Guidelines for submissions on Toondah Harbour Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)
Why it is important to make a submission
Update: For a short, easy to send submission, see this post. If you have more time, read on..
The plan to allow a property developer, Walker Group/Corporation (Walker) to destroy around 50 hectares (over 120 acres) of Ramsar listed tidal wetlands at Cleveland is not just a local issue. The publicly owned wetlands are nationally and internationally protected under the world’s Ramsar Wetlands Convention. Australia is a signatory to this agreement, along with 171 other nations.
If Walker’s real estate scheme is approved, it would create a dangerous precedent, in Australia and elsewhere. What message would it send to developing nations, for example?
Walker’s Draft EIS was released on 12 October, 7 years after Walker first sought Federal approval to build 3,600 high-rise apartments and yacht marinas, and three and a half years after the Federal Government issued Guidelines for the EIS. The public has until 6 December to make comments and submissions on the Draft EIS.
Where to send comments and submissions by deadline of 6 December
Email comments and submissions on Walker’s Draft EIS to firstname.lastname@example.org with subject: Draft EIS Toondah Harbour submission and/or comments
To ensure your submission reaches Minister Plibersek, you may also wish to send a copy direct to the Minister at these addresses:
If you wish, you could also email a copy of your submission to email@example.com
Walker Corporation is required to send copies of all comments and submissions to the Federal Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, with its finalised EIS.
The Federal Environment Department, which has consistently advised former Environment Ministers that the proposal is ‘clearly unacceptable’, will then assess the final EIS and advise Minister Plibersek before she makes a decision whether to approve or reject Walker’s scheme.
It is important to note that individually worded submissions probably carry more weight. So, if you have the time, put the submission in your own words, having regard to the following submission points – and any others you want to include.
If you don’t have time to formulate it all in your own words, please feel free to copy and paste some or all of the submission points below, but add a personal touch or two if you can.
Our submission points are quite detailed. This dreadful, precedent creating proposal justifies this. We consider the first submission point, the fatal flaw, to be very convincing. This should result in the proposal being rejected. However, there are many other reasons to oppose the scheme and we cover some in our submission points.
Suggested submission points:
We have focused on a number of points directly relevant to the Minister’s decision making powers under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. Feel free to copy and paste the points you prefer. And change the order, headings, and wording if you wish. Various links are included, to provide the Minister, when she receives copies, with additional information and background material.
1. Proposal would breach Australia’s Ramsar Convention obligations (the fatal flaw)
This proposal to build in Moreton Bay would breach Australia’s obligations under the Ramsar Convention, especially the specific obligation not to “delete or restrict” Ramsar site boundaries unless for “urgent national interests” (Article 2.5).
The proposed private profit real estate development in these publicly owned and protected wetlands is not an urgent national interest.
The EPBC Act (section 138) requires that Minister Plibersek “must not act inconsistently with Australia’s Ramsar Convention obligations”. As the proposal would delete or restrict Ramsar site boundaries, the Minister must reject it on this ground alone.
For more information and links to FOI released letters signed by former Federal and State Environment Ministers acknowledging the importance of the Article 2.5 specific obligation and the obligation on the Minister in section 138, see this article on the fatal flaw.
No nation has invoked the urgent national interest clause to delete or restrict Ramsar boundaries and Walker dropped its absurd earlier request for Australia to be the first. Instead, Walker wants the Minister simply to pretend the obligation does not exist. The proposal would also clearly breach the Ramsar Convention’s general obligations of “conservation” and “wise use”. If Australia approved the scheme, as Walker proposes in its Draft EIS, this would trash Australia’s international reputation.
2. The proposal would have clearly unacceptable impacts on matters of national environmental significance as defined by the EPBC Act.
Environment Department scientific experts have consistently advised former Environment Ministers that very similar Toondah Harbour schemes, referred by Walker in two previous referrals to the Federal Government, were “clearly unacceptable”. See the Background Briefing report on Toondah and FOI documents published by the ABC.
The current proposal also would have clearly unacceptable impacts on the Moreton Bay Ramsar site, listed migratory species, and other listed threatened species and communities, through direct destruction of almost 50 hectares of the site.
Also, the proposed dredging the sea-bed, especially in the 2km long Fison Channel, inevitably would result in current carried dredge spoil polluting much larger areas of the Bay. Other indirect consequences are also likely.
There is no dispute the areas proposed to be destroyed consist variously of mangroves, seagrass beds, tidal flats, seabed, and habitat for many marine and shorebird species, including:
- Dugongs, dolphins, turtles, fish, crabs and other marine species; and
- Migratory shorebird species including critically endangered Eastern Curlews, critically endangered Great Knots, other threatened and vulnerable migratory shorebirds such as Bar-tailed godwits, Whimbrels, Grey-tailed tattlers and Terek sandpipers.
Particularly from September to March, most of these migratory shorebird species are commonly seen foraging in the areas proposed for destruction and in areas just outside and nearby the direct destruction areas. Many of them roost nearby, including at Oyster Point just south of Toondah Harbour.
In addition to direct destruction of Ramsar wetlands and wildlife habitat, there would be on-going direct and indirect impacts to other areas of the Ramsar site and wildlife habitat including from light, noise and other pollution.
3. More on the Eastern Curlew
On October 18, Wild Redlands videoed 129 Eastern Curlews at Oyster Point, a few hundred metres south of Toondah Harbour. In contrast, Walker surveys’ highest count at this site between 2018 and 2022 is said to be 45. See the link for more details. (Update: On 16 November, 165 Eastern Curlews roosted at Oyster Point, and on 18 November there were 180)
The substantial discrepancies cast doubt on the reliability of Walker’s EIS scientific reports.
In the Toondah wetlands, even Walker says that during its surveys there were up to seven critically endangered Eastern Curlews foraging in the PDA area proposed for destruction and conversion to private use.
The Eastern Curlew is one of the priority species in the Federal Government’s new 10-year Threatened Species Action Plan. It is unacceptable to propose to destroy their known habitat for private profit.
The Draft EIS does not address the recovery of Eastern Curlews and other migratory species. Protecting their remaining habitat is necessary to ensure the recovery of these shorebirds.
4. Impact on the Toondah Koalas
It is likely the proposal would lead to the destruction of the Koala population known as the Toondah Koalas, which inhabits the land portion of the PDA including GJ Walter Park. We understand the Koala Action Group will be making a detailed submission against the proposal.
5. Protecting the Toondah wetlands was a driving force behind the listing of the Moreton Bay Ramsar site
There is a very strong connection between past efforts to protect the Toondah wetlands and the declaration of the Moreton Bay Ramsar site in 1993. The Palaszczuk Government’s “green light” for the Toondah wetlands real estate scheme in 2015 flew in the face of the great work of previous Labor Governments to protect these same wetlands.
The election of the Goss Government in 1989 contributed to saving the Toondah wetlands from an earlier proposal to allow their “reclamation” by a property developer. Labor was determined to prevent “development” of the Toondah wetlands, or other Moreton Bay wetlands.
The Moreton Bay Ramsar site, which includes the Toondah wetlands, was nominated by former Queensland Environment Minister Pat Comben and his Goss Labor Government colleagues. It was Queensland’s first Ramsar listed site.
Former Labor member for Cleveland and surrounding areas, Darryl Briskey, told parliament in 1990 of his own efforts to protect the Toondah wetlands and said that Moreton Bay “must be protected not only for our enjoyment but also for future generations.” Briskey also told parliament that he was supported by Labor colleagues, including Premier Wayne Goss and the former Federal member for Bowman, Con Sciacca.
Old Labor delivered on its policy of protection of the Toondah wetlands. The Moreton Bay Ramsar site was declared in 1993.
Pat Comben and his Labor colleagues must have believed they had permanently protected the Toondah wetlands from future development-crazy Queensland Governments and Councils. But they underestimated the lengths to which such Governments would go and probably never thought that a Labor Government, under the influence of former Deputy Premier and Planning Minister Jackie Trad, would trash their good work.
In opposition, Jackie Trad and Labor said all the right things. They attacked the LNP Newman Government over its Priority Development Area (PDA) legislation, used to declare the Toondah PDA. Trad accused Newman and Seeney of wanting to use their PDA laws to line the pockets of their “developer mates”.
But once in power, Trad and Labor hypocritially back-flipped, favouring a property developer with a long record of making large declared political donations, Walker Corporation, over the community. As the then Minister in charge, Trad continued with the LNP’s PDA laws and their Toondah plan. It then emerged that under Trad, there was a (still unexplained) massive, 450% increase in the proposed number of high-rise units – from 800 under the LNP to 3,600 under Trad and new Labor
6. Alternatives to Walker’s scheme
Walker claims in the Draft EIS there are no feasible alternatives to destroying 50 hectares of the Moreton Bay Ramsar site and the habitat of critically endangered migratory shorebirds and other species.
But Walker told the Ramsar Secretariat at a meeting on 7 September, 2017 in relation to a very similar proposal that “they could possibly reconfigure their plan so that it follows a sustainable and wise-use approach that substantially minimizes the physical and ecological impacts of the project on the Ramsar Site. This could involve restricting the development to the parts of the PDA that lies outside of the Ramsar Site boundary”.
See Ramsar Secretariat’s the meeting notes released under FOI laws.
Walker now claims that a 2016 development agreement (which is secret) with the Queensland Government rules out alternatives. But that agreement, even if the details were known, is irrelevant to the non-compliance of the scheme with the Ramsar Convention and the EPBC Act.
Significantly, the claimed priority need to upgrade the Stradbroke ferry terminal has been delayed by the wetlands destruction for profit scheme. Upgrading the ferry terminal, which is outside the Ramsar site, does not need to be carried out by Walker.
Since the PDA was declared in 2016, it seems every other Moreton Bay ferry terminal has been or is being replaced or upgraded – including at Victoria Point and Redland Bay, and on Karragarra, Russell, Lamb, and Macleay Islands. The State Government and Redland City Council, or the Sealink ferry company are responsible for funding these new terminals, as is usual. For more details see this post.
7. Walker’s environmental record – the failed Tasmanian wetlands development attempt
As disclosed in its environmental record (in its Referral form), when Walker Corporation wanted to reclaim for a development wetlands at Ralphs Bay, Lauderdale in Tasmania some years ago, approval was refused in 2010 by the Federal Government.
This decision followed the Tasmanian Planning Commission recommending against the proposal and the State Government accepting this. Reasons given by the Federal Government for refusing approval included impacts on migratory shorebirds and on a Ramsar site (presumably through current carried dredge spoil) 12 km from the development site (EPBC Referral 2006/3193).
Walker’s interest in developing Moreton Bay Ramsar listed wetlands followed this refusal. The 800 apartment proposal in 2014 mysteriously multiplied to 3,600 apartments in 2015, under then Planning Minister Jackie Trad, without any further public consultation. No explanation has been given for this massive expansion. Premier Palaszczuk has refused interview requests, including from the ABC. See this summary and timeline for details.
In contrast to Ralphs Bay, the Toondah Harbour development site is within the Moreton Bay Ramsar site. The Ramsar site extends to North Stradbroke Island, which is less than 12 km from the development site.
8. Walker’s environmental record – misleading the public over plan to dredge the 2km Fison Channel
Walker’s environmental record in its Referral form discloses its previous environmental offences. It also refers to Walker’s previous Referrals seeking approval for the Toondah Harbour scheme. The history of these Referrals illustrate misleading and deception on the part of Walker.
In its current Referral, with a referral area of 56 hectares, the public was misled by the (much reduced) referral area and the “detailed description of the proposed action” in 1.2 of the Referral document. The proposed widening and other alteration of the 2km long Fison Channel, detailed in the Draft EIS, is not mentioned at all in the “detailed description” in the Referral form. Instead, the capital dredging appears to be restricted to the inner channel and ferry swing basin (turn around area) inside the 56 hectare referral area, depicted within black dotted lines in an attached figure.
The omission of the substantially more extensive capital dredging from the Referral form indicated it was not intended – presumably because the first Referral in 2015, which clearly disclosed the extensive channel work, was unsuccessful. The sneaky inclusion of this work in a lengthy document attached to the current Referral document does not cure the misleading through omission in the “detailed description” in the form itself, particularly having regard to the reduced referral area of 56 hectares.
