The Queensland government wants to pay for dredged seabed from a major coal port expansion to be dumped on land instead of in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Premier Campbell Newman announced on Monday that cabinet had approved a new disposal plan for dredge spoil at the Abbot Point coal port near Bowen, which would reuse the material on land.
Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt has been asked to fast-track the application.
It comes despite North Queensland Bulk Ports (NQBP) already having federal approval to dump three million cubic metres of dredged seabed within the marine park.
But Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney said he expected the port authority to be on board with the plan.
“It’s a commercial arrangement that takes into account the disposal costs that they may already be facing versus the alternative that we can offer them,” Mr Seeney told reporters.
“And we will be offering that alternative to anyone who has a dredging permit.”
Mr Seeney said the offer would go to other port authorities because the reclamation site near Abbot Point would need 10 to 15 times more dredge spoil than the three million cubic metres the project would generate.
Mr Newman said the plan was a “win-win” for jobs and the environment.
Green groups have applauded the decision but maintain the reef is still at risk.
Australian Marine Conservation Society campaigner Felicity Wishart said the on-land dumping could threaten nearby wetlands and the only way to ensure the environment was safe was to scrap the Abbot Point expansion altogether.
WWF Australia reef campaigner Richard Leck said he was concerned about the rushed nature of the plan.
“Fast-tracking is the issue that has caused a number of the problems along the reef today,” he said.
But Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche said green groups continued to come up with problems because they wanted to shut down Australia’s coal industry.
“There will be no pleasing the anti-mining activists,” he said.
“Already they’ve moved on from concerns about at-sea disposal to concerns around dredging itself.”
Mr Roche said onshore dumping had always been the preferred option, but it had not been viable until recently.
Last week, NQBP said it was exploring alternative disposal options due to a legal challenge by the North Queensland Conservation Council against the decision to approve dumping spoil in the marine park.
Court proceedings could delay the project by up to two years, giving proponents GVK Hancock and Adani an incentive to investigate alternatives.
It was hoped the dredging project, which is being managed by NQBP on behalf of the mining companies, would begin in June.
The Abbot Point expansion is a crucial step in the development of $28.4 billion of coal reserves in the Galilee Basin.
Comment has been sought from Mr Hunt and NQBP.
Later, NQBP issued a statement saying the firm supported the state government in seeking to find a solution that all parties accepted.
Mr Hunt said he welcomed the Newman government’s proposal.
“I have said many times that onshore relocation is my preference and I have encouraged the proponents to come forward with a workable option,” he said in a statement.