The Dumping Of Dredge Spoil In The Great Barrier Reef Is Going Ahead, Hear What Locals Have To Say

Ask any Australian and they’ll have an opinion on the recently approved proposal to dump dredging waste over the Great Barrier Reef, one of the natural wonders of the world, to make way for a new coal seam gas export facilities. H*ck, ask any friend who isn’t Australian and they are likely to express outrage and disbelief at the very idea of dumping dredge spoil anywhere in or around the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The issue, of course, is a bit more complicated and in an attempt to wade through some of the conflicting reports SBS2‘s The Feed, perhaps best known as the home of sassy Lee Lin, will tonight air a story on the dredging to soon be undertaken in coastal Reef waters.

Pedestrian had the pleasure of speaking with SBS journalist Jeannette Francis – who works with The Feed in a kicking ass and taking names capacity – about the upcoming story ‘Reef Dump’, her time up in Queensland speaking to locals, everything she discovered and what happens now in this whole dredging hot mess.

Pedestrian: If you could just briefly give a run down, for people who might not watch the show, what ‘The Feed’ is all about.

Jan Fran: The Feed’s a wrap of technology, culture and the latest stories of the day. It’s a mixture of pop culture and news. It’s hosted by Marc Fennell with feature stories presented by myself, Pat Abboud and Andy Park.

So this story that you’re working on, how did it come about?

Well this is a big story, and an important one. The decision was made by the Marine Park Authority recently to allow the dumping of dredge spoil into the Great Barrier Reef. I was going to be in Queensland to shoot another story so it was a no-brainer to also look into this issue for The Feed.

And what’s the pitch? What is the story?

Just a few weeks back the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park authority gave the final green light for 3 million cubic meters of dredge spoil to be dumped within the World Heritage listed site. I’m essentially looking at how this decision, to dredge and dump off Abbot’s Point in North Queensland is going to affect the locals. There has been so much publicity about it already, we’ve already heard what The Greens have to say, we’ve already heard what the politicians have to say, both local and federal, we’ve already heard what the Marine Park Authority have to say, they came out and they gave a big press conference a few weeks ago, and I think the voice that’s probably missing a bit is that of the locals and how it will directly impact them. So, we picked some locals one who is pro the decision to dump and one who is vehemently opposed and asked them how they think this decision will affect them

So can you explain a bit, obviously without spoiling the program, how this will affect the locals the most? What will it mean for their day-to-day lives and their community?

I headed to the town of Bowen, which is twenty-five kilometres away from Abbot’s Point, which is the closest town to it and for some the response is quite positive. Some locals believe this is going to bring in a lot of business to the town, it’s going to generate a lot of income, it’s going to bring a lot of new jobs, it’s going to bring in a lot of new workers, particularly in the construction phase and it’s just generally going to be good for the morale of the town. So, they’re quite happy to see it go ahead. On the other side of the coin there are the small business owners who operate the tourism and fishing who are really concerned about how this will affect the water quality and their livelihood.

Then there is the much bigger picture, which I think is an issue for all of Australia and that is the potential degradation of the reef and whether or not that’s going to happen. I think the main concern, from almost every single person that you speak to up there, is that they don’t really know what’s going to happen. There’s nobody that can really guarantee 100% that the reef won’t be damaged. Or that there will be all of these jobs that are being promised, there’s no guarantees and people up there are kind of taking a punt with it.

So, for people who are coming to this a bit late, now that the story is that it is going ahead, and feel really passionate about getting involved, is there anything that they can do?

I think staying as informed as possible would probably be the first thing I would suggest. This isn’t something that is new, this is something that has been around for quite some time. It’s just that, you’re right, the decision, the final green light was given only recently and so what people hear is just that the reef is going to be destroyed and so on. That may be the case or it may not, but what’s really getting to people, and again particularly locals, is just the uncertainty of it all. If you’re an Australian and you feel really passionate about it, there’s a lot of lobby groups and all it takes is jumping on to Google, doing a quick search for whatever it is that you feel is important, or a local group that is operating in your area and I’m pretty sure you’ll find one. GetUp! for example is running a campaign at the moment, I know several other groups up north are as well and it just depends what part of the fence you chose to sit on I guess.

In terms of campaigns like the Getup! one and trying to make a difference on environmental issues, there’s been quite a few articles lately on how Australians are kind of lazy when it comes to this, and that whole idea of clicktivism and of sitting back, liking a few things but wanting to feel like you’ve done a lot…

I think clicktivism, that term or phenomena or whatever you want to call it, it’s a really big asset and it’s a really big liability. It’s a big asset in the sense that it gets a lot of information out very quickly and it keeps people clued into what’s going on. It’s a liability because that’s only as far as it goes and people think ‘oh, I’ve clued on and I’ve clicked this and that’s enough. So, if you really feel strongly about an issue like this, I think you’ve got to take it a little bit further than just clicking on a petition. And whether that means joining a protest or writing to your local MP, whether that means voting in another local government, all of these things you’ve got to take into account.

And can I ask your personal opinion about the whole dredging debate?

Sure. Look, I think it’s concerning to all Australians, really. It’s something that is, at the end of the day, a risk that we’re taking and it’s more coal that we’re going to be producing and more emissions that we’re going to be pumping into the atmosphere and it’s massive growth to our economy and all those things are, let’s not lie, kind of important. I think it’s all about weighing up what is more important and I think if you ask the majority of Australians, the health and the future and the vibrancy of the reef is something that is pretty dear to everybody, regardless of where you are in Australia. So, I would like to think that this is a calculated decision, I’d like to think that the forty-seven restrictions the Marine Park Authority have put on this are really going to prevent massive damage from occurring to the reef but at the end of the day nobody knows. Nobody.

Great. Thanks for your time.

No worries, thanks dude.

Learn more about dredging on The Feed, airing tonight at 7:30pm on SBS 2.
Image via SBS