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Sustainable Ports Development Act 2015

The Sustainable Ports Development Act 2015 (Ports Act) came into effect on 20 November 2015 and establishes a legislative framework to balance the protection of the Great Barrier Reef with the development of the state's major bulk commodity ports in that region.

Through the Ports Act, the state government is implementing key port-related actions of the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan (Reef 2050), a joint Australian and Queensland government plan to manage the long-term protection of the Great Barrier Reef. The mid-term review of Reef 2050 noted the progress made by the Queensland Government in implementing these commitments.

The Ports Act responds to the United National Educational, Science and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee recommendations on the reef, ensuring the Outstanding Universal Value of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (GBRWHA) is an intrinsic consideration in future port development. 

Managing port-related development

The Ports Act:

  • restricts new port development in and adjoining the GBRWHA to within current port limits and outside Commonwealth and state marine parks
  • prohibits major capital dredging for the development of new or expansion of existing port facilities in the GBRWHA outside the priority ports of Gladstone, Townsville, Hay Point/Mackay and Abbot Point 
  • prohibits the sea-based placement of port-related capital dredged material within the GBRWHA.

Priority ports

Consistent with the Reef 2050 Plan, the Ports Act declares the ports of Gladstone, Townsville, Hay Point/Mackay and Abbot Point as priority ports.

These ports are the major regional bulk commodity ports operating in or adjacent to the GBRWHA. Combined, priority ports represented around $52 billion in export value in 2016–17, 78% of Queensland ports total export value.

The Ports Act mandates master plans and port overlays for priority ports, seeking to optimise the use of infrastructure and address operational, economic, environmental and community relationships, as well as supply chains and surrounding land uses.

Guideline: master planning for priority portsFollowing public consultation (PDF, 2.6MB), the Queensland Government released a guideline to support master planning for priority ports. 

Please note, this document was prepared when the Sustainable Ports Planning team was part of the former Department of State Development. The Queensland Government remains committed to implementing the guideline in master planning for priority ports.


Port of Cairns

The Port of Cairns and its future development is important for Far North Queensland and the state overall.

Under the Ports Act, the Port of Cairns is permitted to seek approval for limited capital dredging within the port's inner harbour. No sea-based disposal of port-related capital dredge material is permitted in the GBRWHA.

By November 2019, the Ports Act requires a Government review of these limits, which will involve public consultation. The object of the review is to determine whether the provisions that allow limited capital dredging within the port's inner harbour are effectively achieving a balance between economic development and the protection of the GBRWHA.  

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 EIS process has been completed and the proposed development of the main navigation channel and swing basins has been approved.

Further information

Last updated
05 February 2019