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ALP ups the ante on dredge spoil pledge

By Mark Beale

A PROMISE from federal Labor to ban dumping capital dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area goes further than the Abbott government’s pledges to date.

Labor’s environment spokesman Mark Butler announced the Opposition’s policy on Monday in Cairns, saying it balanced the “realities of development” with the need to protect the reef.

After delaying a decision on the controversial Abbot Point project while holding the Environment Minister’s portfolio last year, Mr Butler said it was offering “bipartisan support” to the government.

While Environment Minister Greg Hunt has already promised not to allow the dumping of dredge spoil in the reef’s marine park, the Labor promise covers a much larger area under the World Heritage maps.

While each policy differs in the extent to which it bans dumping of spoil for new capital projects, both allow for continued maintenance dredging spoil to be dumped within the marine park.

A statement from Mr Hunt’s office said the government had already had to change the Abbot Point proposal to “onshore disposal”, despite a recent decision allowing the changed project not to undergo a full environmental impact assessment.

And after the marine park authority faced budget cuts and several senior staff leaving as a result of the original botched Abbot Point approval, Labor has promised to reject further changes.

The Opposition has also ruled out supporting any government budget cuts to the authority, Bureau of Meteorology, and tourism, marketing and scientific research by the government.

Among the groups welcoming the Opposition’s announcement was the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

Reef campaign director Felicity Wishart labelled it a “major step”.

However, Ms Wishart remained concerned there were still numerous projects proposed in Cairns, Townsville and Gladstone where questions remained of where to dump the dredge spoil.

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