The Australian Conservation Foundation will ask the Federal Court to overturn an Administrative Appeals Tribunal decision last month that kept under wraps details of meetings between a government department and a company that wants to build a high-rise apartment complex on sensitive wetlands at Toondah Harbour, near Brisbane.
ACF has lodged a notice of appeal with the Federal Court of Australia.
The federal government has refused to release the records of meetings between the Department of Environment & Energy (now Agriculture, Water & Environment) and Walker Corporation under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.
ACF will argue the Administrative Appeals Tribunal incorrectly applied the exemption on confidential information and the public interest test in the FOI Act.
When Josh Frydenberg was environment minister, his department advised him the Toondah Harbour apartment and marina proposal was ‘clearly unacceptable’ because of the damage it would cause to the globally significant wetlands.
Minister Frydenberg rejected his department’s advice and sent the proposal to the next stage of assessment.
Toondah Harbour, on Moreton Bay, is an important habitat for dugongs, dolphins, whales and sea turtles and is renowned as one of the top migratory bird sites in Australia.
Every summer a large number of the world’s remaining eastern curlews and grey-tailed tattlers feed and recuperate at the wetland after their odyssey to the northern hemisphere.
Walker Corp’s proposal for a marina and high-rise apartments would destroy about 40 hectares of the Moreton Bay wetland, which is listed under the international Ramsar Convention and is supposed to be protected by Australia’s national environment law, the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.
Documents already released show Walker Corp tried to convince Minister Frydenberg to remove part of the Ramsar wetland as a matter of ‘urgent national interest’.
Annual returns lodged with the Australian Electoral Commission show Walker Corp donated $50,000 to the Liberal Party and $50,000 to the Labor Party in 2018-19.
ACF will be represented in this appeal by Geoffrey Watson SC and lawyers from Environmental Justice Australia.
Header pic by Nikki Michail.