A letter from Mayor Karen Williams to the Federal Government was one of the many Toondah submissions obtained through Redlands2030’s recent Freedom of Information (FOI) inquiry.
As a letter of support it was in very exclusive company. The Government said only eight submissions supported the project compared with 1,411 opposing submissions when it consulted about Walker Group’s second referral under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.
During the EPBC referral consultation period Mayor Williams posted this call for supporting submissions on her mayoral Facebook page:
Support #straddie with a letter of support on Walker Group’s Toondah Harbour development proposal …
Why didn’t anyone respond?
What do other councillors think about Toondah?
Redlands2030 understands other councillors were not aware that the Mayor was lodging a letter of support during the EPBC consultation process.
Councillors with concerns about the Walker Group’s project and its likely impacts on the environment and local community have been warned off making any public comments of objection.
It seems that when the Council entered into its ‘commercial in confidence’ agreement with Walker Group during Mayor Williams first term, it agreed to a condition of the contract which exposes any councillor making negative comments about the project to punitive legal consequences.
So the community’s elected representatives have been effectively silenced from speaking out against a project which residents are concerned about.
Are claims by the Mayor believable?
In her letter Mayor Williams claims:
A revitalised Toondah harbour will encourage more than 45,000 additional visitors to the region every year. This equates to a potential $21 million per annum in tourism revenue and $78 million per annum in additional retail expenditure for the region.
No substantiation is provided for these claims. Redlands2030 is not aware of any publicly available report by a credible entity which supports this assessment.
The same comment applies to often repeated statements that the project will result in 1,000 construction jobs and 500 permanent jobs.
Is Toondah a tourism project?
The Mayor refers to Toondah Harbour being awarded Austrade Tourism Major Project facilitation status in early 2017.
Redlands2030 questioned the responsible agency earlier this year to find out why Toondah was bestowed with such an ‘award’ and what benefits would result from this ‘status’. They refused to comment.
To be eligible for this status, projects must have a capital value of more than $50 million according to the Federal Government’s website.
But the Walker Group’s Toondah project is primarily concerned with residential development.
The Toondah Harbour Infrastructure Agreement (made publicly available following a right to information request by Redlands2030) suggests the value of investment in tourism infrastructure could be much less than $50 million.
Going through the back door
By sending this letter to the minister for Infrastructure and Transport, it appears that Mayor Williams was trying to go through the back door. The EPBC consultation process requires submissions to be sent to the Department of the Environment and Energy.
Decisions about EPBC Act referrals are required to be made, not by the Government, but by the Minister for The Environment and Energy currently Josh Frydenberg.
A cryptic note on the covering email steers the Mayor’s letter appropriately into the formal submission process.
Printed below is the full text of Mayor William’s letter supporting Walker Group’s Toondah proposal.
The letter and its covering email can also be viewed as a pdf document.
Mayor Williams’ letter supporting Walker Group
Honourable Darren Chester MP
Minister for Infrastructure and Transport
PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Canberra ACT 2600
I write to urgently request the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the Toondah Harbour Priority Development area (PDA) Project. Ideally I would like to meet prior to Thursday 8 June, which is when the Federal Government is scheduled to make a decision on the Walker Group’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity conservation (EPBC) referral for this project. I appreciate this date is fast approaching and in your position you have a very full diary, so if you are unable to meet in person by this date I would be more than happy to meet with a senior representative within your department or alternatively discuss over the phone.
The $1.4 billion Toondah Harbour redevelopment will see the tired ferry terminal transformed into a regional tourism attraction. The harbour is the main departure and arrival point for ferry and water taxi services between the mainland and North Stradbroke Island. It is also used to launch recreational and commercial craft, and comprises of (sic) residential and open space land. The benefits of this once in a lifetime project cannot be underestimated, representing unrivalled tourism, cultural and economic growth opportunities for the region. This is supported by the fact that earlier this year, Toondah Harbour was awarded Austrade Tourism Major Project facilitation service status.
A revitalised Toondah harbour will encourage more than 45,000 additional visitors to the region every year. This equates to a potential $21 million per annum in tourism revenue and $78 million per annum in additional retail expenditure for the region. This project will generate more than 1000 jobs per annum during the construction phase, 500 jobs per annum post construction, with jobs supported by visitor expenditure equating to more than 250. This economic activity is vital for the Redlands, in particular North Stradbroke Island, which is not only the destination for most people who use Toondah Harbour but also an island facing uncertain times as it prepares for the end of sand mining in 2019.
While there is understandably a great deal of excitement about this project, there is also a great deal of work to be done. This new EPBC application is not asking for approval of the project, merely it is asking to allow Walker Group to take it to the next stage of assessment – to have it tested against the science through an Environmental Impact Statement. I have always supported such scrutiny, and believe Walker Group should have the opportunity to demonstrate the acceptability of the proposal through an EIS.
I look forward to the opportunity to discuss this important project and its benefits for the Redlands and wider community.
Mayor Karen Williams
Redland City Council
23 May 2017
Other submissions about Walker Group’s EPBC referral
The Federal Government says that in response to Walker Group’s latest EPBC referral there were 1,419 submissions – 1,411 opposing and eight supporting the project.
Many of the submissions have been published by Redlands2030 – links are included below:
|Opposing submissions||Supporting submissions|
|1,411 submissions opposed the project referral||8 submissions supported the project referral|
|Ramsar Secretariat warns on Toondah impacts||Toondah project gets support from Grand View|
|Jobs impact of Toondah overstated, dishonest||Brisbane Marketing submission on Toondah|
|Walker Group’s Toondah plan is unacceptable||Property Council advocates for Toondah project|
|AMCS says Marine Park is too valuable to risk||Infrastructure Association supports Toondah|
|National Parks Association Toondah submission||Straddie Chamber supports Toondah project|
|Don’t take Toondah treasures from us||Sealink profit up but Straddie route challenging|