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Wednesday, 11 September 1996
Page: 3203

Senator HILL (Minister for the Environment)(9.37 a.m.) —by leave—I wish to table a series of documents in relation to Port Hinchinbrook consents. They are what I regard as the key advices and scientific reports and I wish to table them pursuant to our support for transparent and open government. There has been some media interest and interest in the Senate on this issue and I think that the community has the right to know the basis upon which ministers reach certain conclusions and make certain decisions. I seek leave to incorporate my state ment and I table the documents together with an index of the documents.

Leave granted.

The statement read as follows

Decisions under the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act 1983—Proposed Port Hinchinbrook Resort Development

I am pleased to release the key documents relating to the assessment process I followed before making my decisions in relation to the proposed development adjacent to Hinchinbrook Channel.

I have made my decisions on the basis of the best scientific advice available. In accordance with this advice, I have taken all necessary steps to ensure the protection of world heritage values.

I have secured a legally binding commitment from the developer to use best practice engineering approaches when undertaking relevant activities associated with the resort development.

Importantly, the Commonwealth and Queensland have agreed to develop and implement a regional management plan for the Hinchinbrook area. The plan will address broader issues associated with management of the region—I expect it will regulate boat traffic, implement protective measures for dugong and other endangered species and will ensure visitor numbers to Hinchinbrook Island are restricted.

The agreement on the development of a regional plan for the Hinchinbrook area is a major achievement. Commonwealth involvement in the regional planning process gives it the capacity to address in an integrated manner the full range of developments that could impact on world heritage values. The Commonwealth will be in a position to implement a comprehensive management regime designed to protect world heritage values in the region, and so prevent conflicts over land use rather than responding in an ad hoc and belated fashion in the way the previous government did.

I wish to emphasise the Commonwealth's commitment to the regional planning process. We understand Queensland share our commitment to this process. The Commonwealth, however, has particular responsibility for protection of world heritage values. Accordingly, if for any reason the regional planning process does not deliver the required protection for world heritage values then I will use all powers available to me to protect world heritage values in the Hinchinbrook area, including those values in the Hinchinbrook Channel and on Hinchinbrook Island.

In general terms, I adopted the following process in making my decision:

   Cardwell submitted its application, including a report by Sinclair Knight Mertz, seeking consent to implement a beach and foreshore management plan and to dredge a marina access channel at Oyster Point.

   The application and supporting documentation were distributed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (`GBRMPA') to key stakeholders, relevant Commonwealth agencies and to a panel of six independent scientists.

   The six independent scientists prepared their reports. These reports were summarised and synthesised by another expert—Dr Russell Reicheldt from the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

   GBRMPA reviewed the reports of the scientists—including the Reicheldt report—and the stakeholder comments. GBRMPA also considered representations made by the applicant, who was given an opportunity to comment on the scientist's reports. GBRMPA provided a brief to my Department.

   My Department provided advice to me suggesting that I seek legally enforceable undertakings from the developer to ensure best engineering approaches are used and that I seek an agreement from Queensland on the development of a management plan for the Hinchinbrook region.

   I deferred making a decision while a deed of agreement was negotiated with the applicant, Queensland and Cardwell Shire Council. This deed ensures best engineering practice will be used by the developer. In addition a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was negotiated and signed with Queensland providing for a regional management plan to be prepared. As discussed above, this plan addresses the potential regional impacts associated with development in the Hinchinbrook area (including the proposed development at Oyster Point).

   I also observed the requirements of the Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975 and, in relation to the Commonwealth entering into the Deed, the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974.

   I observed my statutory obligation to consult the Queensland Minister for the Environment before making my decision.

   Further advice was received from GBRMPA.

   In light of the best available scientific evidence, the advice from my portfolio agencies and the protective mechanisms that were put in place, I was advised by my Department that giving approval to dredging a marina access channel and implementing a beach and foreshore management plan would be consistent with the protec tion, conservation and presentation of the world heritage values.

I note that the parts of the attached documents which might disclose the legal advice provided to me in relation to my decisions have been deleted.

Robert Hill

Minister for the Environment