A report, released by Queensland’s auditor-general on Wednesday, says data suggesting an improvement in the quality of water entering the reef is unreliable and comes just weeks after UNESCO’s draft decision to leave the reef off its “in-danger” list.
Conservationists have accused governments of deceiving UNESCO, which is set to deliver its final ruling on the reef’s status at the end of June.
The draft decision made reference to the latest Great Barrier Reef Report Card, released in June 2014, that stated the goal to “halt and reverse the decline in water quality entering the reef” had been achieved.
But in his report, auditor-general Andrew Greaves said the “veracity of this statement needed to be treated with caution” given progress reports relied upon several assumptions, and there were a lack of water quality monitoring sites.
WWF reef spokesman Nick Heath said UNESCO had clearly been sold a furphy about the reef’s health.
“How can anyone say UNESCO has not been misled – they have relied on these figures that could easily be misinterpreted as fact,” Mr Heath told AAP.
“Governments have spun this narrative over the last few years that the reef has turned a corner but today that story has come down like a house of cards.”
Queensland Environment Minister Steven Miles and his federal counterpart Greg Hunt have both rejected claims UNESCO had been misled.
“I really welcome this report,” Mr Hunt told reporters on the Gold Coast.
“What it says is very clear, there’s significant progress, there are areas where they want to move from (water quality) modelling to monitoring and I agree with that.”
Mr Miles said the draft ruling was based on future plans to protect the reef.
“I believe that UNESCO based their decision on the long-term sustainability plan, which is more about what we would do going forward than what we have done in the past.”
When asked about the report’s timing, Mr Miles stressed he was unaware of any attempts to delay it.
Mr Hunt said he first saw the report on Wednesday afternoon. Mr Greaves has recommended the newly formed Office of Great Barrier Reef be held accountable for the state’s reef management strategies.
He also suggested current programs be reviewed, catchment monitoring expanded and the degree of uncertainty in reef report card results be made clear.