Environment Minister Greg Hunt has ordered an “immediate” inquiry into the agency charged with protecting the Great Barrier Reef, after revelations that board members held interests in companies that could benefit from expanding coal and gas production near the reef.
The revelations come as the Great Barrier Reef faces growing threats to its existence. Massive coal ports are planned along the Queensland coastline, which environmental groups predict will have devastating effects on the reef.
Abbot Point would be the world’s biggest coal port if approved for development in coming months.
The north Queensland coastal township closest to Abbot Point is about to get the chance to argue its case for and against the expansion.
Bowen residents will get to express their views to Mr Hunt when he visits their community on Wednesday afternoon.
Some say the project will restore business confidence, while others fear the dredging and dumping of three million tonnes of seabed will harm the Great Barrier Reef.
Mr Hunt will arrive in Bowen, south of Townsville, a week after delaying a decision on the project, which had already been pushed back by the former Labor government.
The ABC has reported documents it obtained show the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has taken an increasingly weaker position on new port developments near the reef.
At a crucial meeting in September 2012 the authority’s board decided to soften its previous opposition to port developments that had “potential to degrade inshore biodiversity”.
Board minutes reveal “the board requested that the position statement be changed”. Instead of being a deal-breaker, the harmful impact of port developments on biodiversity would now be a “key consideration”.
One of the five board members who took part in the discussions, Jon Grayson, who represents the Queensland government on the board, was revealed to own shares in Gasfields Water and Waste Services.
Greenpeace spokeswoman Louise Mathieson told the ABC that given Gasfields stood to profit from the growth of Queensland’s gas industry she thought there were “questions about whether Mr Grayson would benefit”.
The other Marine Park Authority board member facing conflict of interest allegations is former Townsville mayor Tony Mooney, who was appointed to the board by the Gillard government in 2011.
The ABC investigation revealed Mr Mooney works as a mining executive at Guildford Coal, which reportedly plans to run as many as six coal mines in Queensland.
Ms Mathieson told the ABC that given Mr Mooney gets paid “up to a quarter of a million dollars a year to manage stakeholders for a coal company” she was sure it would be “a lot easier” to manage a stakeholder like the Marine Park Authority “if you sit directly on the board”.
Mr Mooney denied there was a conflict of interest but said he declared his employment with Guildford, according to the ABC. Mr Grayson also declined an interview but a spokeswoman for the Premier issued a statement.
“The Queensland Government rejects any suggestion Mr Grayson has a conflict of interest. Following his appointment, and with accordance with the Queensland Integrity Commissioner’s advice, Mr Grayson ceased to have any management involvement in active companies.”
“[Mr Grayson’s] retention of passive interests is in accordance with the Commissioner’s advice and poses real or potential conflict of interest.”
Mr Hunt said on Wednesday he had “ordered an immediate, independent probity inquiry into the allegations that have been raised”.
“These are new allegations,” he added. “All of the appointments were made prior to the current government taking office.”
The Environment Minister said the two board members of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority had “strong reputations” and he did not want to “draw any judgment in any direction” about the conflict-of-interest allegations.Source: Sydney Morning Herald – Environment Minister Greg Hunt orders inquiry into reef authority
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