THE Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area will undergo an assessment to ensure future development along Queensland's coastline is well-planned and its unique values are protected.
State and Federal Governments with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) have signed a new agreement on assessment processes to ensure future sustainable development along the Queensland coastline and protection and management of the Great Barrier Reef.
The 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.
Federal Minister for the Environment Tony Burke said it meant that once a program had been endorsed under the EPBC Act and the types of development or activities allowed to take place had been approved, individual projects did not need any further approval under national environmental law if done in accordance with the approved program.
"Rather than always dealing with one application at a time this allows an assessment of the region as a whole," Mr Burke said.
"That gives us an opportunity to take into account the cumulative impacts and any indirect impacts such as increased shipping movement.
"In short, it is a better way to protect one of the world's greatest treasures and I'm glad it's started."
Queensland Environment Minister Vicky Darling welcomed the agreement saying that it reinforced the value of coastal protection measures already instigated by the Bligh Government to protect the reef and assist with its future management.
"The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world's favourite playgrounds, is a $5 billion asset for our economy and supports more than 60,000 jobs for Queensland," Ms Darling said.
"We have a record of protecting its unique biodiversity and we are going to ensure it stays that way for future generations.
"I expect the assessment will confirm the effectiveness of the range of existing protections this government has already put in place.
"We have a strong platform of protecting the unique natural diversity of the Great Barrier Reef and adjacent coastline areas," she said.
Ms Darling said the strategic assessment would not only benefit the environment and local communities, but also industry through streamlining of government environmental processes.
"This strategic assessment enables us to work hand-in-hand with the Commonwealth Government to ensure development is well-planned and systems are in place to protect the area's World Heritage values," Ms Darling said.
"The assessment will also help answer any questions the UNESCO World Heritage Committee has and we will be discussing the assessment further with the delegation visiting in early March."
GBRMPA Chairman Russell Reichelt said the strategic assessment was an opportunity to take a long-term view of managing the Great Barrier Reef.
"The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef system in the world and it has the richest diversity," Dr Reichelt said.
"It is up to us to protect this extraordinary place for generations to come.
"Considerable management effort has gone into building the resilience of the Reef, which means it is in a far better position to withstand threats to its health.
"We welcome the opportunity to work closely with Queensland on a sustainable plan for managing impacts from both onshore and offshore activities," he said.
Public comments are invited on the terms of reference, available at:
Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management www.derm.qld.gov.au
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority www.gbrmpa.gov.au