Coal ships being loaded at Gladstone coal loading facility.

Ships being loaded at Gladstone loading facility. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Two CSIRO scientists who last year found Gladstone Harbour to be healthy have been appointed to conduct a new independent inquiry into the harbour.

On Thursday Environment Minister Greg Hunt appointed Anthea Tinney and Ian Cresswell to help Andrew Johnson investigate how the protective bund wall in Gladstone leaked toxic dredge spoil in 2011.

On Friday the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority will decide whether to allow dredge spoil from the Abbot Point to be dumped inside the reef’s marine park.

Vision demonstrating failings in the bund wall at Gladstone Harbour.

Vision demonstrating failings in the bund wall at Gladstone Harbour. Photo: Supplied

However, Ms Tinney and Dr Creswell investigated concerns in the Gladstone Harbour in a review between February and July 2013.

‘‘The review has found that environmental management and governance within the Port of Gladstone is generally comprehensive,’’ their July 2013 report found.

They did not find the fact that the protective bund wall – designed to hold back millions of tonnes of potentially toxic dredge spoil - was a problem, despite it leaking in 2011 and 2012.

That leak coincided with repeated claims of fish kills, dying seagrass and turtle and dugong deaths, which Gladstone Port Corporation claimed was due to excessive rainfall.

Their 2013 report also did not investigate why no geotextile cloth was ever used within the leaking bund wall in 2011 - as was originally designed - and why it was simply lain on the inside face of the bund wall.

That was the major criticism of two engineers, Bill Service and Warren Hornsey, who in December 2013 reported the design faults in a study, "Gladstone Harbour Dredged Spoil Bund Wall - What Went Wrong".

A spokesman for Mr Hunt defended appointing the same scientists again.

‘‘They’ve been appointed again because they are experienced in it and because we are looking at different material,’’ the spokesman said.

‘‘The whole point of the inquiry is to look at material that wasn’t available before.”

It is unclear if the three-person panel can compel witnesses to appear.

‘‘But, they will be able to meet with whoever they believe would be valuable witnesses,’’ the spokesman said. 

Until recently, Ms Tinney chaired the Australian National Commission for UNESCO (2009–2013). Previously she was deputy secretary in the federal environment department.

Dr Creswell is the deputy director of CSIRO’s Wealth from Oceans project.

Dr Johnson, a member of the International Scientific Advisory Committee of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

Under the new terms of reference, the independent three-person panel will:

- examine and report on information relevant to the design, construction and functioning of the outer bund wall of Gladstone Port’s western basin reclamation area;

- provide advice as required to assist with the department’s current review of the outer bund wall leak incidents in 2011 and 2012 and;

- consider the adequacy of monitoring requirements and operations.

Mr Hunt wants the new review results finalised by the end of March.

Some whistleblowers want to know why the public was never informed by Gladstone’s Dredge Technical Reference Commitee, the CSIRO, or the Gladstone Healthy Harbour Partnership - set up by the LNP state government - of the implications of the dredge spoil leakage.

‘‘Unless public servants are called to explain their failures then the enquiry will not be able to dig up the politicisation of the relevant bureaucrats,’’ one source said.