A scathing UNESCO report into Australia’s management of the Great Barrier Reef has failed to prompt a strong response from either the federal or Queensland governments.
The report, released on Saturday, warns the reef could be listed as a World Heritage site in danger unless Australia makes substantial changes to its supervision of the area.
It says the adverse listing could go ahead if the federal government does not convince the international body it has improved its performance before February next year.
The report urges Australia not to permit the creation of ports separate to those which already exist near the reef and asks for a strategic assessment of the entire area, implying that new developments should be held up until that report is complete.
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said his government was aware of the issues raised in the report but could not accommodate some of its chief recommendations.
“We will protect the environment but we are not going to see the economic future of Queensland shut down,” Mr Newman said.
” … We are in the coal business. If you want decent hospitals, schools and police on the beat we all need to understand that.”
Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke said there was not much he could do to prevent development applications already in progress.
“I can’t take away the rights at law that applicants have when they’ve already started their approval process,” he told reporters in Sydney.
“(But) certainly for the areas that the World Heritage Committee would be most concerned about, we’re not expecting any of those decisions to come to me before the strategic assessment work is concluded anyway.”
Greens Senator Larissa Waters said Mr Burke’s response was inadequate.
“The laws are clear – the minister has the power to act. He has the power to press pause while the strategic assessment is undertaken,” Senator Waters told AAP.
“Unfortunately he lacks the will … I have been very disappointed with the lack of interest he has shown in the Great Barrier Reef.”
Australian Conservation Foundation CEO Don Henry said the report should be a wake-up call for the federal government.
“To have a potential `in danger’ listing hanging over the reef is a national disgrace,” he said.
The report calls for an internationally-recognised review of the management of Gladstone Harbour, saying there are a “range of unaddressed concerns” around the approval of major liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants at nearby Curtis Island.
Environmentalists and fishermen blame dredging in Gladstone Harbour for the area’s poor water quality and a skin disease affecting marine life.