Cairns to discuss mining's toll on reef
A PUBLIC forum will be held in Cairns on Thursday to fight for the Great Barrier Reef amid concerns about the environmental impacts of the mining industry, and its economic effects on tourism, agriculture, manufacturing and education.
Reef at Risk: Coal Mining and the Great Barrier Reef hosted by the Cairns and Far North Environment Centre, the Australian Conservation Foundation and Greenpeace Australia Pacific will bring Greenpeace's Louise Matthiesson and The Australia Institute's Mark Ogge to the Pullman Reef Hotel Casino to talk about the scale of planned developments along the Queensland coast, including nine new coal export terminals (one at Cape York).
"Each port is a little different, but they all involve creating gigantic new jetties, dredging millions of tonnes of seabed, most of which will be dropped in the marine park, and thousands more new ships every year, increasing the risk of a shipping accident," Ms Matthiesson said.
"The coal-loading facilities will impact on wetlands and habitats, on fish breeding grounds, and coal contributes to climate change, with increased risk of coral bleaching and reef destruction."
Ships will increase from 3900 to at least 6000.
Analysis from The Australia Institute this week reveals tourism in the Far North has slumped in the past decade because the mining boom has driven up the Australian dollar.
"The economic impact of the mining boom on the Cairns region is a big story," Mr Ogge said.
"Over the past 10 years global tourism has boomed with tourist numbers increasing by around 20 per cent," he said.
"Over the same period, the number of international tourists coming to tropical north Queensland has dropped massively by 25 per cent."
That's a reduction of about 160,000 visitors per year.
"This isn't because the reef is suddenly less beautiful, or that the region's tourist operators are doing something wrong," Mr Ogge said.
"It is because international tourists are faced with the high Australian dollar which has been driven up by the mining boom."
Other sectors were being "crowded out" by the mining industry, despite it employing just two per cent of the workforce (half of one per cent in Cairns) and 83 per cent of mining companies being foreign owned, he said.
The rural sector has lost $43.5 billion in export income since the mining boom began.
"The sugar industry lost $566 million last year alone," Mr Ogge said.
The speed of development was also an issue, Mr Ogge said. Up to 60 coal mines would be created or expanded by 2015, tripling the region's coal production which currently stands at 180 million tonnes annually.
Environment Minister Andrew Powell said the State Government was determined to get the balance right between economic development and environmental protection.
He cited the allocation of $35 million for reef initiatives, the establishment of Gladstone's Health Harbour Partnership and best management agreements with grazing and cane industries as proof of his government's commitment.
But Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke said planning developments were subject to federal approval.
"Time after time I've had Campbell Newman tell me to rush decisions through without going through the proper checks," Mr Burke said.
"I won't give an inch to those sorts of petulant demands."
The free public forum is at the Pullman Reef Hotel Casino Cairns on Thursday at 6pm.
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