Federal Court update

Environment Minister Garrett can decide to undertake his own inquiry into the channel deepening project. Click here for a cut and paste letter to Mr. Garrett.


The Hon. Peter Garrett

Minister for Environment, Heritage and the Arts


Dear Minister


Re: Port Phillip Bay Channel Deepening project (CDP)


The 2007 SEES is widely discredited and I urge you to undertake further assessment to ensure that our unique environmental and cultural assets are not put at risk by this project. 


Your independent assessment would provide the natural justice denied in the 2007 Inquiry. Senior legal figures including Julian Burnside QC and Chris Canavan QC severely criticized its Terms of Reference. Mr. Canavan declined to represent the PoMC at the Inquiry because of his concerns about the lack of due process. Senior planning lawyer Chris Wren, SC described the ban on cross-examination as highly unusual. "How can the public feel confident that the outcome of an inquiry was as rigorous and objective and intellectually honest as it could have been? It would be preferable that this didn't happen again" he said. (Bay Inquiry panel slates obstacles.  The Age November 6th 2007)

The current CDP is bigger, deeper and more toxic than outlined in the Port of Melbourne Corporation’s (PoMC) 2002 referral to the Federal government. Based on inaccurate information provided in 2002 the Federal government approved an assessment process which is inadequate to assess the current risks posed by the CDP. Significant additional threats to listed species are now apparent. Numerous listed species at The Entrance occur nowhere else on earth. The listed Grayling and Mudfish reliant on the Yarra will also be severely threatened by removal of many kilometres of riverbed. These unique species must be protected by you.


Please consider these facts:


·          The Port of Melbourne Corporation’s (PoMC) 2002 referral stated that dredging involved deepening of shipping channels at Port Phillip Heads, in Port Phillip Bay and the Yarra River and its approaching channels in the order of 1.5 to 2 metres.

·          The 2004 EES revealed the PoMC planned to increase declared depths at The Entrance from -14 metres to -17 metres.

·          The 2007 SEES reveals final construction depth at The Entrance as -19.1 metres.

·          Channels elsewhere in the Bay and Yarra River are proposed to be well in excess of 2 metres additional depth – ranging between 2.4 metres to 3.4 metres additional declared depth. Thus the “deepening” information provided to the Commonwealth in 2002 is exceeded by up to 5 metres.

·          As the 2007 Inquiry closed, additional rockfall data was revealed indicating final depths at The Entrance from ongoing scour and disintegration of rock might be -22 metres, where current declared depth is -14 metres. Damage from the trial dredge alone is expected to have impacts for 30 years. This could mean final depths in the Great Ship Channel of perhaps 8 metres more than the current declared depth.

·          Significant additional depth at The Entrance will allow more water to flow in and out of the Bay affecting tide levels, salinity, water temperature etc., with cascading effects on species and coastline.

·          The 2007 SEES makes no reference to maintenance dredging volumes over the life of the project, nor the costs or impacts from more regular and extensive maintenance dredging required to maintain deeper channels.

·          Clearly project impacts are of 30 years duration or more, not the perhaps 2 years claimed by PoMC. This poses additional threats to listed species and communities throughout the Bay which have not been considered.

·          As well as PoMC’s failure to reveal all relevant toxicity data in the 2004 Inquiry, crucial documents on predicted toxicity levels and water quality after dredging were again withheld from the 2007 Inquiry. Predicted contamination in fish, only fully compiled since the 2007 Inquiry closed, indicates toxic levels for at least one cancer linked toxicant (PAH) in test species to be hundreds of time over US EPA safe limits. Other contaminants such as PCB’s, DDT, and Dieldrin are many times over safe limits using the more conservative US EPA levels, rather than the MRL levels chosen for use by the PoMC.

·          Contaminants from the PoMC’s dump site in the middle of the Bay have travelled well outside site boundaries - with high levels of toxins found several kilometres outside the designated dumping area. Once an additional 3+ million cubic metres of toxic and contaminated spoil is dumped there, it seems obvious that beach and water quality will be adversely impacted for an unknown period of time. The health of humans and other inhabitants of the Bay are at increased risk.


No reference was made to this additional information in the Inquiry Report or in the Planning Minister’s final assessment now before you.


PoMC has just announced another record month for container throughput, with over 200,000 containers moving through the Port in October 2007. PoMC CEO Stephen Bradford also stated that the Port is on target for a 17th consecutive year of growth. Nevertheless, Mr. Bradford has conceded that it could be years before larger ships use the channel because current trade volumes are too small to warrant larger vessels.  (‘Toxic plume may reach Docklands’ The Age 23rd March 2007). There is clearly no rush for this project to be approved within the next few weeks.

PriceWaterhouse Coopers 2007 economic analysis of the Port of Melbourne predicts that trade through the Port is set to quadruple by 2035 regardless of whether the CDP proceeds or not. The CDP purported benefits are dependent on costs remaining at the present estimate of $763 million, future savings being passed through at 97% without any evidence that this ever occurs in a free market, and reliant on PoMC maintaining current volumes of shippers continuing to sail to the most southerly and difficult of mainland ports. This all seems unlikely.  The future carbon based economy might well drive very different outcomes, including greater use of more northerly ports, closer to our major trading partner – Asia. Global uncertainty indicates that PoMC’s assumptions should be more rigorously tested. The economic case for the project seems extremely thin, and I urge you to recommend to cabinet a more strategic national approach to trade and transport logistics.

The PoMC has pre-empted your decision if it has already committed itself to financially binding dredging contracts. In line with prudent business practice, PoMC should have made allowances for possible approval delays when negotiating contract specifications. Your decision should not be influenced by PoMC’s claims that it has contractual obligations - which it admits it took in full knowledge of not having all necessary approvals. Nor should the Bay’s unique ecosystems be put at additional risk merely because of those commercial decisions.


We understand that the Federal Environment Minister is not bound to consider only those “narrow” issues within the EPBC Act, but that you can consider any other information that you deem relevant. I urge you to undertake a rigorous wide reaching assessment of the proposal. If you do, you will see that the CDP is poorly justified both environmentally and economically, and that it is not worth the risks posed to our unique environmental assets.

Yours sincerely,




Copies to:

Prime Minister, the Hon. Kevin Rudd Kevin.Rudd.MP@aph.gov.au

Minister for Climate Change and Water the Hon. Penny Wong info@pennywong.com.au

Treasurer the Hon. Wayne Swan Wayne.Swan.MP@aph.gov.au


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