Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Meeting the challenges of the future on the Great Barrier Reef

Media release
31 August 2012

Work is set to begin on the strategic assessment of the Great Barrier Reef to ensure future development along the Queensland Coast is well planned and the area's unique values are protected.

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke has approved the final terms of reference of the strategic assessment on what will be the biggest and most comprehensive strategic assessment ever undertaken in Australia.

The Gillard Labor Government will work with the Queensland Government to conduct two complementary assessments one conducted by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the other by the Queensland Government.

A strategic assessment provides a big-picture study under national environmental law, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, of an area to assess how environmental values can be best protected while allowing sustainable development.

"The aim of the assessment is to protect the highest value environmental assets in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and adjacent coastal zone while at the same time enabling sustainable, long-term development," Mr Burke said.

"Key to the assessment process is protecting and bolstering the Reef's Outstanding Universal Value and that's why the assessment will identify priority conservation areas where future development will be restricted or excluded.

"The assessment will benefit the environment, local communities and industry and result in streamlined government environmental processes and reduced approval timeframes."

Mr Burke said he is confident the two final terms of reference address the concerns raised in the more than 400 public submissions received.

"We have taken community's comments on the draft terms of reference into account and have included independent review processes, areas where development might be restricted or excluded, high levels of community engagement and the explicit consideration of Outstanding Universal Value and the principles of ecologically sustainable development in the final documents," he said.

Mr Burke said that there is no doubt the Great Barrier Reef, like all coral reefs around the world, is subject to a range of threats.

"However, the World Heritage Committee has recognised Australia's management of the property as international best practice and many stakeholders consider our management of this great natural wonder to be the gold standard," he said.

"We must now rise to the unique, significant and long-term challenge issued by the World Heritage Committee in its most recent decision on the Great Barrier Reef and set the benchmark for the management of coral reefs around the world."

The terms of reference are available at