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Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment
18 November 1997
Federal Environment Minister Robert Hill has dismissed an ABC television report on the Port Hinchinbrook development as a lightweight beat-up, more notable for its deliberate omission of facts than for any newsworthy revelations.
Senator Hill has criticised the report for failing to include a number of pertinent facts provided to the journalist some hours before the report went to air.
The report's main allegation of "a disaster in the making" relating to acid sulphate soils rests on the allegations of un-named "worried environmentalists" whose claims the ABC has had "verified as accurate" by un-named experts.
The report also included a statement of opinion from the journalist, as it was not attributed to anyone else, that "when the wet season hits in the next few weeks, large amounts of acid and iron are likely to flow into Hinchinbrook Channel, severely damaging this World Heritage listed environment.
There were no facts presented to support this claim.
The report's only independent and named source was Professor Ian White, along with a reference to the CSIRO.
The report claimed the developer submitted an acid sulphate soils management plan which the CSIRO and Professor White considered to be inadequate.
What the ABC were informed off but omitted to mention was that this original plan was put out to peer review by the Commonwealth and, following criticism, the Queensland Acid Sulphate Soils Investigation Team (QASSIT) was commissioned by the Queensland government to review the plan.
QASSIT conducted a site inspection and provided recommendations after which the developer submitted an improved and strengthened management plan.
This salient point rates no mention in the ABC report.
QASSIT was appointed to independently monitor for acid sulphate soils at the site in accordance with the plan as part of the Deed of Agreement.
It also provided recommendations for the Turbidity Control Plan at the site which were insisted upon by the Commonwealth.
The ABC report also failed to give any acknowledgment to the measures enacted under the management plan including:
The Minister has been advised by his Department (including GBRMPA) that there is a management and monitoring regime in place to ensure the protection of World Heritage values. In relation to acid sulphate soil issues, this regime includes daily pH monitoring, use of perimeter drains, and stockpiling of hydrated lime on-site.
There are stringent conditions in place and a comprehensive monitoring regime, including an Independent Monitor, a Technical Advisory Group and daily monitoring by the Queensland Department of Environment.
The reporter waved several documents around claiming "these internal construction memos reveal that the very worst engineering principles were actually carried out.''
There was no mention of what the documents actually said, no verification of their authenticity, and no facts presented to support this statement.
The Commonwealth remains committed to ensuring compliance with the Deed of Agreement and in fulfilling its role of protecting world heritage values of the area.
Media contact - Matt Brown 0419 693 515 or 02 6277 7640
November 18, 1997