EVIDENCE of a "lack of independence" at the chief authority tasked with protecting the Great Barrier Reef, over questionable approvals of the Abbot Point dredging project, has been "highly damaging" for the government body.
That was the verdict of a Senate inquiry which examined the approvals process surrounding the Abbot Pt proposal by the marine park authority, after reporting its findings this week to parliament.
The Senate committee reported it was "deeply concerned by evidence that the decision (to approve the project) has damaged the reputation of, and community confidence in" the authority.
Controversially approved by the authority early this year, the North Queensland Bulk Ports project was going to dredge three million cubic metres of sediment and partially dump it in the marine park.
But the proponent this week has already reportedly begun re-considering its options for land-based disposal of the spoil, after reports offering up the old Bowen salt works as a potential on-shore disposal location.
That move has gained the conditional support of Environment Minister Greg Hunt, but as the port is yet to file official changes to the project, Mr Hunt is yet to see the detail.
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman on Thursday also reiterated his support for on-shore dumping, after previously being highly critical of environmental and scientific opponents of the project.
Despite the about-turn, and legal challenges afoot against the original project, the Senate inquiry agreed with evidence that guarantees that "strict conditions" would prevent environmental damage were not enough.
It reported that "it is difficult to be reassured by the so-called 'strict' conditions on the Abbot Point development when 'strict' conditions were also placed on projects in the Gladstone harbour and Curtis Island region".'
"Most disturbingly, evidence to the committee revealed perceptions of bias and allegations of lack of independence in decision-making," the report reads.
"The committee considers that these views are highly damaging for a government entity, particularly one that has been entrusted with the protection of one of the world's most significant and beautiful ecosystems."
The Federal Government is yet to officially respond to the report.
- APN NEWSDESK