RG Tanna coal wharf as seen from the quarterly construction cruise on Gladstone harbour.
RG Tanna coal wharf as seen from the quarterly construction cruise on Gladstone harbour. Mara Pattison-Sowden

Senate inquiry won't look at Gladstone dredging

THE Senate inquiry on the Great Barrier Reef has rejected calls for a royal commission or other independent investigation into dredging and fish diseases in Gladstone Harbour.

A report from the inquiry into the management of the reef has called for an end to dumping of dredge spoil in the reef's World Heritage area.

But it rejected calls from several witnesses, before the inquiry, for a royal commission or a new investigation of the Western Basin dredging project and the fish disease outbreak that coincided with the project in 2011 and 2012.

Scientist Dr Matthew Landos, who investigated the fish disease outbreak on behalf of local fishers, and Australians for Animals' Sue Arnold, were among the witnesses who urged the committee to recommend a royal commission.

Evidence given by both witnesses and several others regarding specific problems in the project that may have triggered the fish disease outbreak have been disputed by the proponent, Gladstone Ports Corporation.

And despite evidence given to the bund wall inquiry earlier this year revealing the port may have held back information from previous investigations, it maintains the dredging project was not linked to the disease outbreak.

While the Senate inquiry recommended a "cap or ban" should be placed on further dredge dumping in the reef World Heritage area, it made no official recommendations for further investigations into the ongoing controversies in the harbour.

Part of the problem, Greens Senator Larissa Waters said, was that while several "allegations" were made to the committee, those allegations were made "in camera" and could not be made public.

It is understood witnesses involved in the fishing industry raised numerous issues off the record, which remain confidential, but that the inquiry was hampered by a lack of corroborating evidence.

Senator Waters said she still wanted a "fully independent" inquiry of investigation into the harbour and its management, but she had "not yet formed a view" that a royal commission was the right type of investigation.

"A royal commission is a peculiar type of legislated inquiry, and to do that, usually it would be into specific allegations of criminality," she said.

"Given the government already seems opposed to instigating any other further investigations into the issues, it seems the chances of a royal commission are unlikely."

While the previous Labor government initiated an independent review of the harbour management, extended with the bund wall inquiry by the Abbott government, neither was able to fully investigate any potential links between the fishing diseases and dredging in the harbour.

The Abbott government has yet to respond officially to the Senate inquiry report.

- APN NEWSDESK


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