The federal environment minister has defended his decision to allow the dumping of dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt says plans to expand Abbot Point were “99 per cent done” when he inherited the project from Labor.
Last year, the minister approved the dumping of three million cubic metres of dredged spoil within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to expand the port near Bowen.
Environmentalists have argued the project will damage marine life and turn the reef into a shipping super-highway.
Mr Hunt says dumping dredge spoils on land was the preferred method, but this had already been ruled out by the former Labor governments.
“What we finally approved was one twelfth the size of what the Bligh and Gillard and Rudd governments had been proposing,” Mr Hunt told ABC Radio on Tuesday.
“We then put in the strictest conditions in Australian history.”
Mr Hunt says dumping the dredge spoils on land was ruled out by his predecessor because there was a wetland near the port.
It would also have created an acid sulphate problem on land due to the sediment’s make-up, he said.
Mr Hunt said he had independently assessed whether land dumping was an option, but was given the same advice.
The Australian Marine Conservation Society’s Felicity Wishart says Mr Hunt’s comments are “extraordinary”.
Ms Wishart says Queensland has been dealing with acid sulphate for 25 years and neutralising the acid was “quite manageable”.
“But instead Mr Hunt’s gone for the cheap and nasty option,” she said.
The Abbot Point expansion is a crucial step in the development of $28.4 billion of coal reserves in the Galilee Basin.
The Australian Marine Conservation Society says results of a recent online poll, carried out by Essential Research, shows most Australians don’t support the Abbot Point expansion.
Two thirds of the 1017 people surveyed said they disapproved with the decision to allow the expansion to go ahead. About 17 per cent were in favour.