A new $1.15 billion tourist resort on Great Keppel Island has been knocked back by Environment Minister Peter Garrett because it would have a major impact on life in the Great Barrier Reef.
The minister today declared the project could not go ahead because it was “clearly unacceptable” under national environment law due to the impact on World Heritage values of the area.
“The impacts on inshore coral communities, coastal wetlands, marine species, island flora and geological formations of a development of this huge scale would be simply too great — these are the very values that earned the area’s world heritage status,” Mr Garrett said.
“I believe these impacts could not be lessened or managed to an acceptable level and would permanently damage and degrade these values.”
The proposal, backed by Sydney company Tower Holdings, includes a 300-room hotel and day spa, 1700 resort villas, 300 resort apartments, a 560-berth marina and yacht club, ferry terminal, retail village, golf course and sporting oval.
The 14.5 square kilometre island, which lies about 15 kilometres off the coast near Rockhampton in central Queensland, has become a tourist mecca famous for its national park, rainforest and bushwalks.
But the Tower Holdings proposal has sparked opposition because of its scale and the impact on the ecology of the fragile Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef system.
“The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s most precious environments and brings billions of dollars to our economy each year,” Mr Garrett said.
The decision follows a number of controversial rulings by Mr Garrett, including his conditional approval of the Gunns pulp mill in Tasmania’s Tamar Valley and two new uranium mining opportunities in South Australia.
Last month he rejected a proposed $5.3 billlion development plan by Waratah Coal to build a rail line and coal terminal at Shoalwater Bay, also in central Queensland, citing the threat to the ecological integrity of the area.
“I’m certainly not opposed to appropriate development of our tourist icons, but I am responsible for ensuring that development proceeds in a manner that is consistent with our obligations to protect the World Heritage area for present and future generations to enjoy.”
In making his decision, Mr Garrett said he had referred to an earlier recommendation by the Queensland Environmental Protection Authority that the area be retained in an undeveloped state and designated as a protected area.
But he did leave the door open to a new proposal being approved, noting that Tower was “welcome to submit an alternative proposal in the future which does not have this level of impact on those values”.
Tower has not responded to a request for comment, but on the project’s website, chairman Terry Agnew explained the reasons for the development.
“Unfortunately, tourism investment in the region has fallen well behind the other coastal regions in Queensland.
“From the first time I stepped on the island, I was amazed by its beauty and I knew that this was probably the most outstanding island paradise in Australia.
“Together with the support of the residents of Central Queensland, we can transform Great Keppel Island into one of Australia’s premier tourist attractions.”