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20 Feb, 2012

Australia Seeks Public Comment on Future of Great Barrier Reef

Source: Ministry for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

18 February 2012 – One of the world’s most treasured icons – the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area – will undergo a joint assessment to ensure future development along Queensland’s coastline is well-planned and its unique values are protected. The Bligh and Gillard Governments with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) have signed a new agreement on assessment processes to ensure future sustainable development along the Queensland coastline and protection and management of the Great Barrier Reef.

This is the most comprehensive and complex strategic assessment ever carried out in Australia, which will help continue to protect the unique environmental values of the World Heritage Area and the Great Barrier Reef coast.

A strategic assessment provides a big-picture study under national environmental law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, of an area to assess how environmental values can be best protected while allowing sustainable development.

A strategic assessment considers federal and state environmental planning issues in a single assessment process. It means that once a program has been endorsed under the EPBC Act and the types of development or activities allowed to take place have been approved, individual projects do not need any further approval under national environmental law if done in accordance with the approved program.

“Rather than always dealing with one application at a time this allows an assessment of the region as a whole,” Federal Minister for the Environment, Tony Burke said. “That gives us an opportunity to take into account the cumulative impacts and any indirect impacts such as increased shipping movement. In short, it is a better way to protect one of the world’s greatest treasures and I’m glad it’s started.”

Queensland Environment Minister Vicky Darling welcomed the agreement saying that it reinforced the value of coastal protection measures already instigated by the Bligh Government to protect the reef and assist with its future management.

“The Bligh Government has a record of safeguarding Queensland’s spectacular coastline and environment,” Ms Darling said. “The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s favourite playgrounds, is a $5 billion asset for our economy and supports more than 60,000 jobs for Queensland. We have a record of protecting its unique biodiversity and we are going to ensure it stays that way for future generations. I expect the assessment will confirm the effectiveness of the range of existing protections this government has already put in place.

“We have a strong platform of protecting the unique natural diversity of the Great Barrier Reef and adjacent coastline areas. In the last three decades, we have worked tirelessly and delivered landmark reforms to protect the biodiversity of this spectacular part of the world through major initiatives such Wild Rivers legislation, Queensland Coastal Plan, Great Barrier Reef regulations and expanded green zones in marine parks.

Ms Darling said the strategic assessment would not only benefit the environment and local communities, but also industry through streamlining of government environmental processes.

“This strategic assessment enables us to work hand-in-hand with the Commonwealth Government to ensure development is well-planned and systems are in place to protect the area’s World Heritage values,” Ms Darling said. “The assessment will also help answer any questions the UNESCO World Heritage Committee has and we will be discussing the assessment further with the delegation visiting in early March.”

GBRMPA Chairman Russell Reichelt said the strategic assessment was an opportunity to take a long-term view of managing the Great Barrier Reef.

“The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef system in the world and it has rich diversity,” Dr Reichelt said. It is up to us to protect this extraordinary place for generations to come. Considerable management effort has gone into building the resilience of the Reef, which means it is in a far better position to withstand threats to its health. We welcome the opportunity to work closely with Queensland on a sustainable plan for managing impacts from both onshore and offshore activities.”

Public comments are invited on the terms of reference, available at:

Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority