Toondah Harbour: Keeping the bastards honest

Toondah Harbour: Keeping the bastards honest

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, signed by Australia and 171 other nations, couldn’t be much clearer in creating an insurmountable barrier to the Queensland Government’s Toondah Wetlands real estate scheme.

Apart from general obligations on signatories of protection and wise use of listed wetlands, Article 2.5 creates a very specific obligation. It states:

  • “Any contracting party shall have the right to add to the list further wetlands situated within its territory, to extend the boundaries of those wetlands already included by it in the list, or, because of its urgent national interests, to delete or restrict the boundaries of wetlands already included by it in the list”.

Take a look at Walker Corp’s own plan in Image 1 and compare with Image 2, where the Ramsar site boundaries are more apparent. It is obvious the real estate plan would “delete or restrict” boundaries of the Moreton Bay Ramsar site, Queensland’s first Ramsar site, declared in 1993. Allowing a Billionaire property developer to build 3,600 high-rise apartments in the Moreton Bay Ramsar site could never be in our “urgent national interests”.

The only “urgent national interests” are protecting our protected areas and our endangered species, such as the Eastern Curlew and other migratory birds (see image 2), and the Toondah Koalas, which inhabit the land portion of the PDA.

Saunders havill plan Walker
Image 1. Walker Corporation's latest development plan submitted to the Federal Government in 2018
Image 2. The Queensland Government's Priority Development Area over Ramsar protected wetlands and migratory bird habitat

The Toondah plan’s breach of Article 2.5 is obvious to anyone who is not from Walker Corp, or wedded to the Labor Party, or the Liberal/National Parties. Those Parties have received over $2.5 Million in DECLARED donations from Walker Group/Corporation over the past two decades, including $500,000 since 2014 – when Walker was first publicly associated with the Toondah scheme.

The EPBC Act is generally not good enough to protect our environment. However, in the case of Toondah, our international obligations ARE backed up by section 138. It states:

  • “In deciding whether or not to approve the taking of an action, the Minister must not act inconsistently with Australia’s obligations under the Ramsar Convention.”

That’s why senior lawyers from the Federal Attorney-General’s office advised former Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg that if he approved the Toondah plan:

  • “he would be acting inconsistently with Australia’s obligations under the Ramsar convention”.
    (See Background Briefing transcript – interview with ANU Professor of Law, Andrew Macintosh)

The Toondah scheme is one case (a rare event!) where the EPBC Act provides a clear instruction not to approve. We have a law, which, if applied, will stop this crazy plan. We have to insist our State and Federal Governments stop trying to ignore our international obligation and our own laws.

To borrow a well known phrase… “It’s up to us to keep the bastards honest”