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Conservation Matters

Peter Valentine | Conservation Officer

I want to start with a little positivity, and today this is a reference to the magnificent film Flyways (see Contact Call article here). Along with many other members and supporters, I attended the film and came away impressed with several elements, such as the magnificent images of the migratory waders, and their amazing north-south-north flights of survival and reproduction. Some images were beautiful and the product of extremely competent videographers.

There was uplift as well in seeing the collaboration between southern hemisphere communities and researchers with northern hemisphere destination communities. As always we are much better off when the peoples of the world collaborate and communicate rather than engage in hostile jingoism.

The extent of concern across the flyways of Africa/Europe; South America/North America and Australia/Eurasia lends hope that solutions may be found. The plea for survival from the migratory waders is equally a plea for we humans to stop behaving badly, an action that will surely bring benefits to all of us as well as the birds.

To follow on, might we contemplate the awful Queensland situation with the State Government seeming to dismiss any responsibility in protecting the Ramsar site in Moreton Bay: in particular, decisions that support the proposal for development of Toondah Harbour by the Walker Group.

When first proposed, this development was rejected by the relevant Federal Department as clearly inappropriate in the Ramsar site: a site of particular significance to migratory waders including the Eastern Curlew.

Eastern Curlew Peter Valentine
Eastern Curlew. Photo by Peter Valentine.

However the incompetent Environment Minister at the time, Josh Frydenberg, rejected the official advice and allowed the project proposal to proceed. Was there a substantial gift of money from Walker Group to the LNP at that time? Subsequent attempts to have the documents involved in those closed door discussions have been rejected, and the Australian Conservation Foundation has been trying to gain access to them to try and understand better what is proposed and what influences are at work. The Environmental Defenders Office has also sought access to these secretive discussions between the developers and government agencies. Legal decisions have now denied that access, despite the Office of Information Commissioner agreeing to release the documents, leaving citizens in the dark about these furtive deals being made between approval authorities and the profiteering corporations. It is well known that Walker Group has donated strongly to both the ALP and the LNP (and the amounts involved are in the millions of dollars).

While the project was first proposed under the Newman LNP Government, it was later adopted by the ALP which actually supported a hugely enlarged project proposal and maintained the previous government legislation that enabled the plan to proceed. At the time of the original approval for the Priority Development Area (PDA), the Australian Institute of Architects Queensland President, Shane Thompson, said “This dreadful and grandiose PDA scheme is something of the type we would normally only expect of some lunatic despotic government in the Third World” (2014). The Government at that time was the dreadful Newman-Seeney aberration. But following the ALP election in 2015 the new Government embraced the proposal, perhaps in much the same way as the Queensland ALP embraced Walker’s donations of many thousands of dollars. May it have been simple coincidence that Walker Corporation was the approved developer?

One consistent element has been the clear opposition to the proposal by BirdLife Australia, representing the interests of science and bird conservation. The basis is clear:

  • the project would encroach on 43 hectares of the Moreton Bay Ramsar site which is not permitted under the Ramsar Convention where the project is for commercial gain;

  • proposed development would have significant impacts on Matters of National Environmental Significance protected under the EPBC Act (1999);

  • the project would conflict with Australia’s international obligations to protect migratory shorebirds, especially the critically endangered Eastern Curlew.

Since then it has become clear that it will be a decision by the Federal Government that will finally determine the outcome.

It would be valuable if members and supporters could take a few minutes to support BirdLife Australia’s campaign to ask the Federal Minister to reject the proposal.

If you would like to read a bit of history about this site, and appreciate the significant hypocrisy of politicians involved, visit the Redlands2030 website:

I probably do not have to mention this, but these international migratory bird species need protection everywhere. Just as BirdLife Northern Queensland has been working (with Sally Sheldon and Paul Fisk and others) to raise the profile of these waders right in our backyard – the Cairns Esplanade and other local important feeding and roosting areas – other places along the entire coast need to be safe and supportive for these magnificent migrants. Whether individual Eastern Curlews from Toondah come to Cairns or not, they are a key part of the global population, now Critically Endangered. It is in everybody’s interest that we protect Toondah: failure will further undermine our attempts to change our destructive ways.

While we wait for the Minister’s decisions on Toondah, we remain impatient for her decision on Chalumbin, another critical decision for bird conservation. I hope we are rewarded by quality decisions by the Minister.

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