: Reef’s standing threatened by governance?

Reef’s standing threatened by governance?

Kate Galloway
Queensland

The status of the Great Barrier Reef may shift to a World Heritage site ‘in danger’ under the latest UNESCO Report issued on 1 June 2012. The Report requires Australia to take action by February 2013 to demonstrate its commitment to conserving the Reef.

In addition to what may be considered more ‘downstream’ concerns generated from Gladstone Harbour operations and the Curtis Island LNG plant, other events this month highlight that there are other direct threats to the Reef. In the third incident in a month, bulk carrier ID Integrity lost power off the far north Queensland coast, and drifted close to Shark Reef. While this incident ended well for the Reef, it has renewed calls for a review of shipping routes.

The government has reacted strongly, indicating that economic factors — particularly the economic benefits that flow from mining and shipping — will guide its regulatory response ahead of environmental concerns.

At law, the Reef exists at the intersection of regional, state, national and international jurisdictions. Particularly to the extent that this implies international involvement (through UNESCO) such joint management should represent an inclusive system of governance — the ‘intentional shaping of the flow of events so as to realize desired public good’ where the public good is environmental sustainability, economic wellbeing and social sustainability.

Instead, it appears that the Reef and its governance are now at a ‘crossroads’ and the legal framework surrounding effective protection of the Reef is driven by competing economic, ecological and political concerns.

Obviously the Australian government’s action over the coming months will inform UNESCO’s ultimate finding on the Reef’s status. Queensland’s approach will weigh heavily on the outcome. Without a holistic approach to mechanisms of governance and the range of threats to the Reef, Australia’s capacity to deliver will be compromised.

KATE GALLOWAY teaches law at James Cook University, Cairns.

(2012) 37(3) AltLJ 209
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