Who could forget, back in 2009, the launch of the "Best Job in the World"?
The campaign by Tourism Queensland generated global interest in the Sunshine State and the role of park ranger and "caretaker" of Hamilton Island in the Great Barrier Reef. Ben Southall was the inaugural winner, a Brit by birth and native of Hampshire, he beat 35,000 applicants for the coveted role.
Ben spent a year promoting the wonders of Queensland. In the first four days, he visited the pristine Whitehaven Beach, stopped for lunch at Hayman Island, went on a tour of the Coral Sea and Daydream Island and ended up at the Seaworld adventure park and a game of Aussie Rules (Richmond vs Adelaide - Go Crows!).
Four days into his year-long stint in the Best Job in the World, Ben said: "My stay on the Gold Coast has been nothing short of spectacular; there really is something for everybody."
Unfortunately, soon a massively destructive coal port will be built just 50 km north of the magnificent Whitsunday Islands. The port expansion was approved by the Abbott Liberal National government on Wednesday 11 December, and it will become one of the world's largest coal ports.
The coal export facility is ironically located on Abbot Point. The construction of this port will involve dredging 3 million cubic metres of seabed. The dredge spoil will be dumped into the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.
To give you an idea of the scale of this dredging, if all of the spoil was put into dump trucks, there would be 150,000 of them lined up bumper to bumper from Brisbane to Melbourne.
This expansion is further proof that the Abbott government is hell-bent on turning Australia into a reckless charco-state that solely represents the interests of fossil fuel and coal companies.
Just around the corner from the port is a beach that is the nesting place for endangered green and flat back turtles. Fun facts about the flat back turtle: they're officially classified as "vulnerable" by the Australian Government, and nest only in northern Australia. They have the smallest migratory range of any marine turtle, so when their home in Queensland is destroyed, they've really got nowhere else to go.
Also in the spoil-dumping area are sea-grass beds, which are the home to dugongs. The "sea cows" may not be the sexiest of marine animals, but they are at risk of extinction, and most of the world's remaining population lives in the Great Barrier Reef. This is one of the reasons that the Reef has World Heritage listing.
An independent government report from August this year found that dredging sediment travelled a lot further than previously thought. The risks include sediment being disturbed by severe weather. Even a cursory look at Queensland's weather patterns near the Reef over the past decade would show that severe weather, including tropical cyclones and flooding, is a regular occurrence, even if you disregard massively destructive events like Cyclone Yasi.
The Great Barrier Reef generated around 69,000 full-time equivalent jobs, and boosted our economy by 5.68 billion in 2011/12, according to recent research. Most of this is through tourism and reef-dependent industries like fishing.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt has mischievously claimed that "Some of the strictest conditions in Australian history have been placed on these projects". This is mischievous because, obviously, massively increasing coal exports at this time will do irreparable damage to our climate.
Worryingly, Greg Hunt's briefing and decision, released on the 11th of December, is based on the assurance of the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation, the state-owned corporation that owns the project, that "the project area (dredging area) is not a notable or significant biodiversity site in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area" and "the potential impact area in the dumping ground (which is within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park) is considerably small". The brief also says that the "habitats were recorded to recover from similar events".
You are obviously free to come to your own views about Hunt's strange cognitive dissonance, where on the one hand there are the "strictest conditions" on the dredging, but on the other hand the "dredging area is not a notable... site" in the Reef. Perhaps someone could leave a comment that explains why Hunt has required strict conditions if the area is not a significant site.
Unless of course, Hunt is simply trying to pull the wool over our eyes. You be the judge.
The very real problems are not just the vast and untold damage that dredging will do to the Great Barrier Reef, or the risk of damage to the reef by the substantial increase in shipping through the World Heritage Area.
The Abbot Point development has been green-lit to funnel vast amounts of coal out of Australia. The coal ports currently proposed, including Abbot Point and new coal terminals proposed at Wiggins Island, Raglan Creek, Balaclava Island, Dudgeon Point, and Cape York, would increase total coal tonnage by more than six-fold, from 156 Mt in 2011 to a capacity of 944 Mt by the end of the decade.
Australia's coal is one of the globe's fourteen carbon bombs. Our coal export industry is the largest in the world, and results in 760m tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. The urgent goal of Tony Abbott's government, and his environment minister Greg Hunt is to ship as much climate-devastating coal as possible, as quickly as possible.
Every day, this Liberal-National government, led by Tony Abbott, provides new examples of its nastiness, its short-sightedness, and its willingness to destroy livelihoods, communities and the environment to enrich coal barons.