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The Sustainable Ports Development Act 2015 (Ports Act) came into effect on 20 November 2015 and establishes a legislative framework to balance the protection of the Great Barrier Reef with the development of the state's major bulk commodity ports in the regions.

Through the Ports Act the state government is implementing key port-related actions of the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan (Reef 2050), a joint Australian and Queensland government plan to manage the long-term protection of the Great Barrier Reef.

The Ports Act responds to UNESCO World Heritage Committee recommendations on the reef, ensuring the Outstanding Universal Value of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area is an intrinsic consideration in future port development.

Managing port related development

The Ports Act:

  • restricts new port development in and adjoining the GBRWHA to within current port limits and outside Commonwealth and state marine parks
  • prohibits major capital dredging for the development of new or expansion of existing port facilities in the GBRWHA outside the priority ports of Gladstone, Abbot Point, Townsville and Hay Point/Mackay
  • prohibits the sea-based disposal of port-related capital dredge material within the GBRWHA.

Priority ports

Consistent with Reef 2050, the Ports Act declares the ports of Gladstone, Abbot Point, Townsville and Hay Point/Mackay as priority ports.

These ports are the major regional bulk commodity ports operating in or adjacent to the GBRWHA. Combined, priority ports represented around $34 billion in export value in 2015-16—70 per cent of Queensland ports total export value.

The Ports Act mandates master plans for priority ports that optimise the use of infrastructure and address operational, economic, environmental and community relationships, as well as supply chains and surrounding land uses.

Read more about master planning for priority ports.

The government reaffirms its commitment to protect the Fitzroy Delta, Keppel Bay and North Curtis Island. These areas are excluded from the priority Port of Gladstone master planned area.

Port of Cairns

The Port of Cairns and its future development is important for Far North Queensland and the state overall.

Under the Ports Act, the Port of Cairns will be permitted to seek approval for limited capital dredging within the port's inner harbour—no more than 50,000 cubic metres per approval with a total volumetric limit of 150,000 cubic metres in a four-year period.

No sea-based disposal of port-related capital dredge material is permitted in the GBRWHA.

The port will have opportunities to undertake small scale development that supports the future growth of the port without compromising GBRWHA protection.

After four years, the government will conduct a review of these limits, which will involve public consultation. The review will be to ensure the balance between economic development and protection of the GBRWHA at the Port of Cairns is being achieved.

The legislation includes a transitional provision enabling projects that are subject to an active Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process to continue.

For the Port of Cairns this means the proposal to develop the main navigation channel and swing basins will continue to be assessed under the Cairns Shipping Development Project EIS process.

Further information

  • Frequently asked questions
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