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The Port of Cairns

The Port of Cairns is a vital hub for Far North Queensland, facilitating tourism and trade. The port is the backbone of the regional economy and plays a critical role connecting remote communities.

About the Port

The Port of Cairns is a multi-purpose regional port that caters to a diverse range of operations from project, bulk and general cargo, cruise shipping, fishing fleet and reef passenger ferries, to naval and defence activities. Its future development is important for Far North Queensland and the state.

Read more about the Port of Cairns.

Review of Sustainable Ports Development Act 2015 capital dredging provisions for the Port of Cairns

The Sustainable Ports Development Act 2015 (Ports Act) provides a legislative framework for sustainable port development in Queensland and implementing the governments key port-related commitments and other actions of the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan (Reef 2050 Plan). Restrictions on capital dredging form part of these requirements and commitments.

For the Port of Cairns, the Ports Act includes specific provisions (section 35(2)(b) and (3)) that allows the carrying out of limited capital dredging for a port facility within the inner harbour of the Port of Cairns. Up to 50,000 cubic metres of material can be approved to a limit of no more than 150,000 cubic metres of material in a 4-year period. 

The Ports Act also includes provisions (section 38) that require a review of sections 35(2)(b) and (3) to be completed. The review required by section 38 of the Ports Act is currently underway.

No sea-based disposal of port-related capital dredged material is permitted in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (GBRWHA) for the Port of Cairns or any other port.

The review

The review is being undertaken to fulfil the requirements of section 38 of the Ports Act.The review is specific to, and limited by sections 38(2) and 35(2)(b) and (3) of the Ports Act.

The review only relates to new capital dredging activities within the inner harbour of the Port of Cairns. Matters relating to dredging in general, maintenance dredging, dredging outside the Port of Cairns inner harbour, or at other ports are beyond the scope of this review.

Consistent with section 38 of the Ports Act, the purpose of the review is to:

  • consider whether the existing provisions that can permit the approval of limited capital dredging for a port facility within the inner harbour of the Port of Cairns of up to 50,000 cubic metres of material, to a limit of no more than 150,000 cubic metres of material in a four-year period, are effectively achieving a balance between economic development and the protection of the GBRWHA.

Section 38(2) states:

The object of the review is to decide whether section 35(2)(b) and (3) is effectively achieving a balance between economic development and the protection of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

Sections 35(2)(b) and (3) state:

(2) However, subsection (1) does not apply to an approval for development that is, or includes, capital dredging carried out for the purpose of establishing, constructing or improving a port facility–

(b) for the Port of Cairns, if–

(i) the dredging will be carried out in the port’s inner harbour; and

(ii) the approval does not permit the extraction or excavation of more than 50,000m3 of material; and

(iii) the approval will not result in more than 150,000m3 of material being extracted from, or excavated in, the port’s inner harbour in a 4-year period

(3) In calculating whether an approval will result in more than 150,000m3 of material being extracted or excavated in a 4-year period, only the following amounts are relevant–

(a) the amount of material being extracted or excavated under the approval;

(b) the amount of material extracted or excavated, or to be extracted or excavated, under another approval for development that is, or includes, capital dredging unless the capital dredging was the subject of an EIS process started before commencement.

The Ports Act defines port facility to mean:

Port facility—

1 Port facility means a facility or land used in the operation or strategic management of a port authority’s port.

2 Port facility does not include a small-scale port facility to be used for tourism or recreation purpose.

Examples of a small-scale port facility– Boat ramp, boat harbour, marina

The Ports Act includes a transitional provision enabling projects that were the subject of an environmental impact statement (EIS) prior to the introduction of the Ports Act to continue. Accordingly, the Cairns Shipping Development Project is not subject to this review because its approval processes started prior to the commencement of the Ports Act and as such is exempted by the transitional provisions in section 49 of the Ports Act. 

A fact sheet containing information relevant to the review has been prepared to assist understanding of the capital dredging provisions. 

The Port of Cairns inner harbour

The capital dredging provisions and their review only apply to the inner harbour of the Port of Cairns. The inner harbour is shown on the map below.

See a full-size image of the inner harbour area:

Map of Cairns inner harbour

Public consultation on the review

Public consultation was undertaken from 3 December 2019 to 7 February 2020. All submissions are being considered during the preparation of a report about the review. 

The outcome of the review will be published on the Department of Transport and Main Roads website and tabled in the Legislative Assembly of Queensland.

Document register

Further information

Email: SustainablePorts@tmr.qld.gov.au

Last updated
08 February 2020