Renewed call for Priority Port status

Published: 22 Jan 2020

Council has renewed calls for Cairns to be designated a Priority Port as the State Government reviews restrictions it placed on capital dredging in Cairns in 2015.

In a submission to a State Government review of the Ports Act, Cairns Regional Council will highlight several regulatory issues, including limits on dredging that could negatively affect the economic growth, development and environmental status of the Port and the wider region.

Cairns Mayor Bob Manning said that a Priority Port designation would carry more weight for government investment and allows for dredging to occur as needed to realise the economic opportunities associated with port expansion.

“Priority Port designation would reflect the strategic importance of the Port of Cairns as a key centre of naval, marine logistics and tourism, commercial fishing, freight, cruise shipping and superyacht activity,” Cr Manning said.

The State Government introduced the Sustainable Ports Development Act 2015 (The Ports Act) to balance the protection of the Great Barrier Reef with development of the state’s ports.

One of the effects of the Act was to limit the volume of capital dredging that could take place in the inner harbour of the Port of Cairns for a period of four years, after which time the Government would review the limits.

Council has submitted that the dredging limits are arbitrary and should be lifted.

Works planned in the Port and harbour already undergo a rigorous environmental assessment and management process, which Council submits is a more complete and effective way to ensure the protection of the marine environment.

“There is an enormous opportunity in front of us to capitalise on the potential of the Cairns port,” Cr Manning said.

“Council acknowledges that protection of the region’s unique natural environment is critical and underpins large facets of the regional economy.

“However, inappropriate limits on capital dredging could affect the Port’s future planning and stifle our city’s potential.”

“That is why it is imperative that any review of capital dredging restrictions strikes an appropriate balance between economic development and environmental protection.”

Council will also ask the State Government to review whether land-based placement of capital dredge material is the most environmentally sound disposal option.

Some of the major developments on the Cairns waterfront include:

  • the $127 million Cairns Shipping Development Project that has seen the Trinity Inlet shipping channel widened and deepened that allows increased passage for cruise ships
  • a planned $162 million capability infrastructure sub-program at the HMAS Cairns naval base to ready the base for homeporting of the Navy’s new Arafura Class Offshore Patrol Vehicles
  • recent introduction of new federal Superyacht Legislation that is expected to be an enabler for growth in the industry.

Currently, there are four priority ports in Queensland at Gladstone, Townsville, Hay Point/Mackay and Abbot Point near Bowen.

Last updated: 22 January 2020