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Independent review won't be released before UN decision

An aerial View of Fisherman's Landing in Gladstone Harbour.
An aerial View of Fisherman's Landing in Gladstone Harbour. Brenda Strong

A KEY independent review of water quality in Gladstone Harbour will not release its findings before the United Nations World Heritage Committee decision on the future of the Great Barrier Reef.

Numerous reports from the Queensland Government have said the water quality issues in the harbour could not be definitively attributed to dredging.

But a recent review analysing the government reports cast new doubt on the state government's findings, leading to tit-for-tat attacks between author Dr Matt Landos and Environment Minister Andrew Powell.

While uncertainty about fish diseases and marine animal deaths in the harbour remains, a truly independent review, ordered by the UNESCO committee, was meant to look into the management of water quality in the region.

The review was one of three key requests the UNESCO World Heritage Committee made of the Federal Government after a monitoring mission to Australia last year.

Two recommendations were that a strategic assessment of all the risks to the reef be completed and that the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan be fully funded to continue for the foreseeable future.

The strategic assessment has been under way for some time, and both the state and federal government have committed to continuing the water quality protection plan.

But after questions were put to the Federal Environment Department about the status of the independent review, the department revealed it was not expected to be completed until June 30.

It is understood the review was not immediately ordered after the committee released its recommendations, and the delay has contributed to the late reporting date.

If the review was not released until then, it would miss the entirety of the committee's deliberations on the issue, concerns which were originally sparked by the approval of three LNG projects on the world heritage-listed Curtis Island.

Some of the community concerns which led the committee's recommendation for the review included: reduced water quality from dredging; inadequate independent, scientific oversight in monitoring water quality; and a lack of government response to exceeded water quality targets.

On that basis, the committee recommended the concerns about the management arrangements for Gladstone Harbour and Curtis Island be addressed through the independent review.

The committee also recommended the review should result in the "optimisation of (the) operation, consistent with the highest internationally recognized standards of best practice".

It also said it should be completed before any new major port operations were approved by either government.

While the review may result in improvements to the marine environmental management in the area, it will not be able to add to the body of evidence at the committee's disposal when it considers whether to put the entire reef on the world heritage "in danger" list in late June.

A spokeswoman for the Federal Environment Department said the review would "get underway this year", and the key principles of the review would conform to UNESCO's request.

She said both federal and state government had made significant progress in addressing the committee's recommendations.

The review will also inform the strategic assessment, while Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke has written to his state counterpart, Mr Powell, seeking his support and participation in the review.

The Federal Government is due to hand its report on the Great Barrier Reef to the committee in less than two weeks.

Topics:  gladstone harbour unesco united nations world heritage



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