Conservationists slam Hinchinbrook go-ahead

Issue 

By Bill Mason

BRISBANE — Conservation groups are outraged at the federal government's July 9 decision to give the go-ahead for the controversial Hinchinbrook resort project, subject to developer Keith Williams signing an agreement to use "best practice" engineering methods.

The $100 million resort and marina at Oyster Point, near Cardwell, 120 kilometres north of Townsville, have been the target of a long campaign by environmentalists because of the threat to mangrove coastal areas and the plan to dredge the Hinchinbrook Channel.

It is feared that dredging Great Barrier Marine Park waters near Hinchinbrook Island will create silt which will destroy seagrass beds and wipe out the endangered dugong.

The project was stalled in November 1994, when Labor federal environment minister Senator John Faulkner intervened to halt work, which had been given the green light by the Goss ALP state government.

Hinchinbrook Island conservationist Margaret Thorsborne said the Howard government had let down Australia. Other conservation organisations have declared they will fight the project right to the bitter end, pointing out that authorising development in a World Heritage area makes the Australian government an international "laughing stock".

The Australian Conservation Foundation announced on July 10 that it would challenge the go-ahead for Hinchinbrook in the High Court. ACF executive director Jim Downey said the ACF would investigate whether the decision breached the World Heritage Properties Conservation Act.

Downey said there might also be scope for the ACF to take action under international treaties such as the United Nations Biodiversity Convention, especially relating to the loss of dugong on the reef.

"This decision has got broader implications. [Senator Rod] Kemp said before the election that if the Williams project impacted on World Heritage conservation values, it would not go ahead. Four months later, the government has failed its first test. It doesn't bode well for the future", he concluded.