Will Labor maintain policy to protect the Toondah wetlands? – by Richard Carew

Sunrise over the Toondah wetlands – Photo: Chris Walker

With a decision looming for the highly controversial Toondah wetlands real estate scheme, many people will be closely watching the Labor Party’s National Conference starting in Brisbane next Thursday.

Rally to protect the Toondah wetlands
Toondah Rally – 19 August

A rally to demonstrate public support for maintaining Australia’s Ramsar Convention obligations to protect Toondah’s wetlands will be held on Saturday 19th August, outside Labor’s conference.

Implementing current Labor Party policy (set out below), which is in line with Australia’s international environmental treaty obligations, must result in a rejection of the Toondah scheme.

But will there be moves to reverse Labor’s policy? And will Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek then be pressured to ignore her moral and legal obligations and instead favour a well-connected developer with what would be an outrageous approval?

The developer, Walker Group/Corporation (Walker), wants to dredge and fill in wetlands over the top of and inside boundaries of the Moreton Bay Ramsar site at Cleveland. These wetlands are inhabited by numerous marine and shorebird species.

Toondah wetlands
Walker Group’s artist’s impression of its proposed Toondah project

Walker’s project includes 3,600 high-end waterfront apartments, a hotel, shops, restaurants, and a cultural centre. For owners of large motor yachts there would be marina berths and a newly dredged channel extending a kilometer into Moreton Bay.

Walker has a long history of making political donations to Labor, and the LNP, including a combined $500,000 since the 2013 declaration of the Toondah Harbour Priority Development Area (PDA).

Walker’s owner, Lang Walker, also has had close links with lobbyist and former Labor senator and power-broker, the controversial Graham Richardson and author of “Whatever it Takes”. The two met with Premier Palaszczuk in April, 2022 to discuss Walker’s Queensland business interests. The Premier was later questioned in Parliament about the meeting.

The plan to destroy around 50 hectares of protected tidal wetlands is only possible because of the Queensland Government’s arguably unlawful PDA over the publicly owned wetlands listed for protection under the Ramsar Convention, signed by Australia.

The PDA was declared by the Newman Government, but continued by the Palaszczuk Government, which also permitted a massive expansion in the proposed number of apartments.

But despite the continued backing of Walker’s scheme by the Palaszczuk Government, successive Queensland Environment Ministers, acting on advice from various Queensland Government Departments, have informed Parliament there is no justification for a boundary change to the Ramsar site to facilitate the scheme.

Labor policies and the Toondah wetlands

The Labor Party’s relevant, current national policy platform states:

  1. At page 42, under Environmental governance, management and international obligations

“Labor is committed to making sure that Australia meets its responsibilities under international environmental treaties including.. the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands”

  • At page 137, under Resolutions: Ramsar Wetlands

“This Conference: 

• Restates Labor’s support for the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, to which Australia is a Signatory, and notes that Toondah Harbour is in the Moreton Bay Ramsar-listed wetland; Recognises the importance of Ramsar-listed sites to migratory wading birds; 

• Acknowledges that migratory wading bird numbers are in steep decline, principally due to loss of tidal roosting and feeding sites along their migratory routes from North East Asia to Australia; 

• Commits to protecting Australia’s intertidal habitat on which these birds depend, with special reference to Ramsar listed sites; and 

• Calls on an incoming Labor Government to fully apply Federal environmental law to protect Ramsar listed sites.”

Tanya Plibersek’s decision

Walker’s final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is due. When it is delivered to Minister Plibersek, she will have to make a decision to approve or reject Walker’s plan.

Her decision will be made under current environment laws. Labor’s promised new environment laws won’t apply retrospectively, even if they were passed soon. 

Walker’s Toondah proposal is clearly unacceptable under current laws because:

  • it would result in permanent and irreversible damage to the ecological character of the Moreton Bay Ramsar site;
  • it would breach Australia’s Ramsar Convention obligations because it would be inconsistent with “conservation” and “wise use” of the wetlands (Article 3.1) and would impermissibly “delete or restrict” Ramsar site boundaries (Article 2.5), for private profit, not “urgent national interests”; and 
  • in deciding whether or not to approve the scheme, the Minister “must not act inconsistently with Australia’s obligations under the Ramsar Convention” (s.138 EPBC Act).

Minister Plibersek should honour Australia’s obligations under the Ramsar Convention and apply the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act to reject Walker’s clearly unacceptable proposal.

Richard Carew
Stradbroke (Terangeri) Environmental and Cultural Protection Association Inc.

Published by Redlands2030 – 11 August 2023

0 thoughts on “Will Labor maintain policy to protect the Toondah wetlands? – by Richard Carew”

  1. As a senior marine biologist with a PhD carried out on new species of marine animals in Moreton Bay at 40 different sites I have to say that I fully endorse the conclusions of Richard Carew. It would be a miscarriage of justice to allow any developer to over-ride the Ramsar Convention no matter how much money they give to various governments. I have gone right through the draft version of the biology section of the EIS submitted on behalf of Walker Corporation and I have found that it is totally lacking in science. That is obvious to the many people from ACF and Birdlife Australia, who have also examined that draft EIS. I am so annoyed by the 9 years of bungling at various council and government levels that it will affect my vote in upcoming elections. As decent Australians we need to have representatives that cannot be easily bought with donations. I think the Federal Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, will act in an honourable fashion but we have yet to see. We cannot just let animals go extinct because a developer can make big bucks. As for our unique marine species in Moreton Bay we need to remember that dugong, dolphins, whales and marine turtles all breathe air so all must regularly come to the surface. This means restricting watercraft in certain areas.

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