Shine Lawyers, acting for Gladstone fishermen has warned that the Queensland government could be forced to pay more than $20 million in compensation if dredging proved to be the source of contamination in Gladstone Harbour.
The claim for loss of income on behalf of 60 Gladstone fishermen was filed on Monday in the Rockhampton office of Land and Environment Court, with the matter expected to go to court in March.
The harbour is being dredged to allow tankers to access three massive $15 billion plants being built at Curtis Island on the north side of the harbour. The plants will convery coal-seam gas to liquefied natural gas for export.
The claim filed yesterday is based on a condition of the LNG plant approvals, granted two years ago by the Queensland government’s Co-Ordinator General. It states that compensation must be paid to fishermen who lost income because of the project.
Queensland government and state-owned entity Gladstone Ports Corporation do not dispute some compensation must be paid. At issue is the size of the payout and the cause of fish poisoning in the harbour.
Fishing in Gladstone Harbour was banned for three weeks last year, after barramundi and other fish were found to have cloudy eyes and discolouration.
Many fishermen and Greens have argued the fish have been poisoned by the dredging but the government and Gladstone Ports Corporation have consistently argued that the poisoning was larged caused by an influx of freshwater fish into the salty waters of the harbour following floods of last January.
Lawyer Rebecca Jancauskas said yesterday the fishermen needed certainty. She said if it were established that some fishing operations were completely ruined and the businesses could not continue, the compensation bill could be considerably higher.
“What we will be doing is endeavouring to quantify claims about how long the situation is likely to last,” she said.
Premier Anna Bligh said the government was negotiating compensation with businesses through a steering committee and fishermen were entitled to compensation for restrictions to fishing zones.
“If they want to take it outside negotiations and into courts, it doesn’t change the fact that we are required to compensate them for any loss,” she said.
“We will potentially be doing so, but we will look at not only protecting the fishermen but also the taxpayer so we get a fair deal for everybody.”
Source: The Australian
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