Science ‘skewed’

THE Maritime Union of Australia has claimed scientific documents were misinterpreted to reduce the environmental risk of a proposed Outer Harbour at Kwinana.

The MUA was a key stakeholder in the Westport Taskforce’s study into the state’s future port needs, which last Thursday culminated in a short-list of five options with Kwinana on top.

As a result the union was privy to a 193-page environmental work stream report which helped the Taskforce settle on its preferred options.

But MUA organiser Ben Lawver told the Herald when they back-checked scientific studies cited in the report’s risk assessments, they didn’t appear to match.

“The information provided in these reports would increase the risk and severity of the impacts port development would have, not reduce the risks/impacts as claimed,” Mr Lawver said.

He pointed to a study by Murdoch University research fellow Delphine Chabanne in 2017 which found “dolphins would not be able to compensate for the loss of habitat on the Kwinana Shelf by shifting to other, nearby areas”.

But he says in the final report that study was used to justify reducing the expected risk to Cockburn Sound’s bottlenose dolphin population.

That would have helped the Outer Harbour score higher against the MUA’s preferred option of an expanded Fremantle Harbour.

Another Murdoch academic, conservation ecologist Belinda Cannell also found in a study into little penguins in the Sound that “coastal activities and developments can impact both the penguins’ survival and reproductive success”.

Mr Lawver said that study was also used to reduce the expected risk to penguins, while he has similar concerns about other reports into pink snapper and garfish.

Mr Lawver said the union first noticed the discrepancies in March and wrote to Westport’s environmental stream seeking clarification.

“We are still waiting to sit down with scientists, or even Westport, to go through their report in detail,” he said.

Westport didn’t address the specific examples cited by the MUA, but said in a statement to the Herald its assessment process was informed by scientifically robust studies and overseen by the WA Biodiversity Science Institute, the WA Marine Science Institute and UWA.

“In addition, all environmental work has been peer-reviewed by a panel of experts chaired by John Langoulant AO,” the statement said. “WAMSI provided a comprehensive independent risk assessment informed by prominent local scientists and published scientific information.”

It said Westport was still engaged with a range of relevant stakeholders to ensure environmental and social issues were identified, evaluated and considered.

“The potential environmental and social impacts of a new port facility are being carefull considered.”

On Thursday the MUA joined members of the Fish Army to present a petition of about 2000 signatures opposing the Outer Harbour to WA parliament. Showing the division the harbour issue has created within the Labor party, the petition ended up being tabled by Greens MLC Alison Xamon after no Labor member was prepared to take it.

Mr Lawver said the left-wing United Voice union had used its numbers to veto the petition. It has also reportedly tried to rein in the Fish Army, which has attached itself to Labor’s environmental voting bloc in order to influence Labor preselections.

“I’d be interested to sit down with United Voice and have them explain to the MUA what they could teach us about running a port,” Mr Lawver quipped.


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