Australia's Great Barrier Reef is one of the major drivers of international visitors.
Australia's Great Barrier Reef is one of the major drivers of international visitors. Darren Jew

Management of Barrier Reef examined in Senate Inquiry

THE environmental management of the Great Barrier Reef is set to be examined in a three-month Senate inquiry due to be launched in parliament next week.

While the inquiry will examine the overall state and future of the reef, it will also investigate a raft of recent and proposed port developments and expansions along the Queensland coastline.

Among the developments set to come under the spotlight were the Gladstone Harbour and Curtis Island expansions, the Abbot Point expansion and a proposed new development in the largely un-touched Fitzroy Delta.

The inquiry, proposed by Queensland Greens Senator Larissa Waters, secured the backing of Labor's environment spokesman Mark Butler on Thursday.

It will be officially put to the Senate during parliament sittings in Canberra next week, with a draft terms of reference to include a host of environmental issues associated with the reef.

Sen Waters said the inquiry would examine whether a series of industrial developments would further exacerbate the effect of climate change, sediment run-off and other issues affecting the reef.

She said the new port expansions could see "the disaster that was the Gladstone Harbour expansion spread across our reef", and allow an "independent investigation" of fish disease problems and other issues in the harbour.

On the order of Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt, a review of a failed bund wall in the harbour is already underway, with Mr Hunt this week granted a months' extension for that review to report, in late April.

The Senate inquiry would also investigate the regulations surrounding developments in the World Heritage Area, and examine the "independence of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority".

"Recently released freedom of information documents show the Authority found internally that the Abbot Point coal port would cause irreversible damage that would be impossible to offset," Sen Waters said.

"These documents have raised questions about whether the Authority's original advice was trumped by political will.

"We need all the evidence and concerns out on the table so that all parties can work together transparently to find a way forward which safeguards our one and only Great Barrier Reef."

Mr Butler's office has confirmed the Opposition in the Senate will support the inquiry, with a vote expected on the proposal next Tuesday.