Morrison Govt should reject Great Barrier Reef catchment deforestation after admitting major legal mistake

The Morrison Government should reject an application to clear nearly 2,000 hectares of forest at Kingvale Station in the Great Barrier Reef catchment after admitting today its assessment process was unlawful, the Wilderness Society said.

“The Great Barrier Reef is already under enough threat to allow another deforestation proposal in the catchment to go through. The Environment Minister made a mistake in allowing the proposal to be assessed with the minimum level of scrutiny so Melissa Price now has the opportunity to reject the proposal without wasting any more of the Environment Department’s time and further risking the reef.

“If Minister Price allows the deforestation to be reassessed, then it must be assessed under full scrutiny,” said Wilderness Society National Nature Campaigner Jess Panegyres. “The Great Barrier Reef is too important for anything less.”

In May this year, The Federal Environment Department made a draft approval to allow a massive swathe of tree clearing at the Kingvale Station on Cape York, despite identifying that it could cause harm to the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage site and endangered species.

The Central Queensland Environment Council, represented by the Environmental Defender’s Office of NSW, challenged the Minister’s earlier decision to allow this project to be assessed at the least rigorous level of assessment. The government this week conceded that its approval was unlawful and has been forced to remake the decision.

Wilderness Society National Nature Campaigner Jessica Panegyres said bulldozing this forest could accelerate runoff of sedimentation and nutrients into the Great Barrier Reef’s waters. Sedimentation and nutrient runoff harms the reef by promoting algae growth and reducing light for coral and seagrass.

“It’s no wonder that the reckless behaviour from the Morrison Government has been found to be unlawful, considering allowing almost 2,000 hectares of native forest to be bulldozed in a catchment that drains into the Great Barrier Reef is irresponsible and environmentally disastrous,” Ms Panegyres said. 

“This project could impact the Great Barrier Reef and threatened species. Even the proponents concede there is a range of endangered species on the land they propose to bulldoze. It’s pretty disgraceful that in the context of threats to the Great Barrier Reef and threatened species, the government would think it’s okay to apply the least rigorous form of assessment to this proposal.  

“The Minister should reject this destructive proposal. If she won’t do that outright, given the potential impacts on the Reef and threatened species, this should be subject to the most rigorous assessment process, which is a full Environmental Impact Assessment. There is, unsurprisingly, a very high level of public concern over this destructive proposal, with over 6,000 submissions, and at the very least this should be subject to a full and proper assessment, not a tick and flick.

“The government’s latest emissions data revealed that, in the past five years, there has been 770,000 hectares of deforestation in Reef catchments, an area more than three times the size of the ACT.¹ Deforestation kills our precious wildlife, bulldozes our forests, trashes our rivers, pollutes the Great Barrier Reef and produces a heap of carbon emissions. Australia is now a top-10 global deforestation hotspot, alongside the likes of the Amazon, the Congo and Indonesia.

“We are in the midst of crisis levels of deforestation in Great Barrier Reef catchments, at a time when the Federal Government has promised the world it is doing everything it can to protect the Reef. Water quality is identified as the second biggest threat to the Reef, after climate change.

“It makes no sense for the Morrison Government to be investing hundreds of millions of dollars in a private foundation supposedly to improve the Great Barrier Reef’s water quality but at the same time considering waving through projects like this that will make the problem worse. It’s no surprise that the decision to use the least rigorous form of assessment for such a consequential project has been found to be unlawful.

“The fact that bulldozing old growth forest, next to a river running into the Great Barrier Reef, home to endangered species, was even considered for approval under our national environment laws shows the laws are broken.

“We need new national laws that actually protect nature and a national Environmental Protection Authority that can independently review development proposals.”

Contact

For further comment, please contact Wilderness Society Nature Campaigner Jessica Panegyres on 0424 090 396.

Link to photos and video footage of the location.


¹Quarterly Update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory: March 2018, Commonwealth of Australia 2018, p. 22.  Available here: http://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/63391569-7ffa-4395-b245-e53893158566/files/nggi-quarterly-update-mar-2018.pdf