been an operating port there with maintenance dredging taking place and yet not even a hint of the impacts to the local reef or shipwreck. What would you say to the comment that you have allowed yourselves to be hijacked by the propaganda of the extreme 'no development at all' lobby? Here we have an eminent professional basically saying that there does not appear to be a significant problem but the ports have sold their story very badly.

Mr Anderson : That is an interesting point. The first thing I will say is that, within North Queensland Bulk Ports there is a communications group that is working very hard to deliver positive messages about ports and the role of ports. As a ports community, I would concede the point that we were wrong-footed a bit by a very well-resourced and relentless constituency that was disseminating negative information about dredging and ports. We are now addressing that, including through this report. At the moment we are researching and reviewing how we can more effectively deliver positive messages about ports to the community. So, to some extent, we concede the point, and we are addressing it.

Mr Kaveney : If I could, David, I would just add to that. One of the challenges that ports face is that, to demonstrate good practice and demonstrate the environmental credentials of their operations, we have to undertake—as I was saying to Senator Bullock—five years of study and five years of science. This produces a huge amount of scientific material. It is hard to digest, particularly for a person in the street who is just interested and concerned, all of that information in an easy way. So the education process around a project is very complex. Then, on the other hand, we have opponents to the development who produce material that is a one- or two-liner saying that dredging harms the reef—and it is a whole EIS to disprove that claim. So the challenge in educating the public in the broad is a hard one.

Mr Anderson : Even our own literature says or implies that we are doing all this good and monitoring the health of the seagrass meadows and so on but we are not putting out there sufficiently. So we have taken that to heart.

Senator RUSTON: Yes. All the good work in the world is not worth much if people do not know you are doing it.

Mr Anderson : I would like to very quickly put something on the record. In an earlier comment to a witness, Senator Bullock said—and correctly so—that I had made some robust statements about the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in our submission. He is correct in saying that, but I would like to record, if I may, that subsequent to that we decided, as a matter of deliberate policy—and so did Russell Reichelt, the chairman of the authority—to mend that fence and to build a cordial and constructive relationship, which we have. We have regular consultations and we are working together on the Reef 2050 program.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, gentlemen, for taking the time to appear before the committee today and for your submissions. We do appreciate it. The committee will suspend briefly for a private meeting.