There are few areas as beautiful or as fragile as the Great Barrier Reef. however, Queensland Nickel refinery, owned by MP Clive Palmer, wanted to discharge huge amounts of toxic wastewater into the Great Barrier Reef marine park. Two interesting additional factoids: first, they were repeatedly told not to and second, when they did it anyway, government officials decided not to bring any civil or criminal charges against the company.
The company released the nitrogen-laden water into the world heritage area in 2009 and then again in 2011. The dumping in 2011 involved 516 tons of nitrogen into the marine park.
The company had long been a concern over its discharged but, after heavy rains, it asked for the right to dump waste into the pristine area. Those requests were not only denied but the government demanded that the outflow pipe be removed within two years. The company then proceeded to dump the waste anyway.
In 2012, Queensland Nickel declared an intention to dump wastewater into the park continuously for at least three months. This water had nitrogen levels “at least 100 times the allowed maximum level as well as heavy metals and other contaminants”. It also had excessive amounts of ammonia and several other metals. The release was rejected as being the equivalent to “the daily discharge of treated sewage from a city of seven million people”. In an demonstration of hubris, the company was outraged by the refusal of the demand for dumping and denounced the agency considered “obstructionist”. It further threatened a massive lawsuit if it was not allowed to pollute the waters.
Clive Palmer is a member of Parliament as well as a mining magnate who is worth a reported US$895 million. In a press conference, Palmer recently proclaimed that his business had an “excellent” environmental track record and pointed out that “there was no action taken against us over that particular thing you’re talking about.” He called the allegations as just “another beat-up.”
It is true that the Queensland Department of the Environment just renewed his licence for another three years. The question is why.
However, records show that Palmer was previously warned of a catastrophic “disaster” if the contaminated water ponds, known as tailings ponds, were discharged in heavy rainfall.
For its part, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said that it did all it could to convince the company to correct its flawed system but that its “powers only allow us to approve or reject permit applications. We have never issued a permit for Queensland Nickel to discharge wastewater into the marine park.”
These documents raise incredibly disturbing questions of why such discharges would be allowed without any action taken against the company. Those concerns are magnified by the involvement of a powerful politician.