Heritage area harbour: firms self-assessed

by: Graham Lloyd
From: The Australian
February 25, 2013 12:00AM

COMPANIES involved in the $33 billion expansion of Gladstone Harbour were allowed to self-assess whether they were meeting the hundreds of environmental conditions to operate in the World Heritage area.

But, in response to complaints that Gladstone Ports had breached its audit conditions, the federal Environment Department said it did not consider the Gladstone Ports Corporation to have breached the approval conditions relating to independent audits and annual compliance reports.

“The Gladstone Ports Corporation is only required to undertake an independent audit upon direction by the department,” it said. “While no breach has been identified in relation to these conditions, the department is looking into a number of other matters related to the impact of dredging within Gladstone Harbour.”

A spokesman for the Gladstone Ports Corporation said confusion had arisen in part due to a “misunderstanding” on the part of an auditor in 2011.

A third-party 2011 compliance audit for the Western Basin Dredging and Disposal Project said: “No evidence was available to verify that the independent auditor had been approved and the audit criteria agreed by SEWPac (the federal Environment Department) prior to the audit being conducted.”

Last year’s audit of compliance was conducted in-house.

The Gladstone Ports spokesman said the dredging program was also overseen by a technical reference panel that included some ports corporation representatives.

The federal government confirmed it did not seek an independent audit for the corporation’s dredging and dumping project, despite a spike in fish disease and turtle and dugong deaths.

Environment group Australians for Animals said it was considering legal action to force independent reviews. Environment Minister Tony Burke said an independent audit of the Gladstone project may be ordered following the report of an independent scientific panel that has just been announced.

“When you have a project as environmentally and scientifically controversial as this one, ordinarily you would have an independent audit,” Mr Burke said.

“But because we have established an independent panel, we will wait for the recommendations of that panel before making a decision.

“The great benefit of having the independent panel is it may be able to inform any independent audit that may be ordered in eight months’ time.

If the scientific panel had not been established, the department may well have had a different view about calling for an independent audit now.”

Australians for Animals spokeswoman Sue Arnold said she believed that self-assessment was at odds with undertakings given to the World Heritage Committee that “project approvals will reflect best-practice standards”.

“The Gladstone development is the world’s largest LNG terminal currently under construction in a World Heritage area and involves the largest dredging operation in Australia and the future survival of a number of species listed under the (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation) Act,” Ms Arnold said. “Listed species.. Can no longer rely on the protection of federal environmental legislation.”

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