The Federal Government has announced that impacts on the Great Barrier Reef will be considered in the assessment of whether or not Rio Tinto Weipa proposed South of Embley Bauxite Mine and Port Development can progress under national environment law.


Environment Minister Tony Burke said considerations were being made in the light of new information and that any Environmental Impact Study must investigate the impacts on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.


In September 2010, Rio Tinto Weipa Pty Ltd submitted a proposal for federal assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 to extend its existing bauxite mining operations south of the Embley River near Weipa on western Cape York.


The proposal for bauxite mining includes construction and operation of two new bauxite processing plants and infrastructure associated with the mining operations.


In October 2010, it was determined the proposal had the potential to trigger the EPBC Act and would need full federal environmental assessment.


“Following a request to reconsider the decision on the basis of new information about proposed shipping activities in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, I have revoked the original referral decision and substituted it with one that takes the reef into account,” Mr Burke said.


“The Great Barrier Reef is one of our most significant environmental assets and has been recognised as among the world’s healthiest coral reef ecosystems and best managed marine areas.


“These new provisions will ensure we continue our commitment to sustainable development that ensures the outstanding universal value of the Great Barrier Reef is protected.”


The decision is based on significant new information in Rio Tinto Weipa Pty Ltd’s draft environmental impact statement, which was provided by the company during the assessment process.  


The draft environmental impact statement included information on shipping in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park not provided with the initial referral.


The EPBC Act allows for new information to be adopted during a federal assessment process and in this instance provides an opportunity for new shipping information to be taken into account.


“I have made clear that I want potential shipping movements in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area to be taken into account for all relevant decisions,” Mr Burke said.  


“The reconsideration decision means the significant new information provided about shipping can be fully taken into account to ensure the protection of the Great Barrier Reef before the proposal is assessed.”