November 25, 2020

Plan To Bulldoze Almost 2,000 Hectares Of Land In Great Barrier Reef Catchment Rejected

News Source: The Guardian

Author(s): Lisa Cox

Sussan Ley has rejected an application for almost 2,000 hectares of land-clearing on Kingvale Station in the Great Barrier Reef catchment.

The long-awaited decision was quietly published on Tuesday night at the same time as the federal government announced it had approved Santos’s Narrabri gas project in New South Wales.

It is the third time Ley has used her powers as federal environment minister to reject a project under national environmental laws and only the 24th time by any minister in the history of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

Gemma Plesman, a senior campaigner at the Wilderness Society, said it was a “rare rejection” by a federal minister and noted that were it not for federal oversight the clearing would have occurred because it had already been approved by the former Newman government in Queensland.

“Old-growth and important forest, like that on Kingvale Station, should simply be protected for good,” she said. “It should never have been considered for bulldozing.

“We hope this signals a new era of commonwealth ministers treating deforestation seriously. Deforestation clearly has significant impacts and should be better regulated across the country under the EPBC Act.”

The minister’s grounds for refusal were that the project would have unacceptable impacts on threatened species and habitats.

A spokesman for the environment department, on behalf of the minister, said the proposal was assessed against EPBC Act requirements to protect matters of national environmental significance, “including the golden-shouldered parrot, red goshawk and bare-rumped sheath-tailed bat, as well as potential run-off and nutrient issues that are likely to impact on the Great Barrier Reef”.

“The minister decided to refuse this proposal because in the absence of consent from the proponent she was unable to impose certain conditions necessary to protect threatened species.”

According to the published decision, the project met the threshold for approval against other controlling provisions related to world heritage, national heritage and impacts on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Kelly O’Shanassy, the chief executive of the Australian Conservation Foundation, said the bushland that was to be cleared was habitat for rare and threatened parrots, quolls and bats.

“It’s especially important for the small remaining populations of the golden-shouldered parrot,” she said.

“Queensland was going to allow this clearing to proceed. But this decision shows federal government can be a powerful force for good in protecting our rare and threatened species and highlights the importance of national leadership in protecting Australia’s biodiversity.”

The proposed clearing at Kingvale Station has been controversial. Documents released under freedom-of-information laws revealed four Coalition senators from Queensland lobbied the then environment minister, Josh Frydenberg, in 2018 to approve it.

The federal government originally wrote a draft approval for the clearing but this was thrown out by the federal court in 2018 after it found the government failed to apply proper scrutiny to the project.

The proponent, Scott Harris, and his company were fined in the Cairns magistrates court last year for illegal clearing of vegetation at another property at Strathmore Station in Queensland’s Gulf country.

Harris’s solicitor declined to comment about Ley’s decision to reject the planned clearing at Kingvale.

Ley’s decision comes as the Senate prepares to debate legislation that would clear the way for the federal government to hand its approval powers under national environmental laws to state and territory governments.