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.