Millions in fines, possible jail for reef damage

COMPANIES who wilfully damage the Great Barrier Reef face fines of up to $3.5 million after new legislation was passed last night in Queensland Parliament.

A change to the Environmental Protection and Other Legislation Amendment Bill means companies will be subject to increased penalties for damaging the reef World Heritage Areas.

Companies can be fined millions of dollars, while individuals face a $700,000 fine and up to five years prison.

Environment Minister Andrew Powell said he was shocked that damaging the World Heritage Area had not previously attracted increased penalties.

"For the first time in Queensland legislation the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area is recognised as being special," he said.

"And as such the court needs to take that into consideration when looking at the charge and then the penalty."

The Labor Party opposed the amendment.

Opposition environment spokeswoman Jackie Trad told parliament it was a "wasted opportunity" to impose harsher penalties.

Mr Powell said the legislation was aimed at coastal and seaborne industries that did not follow best practice to prevent damage and would not impact chemical run-off on farms.

"It actually came as quite a surprise that this wasn't already in there," he said.

"When we came back from visiting Europe and visiting UNESCO and we were preparing for the EPOLA bill, there was a question we put to the department: 'Look just to be clear if someone does something that does environmental harm to a World Heritage Area that is taken significantly' and the answer was no."

- APN NEWSDESK


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