The proposed expansion and the port master plan

The cart before the horse

The all-powerful Minister in Queensland’s ALP government, Minister for State Development and Minister for Natural Resources and Mines Anthony Lynham recently announced that work has started on a master plan for the Port of Townsville.

Master plans for the State’s ‘priority ports’ (Townsville, Gladstone, Abbot Point and Hay Point/Mackay) are required under the Sustainable Ports Development Act 2015.

According to the Act, master plans are required before any approval can be given for capital dredging in a ‘restricted area’ (an area that is within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area but outside the Commonwealth marine park).

In a media release dated 16 February, Minister Lynham said that “[I]t is early days, but this is the first step towards setting a clear direction for the Port of Townsville while we help protect the Reef.”

The media release noted that “a draft master plan… is likely to be available for public consultation by the end of this year”.

The Sustainable Ports Development Act 2015 arose from the Reef 2050 Plan, which, amongst other things (such as the need for a Master Plan), requires that all development proposals are accompanied by a ‘full business case’.

Another requirement of the Reef 2050 Plan was that no development affecting the GBRWHA be approved without a full business case. The business case for the proposed port expansion is still being developed (by the Port and, according to the office of Deputy Premier Jackie Trad, “the state’s independent infrastructure advisor, Building Queensland”). According to its website, this “independent advisor” includes on its Board, the Director-General of the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, the Director General of the Department of Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning, and Queensland’s Under Treasurer.

The business case was not provided for community scrutiny during the Proposed Port Expansion Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)/Additional Environmental Impact Statement(AEIS) process, and it is still doubtful as to whether or not it will ever be made available for public comment.

Given the quality of the ‘economic’ case for the port included in the EIS, it is seen as essential that any business case be open for public scrutiny. Given the amount of community time and finances that has already been committed to this proposal, it would surely have been more sensible to complete the business case and the Master Plan first.

All of which gives rise to several questions:

  • Why was the Additional Environmental Impact Statement (AEIS) released for comment prior to the development of the Master Plan for the Port?
  • Given that the design for the proposed port expansion changed vastly between the 2013 EIS and the 2016 AEIS, will the design on which we have commented still be relevant by the end of 2017?
  • Will the Master Plan be drawn up to suit the pre-existing EIS/AEIS?
  • Why was the business case not undertaken before detailed plans were drawn up and public comment sought?
  • Will the business case for the proposed port expansion be subject to public scrutiny?

Overall, the saga of the Port of Townsville continues – a shifting plan for an unnecessary and world heritage damaging expansion.