Decision on Toondah due in early 2024

Decision on Toondah due in early 2024

On 27 November, 2023 the Walker Group/Corporation (Walker) submitted its final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek. Walker published its final EIS on 30 November. It consists of two supplementary documents and, it seems, the Draft EIS.

A decision by Minister Plibersek is expected within 40 business days, but this timeframe may be extended by the Minister. (Update: The Minister has extended her decision timeframe to 23 April, 2024)

A decade long saga

Queensland’s highly controversial Toondah Harbour Priority Development Area scheme at Cleveland began a decade ago. The primary original purpose was to support the future of Straddie, on the other side of the Bay, when sand mining ended in 2019. But the purpose has changed now. This is because the misinformation and exaggerations about the impact of ending sand mining have been exposed.
A critically endangered Eastern Curlew near Toondah Harbour in October, 2023

Since 2015, very similar proposals to the current Walker proposal were rejected by Federal Environment Department experts. They advised former Ministers the proposals were “clearly unacceptable”. And lawyers from the Attorney-General’s Department advised the proposals were in conflict with Australia’s Ramsar Convention obligations.

But, as reported by the ABC’s Background Briefing, former Federal Environment Minister, Josh Frydenberg, did not accept the advice. Instead, encouraged by the Queensland Government, he “kicked the can down the road”. He allowed Walker to put forward an EIS prepared by Walker’s paid consultants. As such, it is not an independent analysis of the scheme.

The major objections remain

The major objections to the “clearly unacceptable” previous proposals remain. They include:

  • Walker still wants to build inside boundaries of the Moreton Bay Ramsar site. This would destroy and convert over 40 hectares of publicly owned, protected tidal wetlands into private use and profit;
  • The company still wants to replace these protected wetlands with 3,600 apartments, restaurants, a hotel, marinas and a cultural centre;
  • The company still wants to dredge, in effect, a new channel more than a kilometre out into Moreton Bay, through the middle of the Ramsar site. This would benefit the owners of large motor yachts using the proposed marinas. The dredged material would be used as “fill” for Walker’s proposed development; And
  • Up to 10,000 people living on their doorstep, with their cars and dogs, would likely result in the demise of the Toondah Koalas which inhabit the area around GJ Walter Park.

Key importance of Australia’s Ramsar Convention obligations 

Importantly, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act stipulates that when making a decision, the Federal Environment Minister “must not act inconsistently with Australia’s obligations under the Ramsar Convention”.

Despite recent misleading statements about these tidal wetlands, Walker has admitted on many occasions over the past decade, including in its EIS that the wetlands it wants to destroy are inhabited by many marine and shorebird species, including critically endangered migratory birds.

We expect Federal Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, to reject the scheme and honour Australia’s obligations and our promise to protect the habitat of shorebirds and other species within the Ramsar site, including the critically endangered Eastern Curlew. This habitat also includes climate change defences – mangroves and seagrass beds.

Now more than ever we need to stand up for the protection of these important, natural assets.