The decision of the Environment Minister, Tony Burke, to dump the conditional approval of the South of Embley Bauxite project on March 15, after receiving a one-page inaccurate submission from the Wilderness Society, makes a mockery of the Federal Government’s commitment to cut green tape to facilitate major projects in Australia.
This significant project, which will provide major economic investment and some 1200 jobs, was delayed on the basis of a flimsy document by the Wilderness Society.
On November 2011, the Minister received a request under section 78A of the EPBC Act from the Wilderness Society to reconsider his conditional approval of the South of Embley Bauxite project on Cape York. The request was based on new information that 700 ships a year would pass through the Great Barrier Reef and that this would have a significant impact on the Great Barrier Reef.
On January 11, 2012, Minister Burke, as he is required under 78B of the EPBC Act, informed Rio Tinto of the request to reconsider his decision, and the company was asked to respond to this alleged “significant new information”.
On January 25, Rio Tinto responded to this “significant new information” and informed the Minister’s Department that there would be approximately 300 ships travelling through the reef, and that the other 400 ships would be travelling north to China.
In the letter to the Acting Director, Elizabeth Oliver, Rio Tinto’s Laurie Hicks advised the Department that shipping in the Great Barrier Reef would increase by 30 ships from 270 to 300 by 2014.
Rio Tinto’s letter of January 25 confirmed that there was no basis for reconsideration of the Minister’s original decision.
Prior to the Minister’s decision on March 15, his Department was therefore well aware that Rio Tinto’s ships would be going north to China and not only to Gladstone. The Department’s knowledge of this information was confirmed by Departmental officials in Senate Estimates on May 23, 2012.
The Minister was aware of the facts. Despite this, he revoked his original decision based on an increase of 30 ships and knowingly jeopardized major investment and jobs on the Cape.
Burke’s decision was a victory for the Wilderness Society, who continue to agitate for World Heritage Listing on Cape York. This was one more tactic in their battle to stop all mining projects proceeding on Cape York. The real prize has always been World Heritage Listing.
Even yesterday, the Wilderness Society’s Gavan McFadzean said major projects should not be approved until the Federal Government had completed its assessment of Cape York for a potential World Heritage application.
The Wilderness Society continues to ignore the fact that a World Heritage Listing application will not proceed without the consent of local indigenous people. This was confirmed again in Senate Estimates yesterday.
The local Indigenous people will never agree to World Heritage Listing, as it will cost them jobs and the right to use their land.
The Wilderness Society have very little regard for the local indigenous people and the three thousand Queenslanders who rely on Rio Tinto to provide for their families, not only on the Cape, but in the refineries in Gladstone.
They will stop at nothing to push for World Heritage Listing on Cape York including pushing for an Emergency Heritage Listing. Their efforts remain futile as Tony Burke has confirmed repeatedly that he will not go down the path of a National Heritage Listing or a World Heritage listing without the consent of the traditional owners.
The Wilderness Society must face the facts. Without the support of the Queensland Government and the local indigenous people, the World Heritage Listing application is doomed.
Unfortunately for Rio Tinto and the South of Embley project, they were just collateral damage in the process.