Marine park authority wades into Keswick Island concerns

A natural resource regulator says it is working with the State Government to address reports of environmental damage on Keswick Island.

It comes after Dawson MP George Christensen spoke on the matter in parliament, saying he had arranged a meeting between Keswick Island Progress Association members and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority last Friday.

The reports of environmental damage raised include claims a turtle nest was destroyed because of beach grading, land clearing to make way for a new boat and trailer parking area and coral “smothered in sediment”.

Mr Christensen said authority staff had agreed to reach out to the State Government to ask for the reports to be investigated and that it would look into the reports as well.

Keswick Island resident and turtle advocate Rayna Asbury took this photograph of turtle tracks at Basil Bay on December 26, 2020. Picture: Contributed

The Dawson MP again called for the State Government to terminate China Bloom’s head lease on Keswick Island.

“GBRMPA told us that the right authority to police (Keswick Island) was the State Government,” Mr Christensen said.

“However, GBRMPA were concerned enough about the reports and the material they saw that they’re going to write to the State Government asking for the matter to be investigated and they also said they would have their investigation team look over it in case there were any breaches.”

The Daily Mercury put these comments to the authority, with a spokeswoman confirming it had recently met with concerned residents from Keswick Island.

“We are in contact with the lease holder, through our permitting process, to understand all their facilities located within the marine park,” A GBRMPA spokeswoman said.

“Where marine park issues cover both Commonwealth and Queensland jurisdictions we work jointly with the

Queensland Government.

“We are doing so in this instance.”

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China Bloom has previously said, as the latest head lessor, it was working through “inherited issues” on Keswick Island.

“China Bloom is working productively with the council on ensuring all inherit works are compliant,” it said.

Footage of what resident James Asbury describes as damaged coral near a Keswick Island boat ramp. Picture: James Asbury

Footage of what resident James Asbury describes as damaged coral near a Keswick Island boat ramp. Picture: James Asbury

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War of words erupts over Keswick Island lease approval

Claims that the Federal Government signed off on Keswick Island’s head lease sale are ‘utterly untrue’, Dawson MP George Christensen says.

Fresh from his fact-finding trip to the Whitsunday island on Tuesday, Mr Christensen said the only way forward now was for the State Government to tear up the head lease agreement with China Bloom.

The Dawson MP spoke to locals and toured the island earlier this week.

The visit comes weeks after a long-running conflict between island residents and China Bloom made world headlines.

Keswick residents have claimed China Bloom is restricting access to the island and is pushing them out.

Keswick Island.

“The residents are definitely up in arms about how they feel they have been treated by the new head lessee,” Mr Christensen said.

“They feel like they have been made unwelcome on the island that they have called home for a long time.”

Mackay MP Julieanne Gilbert, in a statement from her office on December 7, said the Queensland Government has no legal grounds to rescind a lease or stop a sale on the grounds of the nationality of the parties involved.

“That power lies with the Federal Government,” Mrs Gilbert said.

“In this instance, both the Foreign Investment Review Board and Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg signed off on the lease.”

Dawson MP George Christensen. Picture: Matt Taylor.

Dawson MP George Christensen. Picture: Matt Taylor.

But Mr Christensen said he had received confirmation from Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s office that it did not sign off on the lease.

“The treasurer’s office phoned me and informed me that because Keswick Island is a State Government asset and because of the dollar amount involved in terms of the sale of the head lease, it did not trigger any Foreign Investment Review Board approval process and therefore, they did not sign off on it and the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg did not sign off on it,” he said.

“Julieanne Gilbert has claimed both FIRB and the treasurer signed off on it. That is a lie – it is completely and utterly untrue.”

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But Mrs Gilbert has stood by her comments, saying China Bloom’s ability to invest in Australia was signed off by the Federal Government.

“When there is foreign investment, the Federal Government signs off on it, the FIRB vets the companies that are able to trade in Australia,” she said.

“The Queensland Government can’t be engaging with foreign investors unless they have been signed off from the Federal Government.”

Mackay MP Julieanne Gilbert. Picture: Zizi Averill

Mackay MP Julieanne Gilbert. Picture: Zizi Averill

Daily Mercury understands FIRB or the treasurer’s approval was not required as the application did not meet the threshold for consideration.

The Daily Mercury contacted the treasurer’s office for comment, but was told: “The government does not comment on the details of foreign investment screening arrangements as they apply, or could apply, to particular cases.”

Mr Christensen is expected to visit Keswick Island again in January to update residents on the matter.

Daily Mercury contacted China Bloom for comment, however it declined.


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