In May 2007, Steve Posselt engaged in a marathon kayak trip to help draw attention to the plight of the Murray-Darling basin, travelling over 3000 kilometres from Brisbane along the length of the Darling River and then to the mouth of the Murray. It took him four months and I have little doubt he would be very upset at the insufficient actions taken by governments since then.

In May this year, he again set out from Brisbane in his kayak. This time on a month long trip to draw attention to the major environmental destruction that would be caused to the Mary River if the Queensland government’s planned Traveston dam were to go ahead.  Apart from obviously being incredibly fit, Steve also has lost of experience as a civil engineer in the water industry, so he has plenty of knowledge of how to provide water and about healthy water systems.  He detailed some observations about the Brisbane and Mary Rivers and the world heritage listed Great Sandy Straits which the Mary flows into.

The Queensland government is clearly determined to press ahead with this dam, despite the huge financial and environmental cost and the many cheaper and less destructive options available.  That leaves the final chance for a more sensible approach firmly and squarely in the lap of the federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett.

So this Saturday morning around 12 noon, Steve Posselt is once again setting forth in his kayak from a boat ramp at West End, on the Brisbane River.  This time he’s planning to paddle all the way down to Sydney to deliver a bag of mail and message directly to Mr Garrett’s own sea-side electorate.

Under the federal Environmental Protection & Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, Mr Garrett has the final say on whether the dam goes ahead, and if so under what conditions. His legal powers only extend to matters listed in the EPBC Act as matter of national environmental significance, not to every aspect of water policy. But these matters include threatened species, world heritage values, significant wetlands and listed migratory birds – all of which will be significantly and unavoidably impacted by the dam.

When it came into law in 2000, the EPBC Act provided much greater powers to the federal Environment Minister than had ever previously been the case. However, the Coalition government rarely used the full powers contained in the Act.  Since coming to power, there have been some signs of Peter Garrett being more willing to use those powers, including halting a tourist development across Trinity Inlet from Cairns, and preventing clearing of key habitat of the endangered cassowary for a development at Mission Beach.  As a Queenslander, I have to say I was pleased to see greater attention finally being paid to the serious damage that risked being done to the world heritage values of both the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics.

The scope of the impacts caused by the Traveston Dam on the Mary River will be far greater, but there is no doubt that politically it would be a much more contentious move for the federal Minister to block the dam, especially with the state Labor government now appearing to be wavering in the opinion polls. The Beattie and Bligh governments have spent years (and plenty of taxpayer dollars) furiously insisting the dam is absolutely essential for the future water security of south-east Queensland.  This is not true of course, but it would be a major political embarrassment for the dam to now be blocked by a federal Labor Minister.

The environmental evidence about the major damage the dam will cause is clear cut, and lower impact alternatives – from a financial, greenhouse, biodiversity and water supply perspective – are clearly available.  But although there’s more than sufficient evidence available to justify the federal Minister using his legal powers to stop the dam, it will need significant political will for him to do so.

That’s why the tireless efforts of people like Steve Posselt and so many other people in the Mary River region and wider south-east Queensland who have campaigned against this dam for so long are so important.  The stronger and more widespread the public opposition is to this unnecessary and destructive dam, the more it can strengthen the hand of the federal Environment Minister to use his legal powers for the purpose they were designed for.

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