Court action against federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s decision to allow a coal port expansion near the Great Barrier Reef is being described as a test case.
The Mackay Conservation Group (MCG) is launching proceedings in the Federal Court on Monday arguing Mr Hunt had breached Australia’s World Heritage obligations by allowing the Abbot Point coal port development.
The Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) of Queensland, which is handling the case, said a legal win could affect future ministerial decisions.
“This is a test case,” EDO solicitor Michael Berkman told reporters in Brisbane on Monday.
“It’s a sound case and the prospects of success are reasonably good we believe.”
Activist group GetUp! is contributing $150,000 from small donors to bankroll the case, challenging Mr Hunt’s decision to allow dredging near the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to enable the port expansion.
It’s also appealing the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s (GRMPA) decision to allow the dredge spoil to be dumped on a sand bed within the park’s boundaries.
MCG co-ordinator Ellen Roberts challenged Mr Hunt’s declaration in December last year that the Abbot Point project would be subject to “some of the strictest conditions” in Australian history.
“We disagree that the conditions in place on the project are sufficiently strict,” she said.
“There is going to be damage to the Great Barrier Reef if the dredging and dumping goes ahead in the way that it’s planned – it will have impact on local marine ecosystems.”
The North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation is behind the expansion of the Abbot Point port, near Bowen, south of Townsville.
The development will turn the port into one of the world’s biggest coal terminals, but GetUp! campaigner Sam Regester said it was not against the coal industry.
“We’re not anti-development and we’re not anti-mining,” he said.
GetUp! is also funding another case against the marine park dumping, which is challenging the science behind GBRMPA’s decision.
The EDO is also arguing that case, but on behalf of the North Queensland Conservation Council.