UNESCO gives tick of approval for reef protection

UNESCO'S World Heritage Committee (WHC) has delivered a vote of confidence in Australia's ongoing management of the Great Barrier Reef, while deferring a decision to list the reef in danger during a meeting in Qatar.

Speaking from Doha where he has been representing the state's interests, Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection Andrew Powell said the committee had not listed the reef in danger but rather opted to trust the Queensland and Australian governments' commitment to meet all of UNESCO's recommendations.

"I welcome this decision by UNESCO's world heritage committee, which gives Queensland a big tick and it gives the work we are doing a big tick," Mr Powell said.

"Our strong plan to protect the Great Barrier Reef is already producing positive results, creating a brighter future that Queenslanders and tourists from around the world can enjoy.

"This decision is also a win for logic and science rather than rhetoric and scaremongering.

"Despite the best efforts of green groups, we have successfully demonstrated to UNESCO that the reef is in safe hands and that we are being guided by scientific facts and as a result we are achieving positive outcomes.

Mr Powell said the Queensland Government promised to grow tourism as one of the four pillars of the economy and the Great Barrier Reef was an important part of that.

"When UNESCO visited in March 2012 it witnessed a tired Labor Government in its dying days that had obscene plans to dredge 40 million tonnes of material and literally create a new island off Abbott Point," he said.

"The former Labor government was refusing to fix the bund wall in Gladstone and failed to engage with the agricultural sector to reduce run off onto the reef.

"The truth is that the Queensland Government has completed significant work to address those concerns and deliver on UNESCO's recommendations.

"We have significantly scaled back the development at Abbot Point and imposed more than 140 conditions on the project.We have delivered our Ports Strategy, limiting development to existing port areas for a decade, and we have outlined our plans to enshrine that commitment in legislation.

"We have delivered ongoing improvements in our water quality and we will continue to work on a strategic assessment of the Great Barrier Reef in conjunction with the Federal Government.

"This Government has taken action to protect the reef and I thank UNESCO for its acknowledgement of our efforts to date.

"I am encouraged by the committees' comments, but I accept there is still more work to do to counter the misinformation and campaign of lies by green groups that seem interested only in damaging Australia's international reputation.

"I am confident that we will ensure the Great Barrier Reef continues to be one of the best managed marine areas in the world."

Queensland Resources Council Chief Executive Michael Roche said all Australians would welcome the committee's decision.

"We are pleased the committee is as focused on the future management of the Great Barrier Reef as we are here," Mr Roche said.

"The federal and state governments' progress on improving the reef's management and health is evident from the recently released Queensland Ports Strategy and Reef Water Quality Report Card."

Mr Roche said the report card confirmed science-based programs were improving reef water quality, which in turn, would play a role in reducing Crown-of-Thorn starfish outbreaks.

"In relation to future port management, the Cumulative Impact Assessment prepared for the Abbot Point coal terminal expansion has created a new standard for informing government decision-makers," he said.

"The cumulative approach to environmental impacts gave the federal government and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority the scientific confidence they needed to approve the project subject to 142 conditions.

"Maintaining the outstanding universal value of the Great Barrier Reef was the centrepiece of the assessment process, which has set a world class benchmark for marine precinct management."

Port-related activities along the 2,300 kilometre-long Great Barrier Reef occupy less than one percent of the coastline and the areas set aside for sediment relocation represent less than 0.02 percent of the world heritage property area.