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Department of Transport and Main Roads

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. The Ports Act designates the ports of Gladstone, Townsville, Hay Point/Mackay and Abbot Point as priority ports. 

Through the Ports Act, the state government is implementing its key port-related actions of the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan (Reef 2050 Plan), 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 Plan 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.

The Ports Act does not regulate maintenance dredging (dredging carried out to ensure the safe and effective ongoing operation of existing port facilities). 

Read more about dredging, the types of dredging, and its regulatory framework.

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 move millions of tonnes of trade representing billions of dollars in export value for Queensland.

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 considerations, as well as supply chains and surrounding land uses.

Port of Cairns

The Ports Act includes specific provisions that allow limited capital dredging for a port facility within the inner harbour for the Port of Cairns. A review of these provisions was undertaken in accordance with the Ports Act.

Get more information about the review

Further information

Last updated 10 November 2022