Plibersek rejects wetlands project in draft decision

Fraser Barton |

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek says it is important to protect “rare and unique” wetlands.
Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek says it is important to protect “rare and unique” wetlands.

A draft decision by Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek to refuse a more than $1 billion development on Queensland wetlands has been hailed as a landmark move by activists.

Ms Plibersek on Tuesday proposed refusing a development application on Toondah Harbour, east of Brisbane, that would have created a mixed use residential, commercial, retail and tourism precinct. 

Construction by Walker Corporation that included a marina and 3600 unit complex was to occur through dredging of the wetland, with the sediment used for land reclamation over a 15-to-20-year period. 

The initially proposed $1.4 billion project was put forward in 2014 and had been framed as a harbourside precinct with parklands, a lagoon and cycling and heritage trails that would also include upgrades to the ferry facilities. 

But the environment minister found removing 58.7 hectares from the internationally protected wetland was an unacceptable impact, and denied the project in a draft ruling.

Ms Plibersek has invited comment and feedback before making a final decision.

Walker Corporation has 10 business days to respond to the minister but said in a statement that they respect Ms Plibersek’s decision notice and will now take time to review the reasonings behind it. 

“We will then look to work with our consultant team and joint venture partners to see what opportunities might exist to mitigate or ameliorate the environmental concerns that the department has raised to ensure we provide the best opportunity for this important project to proceed to deliver housing, jobs and new state government infrastructure whilst ensuring world’s best environmental practice,” they said. 

Ms Plibersek said the wetlands were rare, unuque and importanr to prevent the extinction of animals like the eastern curlew and loggerhead turtle.

“My proposed decision says that we can’t destroy portions of this internationally important wetland,” she said. 

“I am making my proposed decision public so that the tens of thousands of people who have made public comments on this have a chance to respond. I want to hear from them before I make my final decision.”

More than 26,000 comments were made on the development when its draft environmental impact statement was released.

The Australian Conservation Fund welcomed the minister’s draft ruling to keep wildlife habitat safe.

“Walker Group’s marina and high-rise apartment plan would have destroyed irreplaceable feeding grounds for migratory birds, a big chunk of the Ramsar wetland and mature eucalypts that are home to koalas and other wildlife,” chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy said. 

“ACF, BirdLife Australia and the Toondah Alliance, along with local groups, have long campaigned to stop this bid to replace a living ecosystem with a concrete wasteland.”

Former environmental lawyer and Stradbroke Island local environment group secretary Richard Carew, said the project would have breached the Ramsar convention on wetlands, signed by Australia and 172 countries.

Section 138 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act  also requires the minister to not act inconsistently with Australia’s obligations under the Ramsar convention, Mr Carew said.

“From our perspective, and from my perspective as a retired environmental lawyer, the minister really had no choice but to reject this proposal,” he told AAP.

The Queensland Greens have called on the state government to now rule out support for future development at Toondah Harbour.