By Ana Kailis
Queensland Premier Wayne Goss and environment minister Molly Robson were hopelessly stranded by the federal government's November 15 decision to stop the clearance of mangroves at the proposed "tourist mecca" at Oyster Point adjacent to the World Heritage listed Hinchinbrook Channel.
Developer Keith Wilson, of Hamilton Island Resort and Sea World fame, was intending to build Queensland's biggest tourist development on the site. His proposal included accommodation for 1500 guests and 750 staff, a 234-berth marina and a shopping centre with restaurants and car parks. Wilson has now abandoned the project and plans to sue.
Clearing of mangroves on the site had already occurred when the development was halted. The federal government was forced to intervene using World Heritage legislation after a community outcry.
Both the Hinchinbrook Channel and Hinchinbrook Island are part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Oyster Point is also close to the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.
Hinchinbrook Island is rich in mangrove forests and tropical rainforest. The channel also has extensive seagrass pastures that thrive on its seabed and provide an important food source for dugong and the endangered green turtle.
In order to build a marina, an initial excavation of a 600-metre channel and the construction of breakwater walls was necessary. To maintain the channel annual dredging would occur, destroying the seagrass meadows.
Opposition to the project had escalated over the last two weeks, with 90 of Australia's leading scientists signing a letter to the federal government condemning the proposal. The letter was emphatic that the Hinchinbrook area was a remarkable natural resource that should be protected.
Coming under fire over the paucity of its environmental guidelines planning, the state Labor government is now engaging in a war of words with the federal government about exactly who is responsible for the blunder. Goss claims that federal environment minister John Faulkner gave the initial go-ahead for the project.
However, the Goss government's record on environmental issues is appalling. According to Virginia Young, spokesperson for the Wilderness Society, "The premier needs to have a good hard look at the responsibilities of the Office of the Coordinator General in creating this mess. The office consistently overrides proper consideration of environmental issues with the result that Queensland is once again gaining the reputation for having the shonkiest government processes in Australia."