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26 February 2014

Dumping dredge spoil near reef was decided without independent analysis

Environment Department says it gave approval after ports corporation said dumping spoil on land was too expensive

Activists protest under water on the Great Barrier Reef

The Environment Department did not conduct independent analysis of how much it would cost to dump dredge spoil on land before permission was granted to dump it in Great Barrier Reef waters.

North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation undertook its own assessment of expanding the port at Abbot Point and found dumping 3m cubic metres of dredge spoil on land would be prohibitively expensive.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) approved the dumping of the soil in the marine park in January with 47 conditions attached.

Dean Knudson, from the department's compliance division, said the department accepted the port's own assessment of how much it would cost to dump the spoil on land.

"The department did not undertake costing analysis of individual proposals. The proponent was in a position where they had undertaken costing estimates as you would expect commercial costings of the various options," he told Senate estimates.

Questioned by Greens senator Larissa Waters, he said that the decision was 'consistent with the world heritage convention recommendations' and that 'there was a world's best practice environmental assessment undertaken for this port'.

Waters has criticised the department for not undertaking its own analysis saying it was taking a mining company's word for best practice.

"The proponents could well be overstating the cost of disposing of dredge spoil on land but the government doesn't know because it's simply relying on the proponent's word, even though the proponent obviously has a direct conflict of interest," Waters said.

"The community will be shocked to hear that our government is blindly relying on port developers' claims and letting them dump dredge spoil offshore in the reef's waters."

Among 47 new environmental conditions imposed by the authority with the approval to dump the spoil within the park was:

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