The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) is deeply concerned national environmental approvals are being unduly politicised after the Federal Government conceded it had not justified its decision to apply the least rigorous environmental assessment on a proposal to destroy 2000 hectares of native forest in a critical Great Barrier Reef catchment, making it invalid.
Documents released under Freedom of Information show several Federal Government MPs and Senators, who support the plan to bulldoze forest at Kingvale Station on Cape York, met several times with Environment Department officials and the then Federal Environment Minister to push their view that no further studies were necessary.
“It appears the Federal Government’s decisions about the assessment and approval of land clearing at Kingvale have been more about politics than science,” said ACF Nature Campaigner, Andrew Picone.
“During the assessment process Ian Macdonald, Barry O’Sullivan, Matt Canavan and Warren Entsch MP met with the Department’s Environmental Standards Division and then Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg to discuss the land clearing plan at Kingvale.
“While the department advised that the proposed clearing would likely have a significant impact on nine threatened species and reduce water quality running off onto the Great Barrier Reef, the Federal Government ultimately applied the least rigorous form of assessment, then issued a draft approval for the land clearing.
“Now, after legal proceedings were launched by the Environmental Defenders Office NSW on behalf of the Environmental Council of Central Queensland, the Federal Government has conceded its decision to apply a weak assessment choice was unlawful.
“The woodland habitat at Kingvale – a crucial catchment for the Great Barrier Reef and home to rare and threatened parrots, quolls, birds and bats – has been granted a reprieve, but it may be short-lived. The Federal Government could remake its decision within weeks.
“ACF urges Environment Minister Melissa Price to subject this proposal to a rigorous environmental impact assessment process, which would put more scrutiny on the damage the clearing will cause and give the public more of a say about a proposal that would harm our Great Barrier Reef.
“This case is further evidence that Australia’s environment laws are too weak to protect our precious natural world. Since the current regime took effect 17 years ago, threatened species habitat the size of Tasmania has been destroyed by bulldozing and logging.
“Australia needs new environment laws that genuinely protect our threatened species and an independent national Environment Protection Authority to make approval decisions free of undue influence.”