In the fight to save the places we love there are always swings and roundabouts, but the last two weeks have felt more like a wipe-out than either a swing or a roundabout. Last week the media focus was on the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, doing deals with India so they could import our uranium – without signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The week before we saw the Environment Minister, Tony Burke, approve a massive new coal terminal in the Great Barrier Reef. Then, adding insult to injury, the Prime Minister used her time in India to attend the signing ceremony for a joint venture between two companies that plan to build this enormous new terminal.
The importance of this development cannot be understated – it is the gateway project that will see the exploitation of the biggest coal boom in Queensland’s history and will deliver a body blow to the Great Barrier Reef and the ecosystem that flourishes there.
Because the proposed coal terminal at Abbot Point near Bowen – known as T3 – would be capable of exporting 60 million tonnes of coal per year. It would require three million cubic metres of dredging and, at full capacity, would add an extra 500 coal ships slicing through the Reef every year.
That’s not to mention clearing and building in part of the Caley Valley Wetlands, home to endangered birds supposed to be protected by international agreements. The new terminal will loom over a turtle nesting site, remove seagrass where dugongs feed and deposit coal dust in waterways that wash out into the Reef.
But wait there’s more.
Korean giant Samsung C&T is the major partner in the newly announced T3 coal terminal joint venture, ensuring more of the profits from Australia’s mining boom head offshore. The other joint venture partner, Smithbridge Group, is a Brisbane-based firm.
While it’s alarming that a Queensland company would want to oversee damage to the Reef by working on this controversial project, the Director of Smithbridge, Albert Smith, should be aware that this project has been, and will continue to be, strongly opposed by community, environmental and tourism groups.
The application to build T3 was an important test for Julia Gillard and Tony Burke on their commitment to protecting the Reef – and they failed. The government has approved damage and degradation of the Reef, as well as the loss of internationally-significant wetlands and habitat for endangered animals, to facilitate mining companies making profits that return to foreign investors.
Approval of this gateway project highlights the other issue with these ports, and that is that Australia’s biggest contribution to global warming is our coal exports and, at a time when the science demands an urgent reduction in greenhouse emissions, it is a reckless proposition for Australia to be embarking on massive coal expansion plans.
Both the Queensland and the Australian governments have now clearly demonstrated they are listening to the mining industry – not to the people. It is time we spoke louder. Let’s not sit by while one of our most important national treasures is trashed.
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