The 2015 Referral had a referral area of 167.5 hectares. That Referral document openly discussed, in the 1.1 ‘Short description’, that widening and deepening Fison Channel was intended and that it would result in “500,000m3” of dredged material from the shallow seabed (which forms part of the Ramsar site). This needed it to be referred, in accordance with the significant impact guidelines – and this was recognised by Walker in its 2015 Referral.
In contrast to its deceptive 2018 Referral, for which it obtained a ‘controlled action’ decision, the Draft EIS clearly discloses Walker’s intention to proceed with extensive channel work through the middle of the Ramsar site, and out into Moreton Bay.
The Draft EIS further discloses that “530,000m3” of dredged material would result. This is a remarkably similar amount to the “500,000m3” disclosed in its 2015, failed Referral. This refutes Walker’s attempts in the Draft EIS to explain away its deceptive and misleading conduct around its intended Fison channel work.
What is clear is that the referral area in its current referral should have been much closer to the 167.5 hectare first Referral area. Instead, the Referral form made it look as if Walker’s likely significant impact on the Ramsar site had been reduced by two-thirds. This means that a major part of the EPBC Act process, the “Invitation for public comment on Referral” consisted of a Referral form which misled and deceived the public.
Had Walker been open and transparent in its current Referral form, it is doubtful a ‘controlled action’ decision would have been made. It is likely this Referral also would have failed, having regard to the history exposed by the ABC’s Background Briefing report about the internal “clearly unacceptable” advice and the strong public opposition to the scheme.
The Minister is entitled to take Walker’s misleading and deceptive current Referral into account in assessing whether Walker is a “suitable person to be granted approval” (section 135 EPBC Act).
9. No need to dredge 500,000m3 from Fison Channel
It is claimed the extensive, proposed Fison Channel work is necessary for safety reasons, and that Walker will do everyone a favour by using the dredge spoil as “fill” for its 3,600 high-rise apartments in the Ramsar site.
However in 2020 Maritime Safety Queensland advised the former independent candidate for the local State seat of Oodgeroo, Claire Richardson, that there were no current safety issues and that widening the channel, from 45m to 75m, and the other channel work proposed by Walker only would become necessary if Walker’s scheme is approved ie to allow yachts from the proposed development’s 200 berth marinas to compete with Stradbroke ferries in the channel.
Also see this article which discusses in convincing detail the lack of need for the proposed channel work and the substantial impact of that fact on Walker’s real estate scheme.
10. Don’t allow the destruction of known climate change defences, including seagrass beds and mangroves
The unprecedented extent of recent floods and bushfires highlights the need to do everything possible to combat the climate emergency. Destroying climate change defences, such as Mangrove forests and seagrass beds should be indefensible. Yet this is what is proposed by Walker.
The Toondah wetlands at Cleveland have all three special blue carbon features – salt marsh, sea grass meadows and mangroves – referred to by many scientists and articles. One example is this PEW article.
11. The proposal is based largely on out of date myths about Stradbroke Island
A major motivation for the Toondah Harbour scheme, disclosed in the Draft EIS, is a claimed connection with what was called the Stradbroke Island Economic Transition Strategy and the need to assist with expanding tourism on the island.
The ETS related to a perceived need for forced growth, but this was based on myths about the impact of ending sand mining. Sand mining ended in 2019 and the sky didn’t fall in. Thirty people lost their mining jobs, but 70 were employed in decommissioning and rehabilitating mined areas.
The challenge for the island is to manage the increasing number of people visiting and holidaying on the island, half of which is part of the Moreton Bay Ramsar site.
Stradbroke (also known as Terrangeri and Minjerribah) needs a comprehensive environmental and cultural heritage management plan, formulated after genuine consultation with the entire community, particularly the indigenous residents. This should come before any development plans for or related to the island. Apart from anything else, the Toondah Harbour scheme would create an unwanted, over-development ethos.
On the only occasion at which Walker representatives attended a public meeting on Stradbroke, in 2019, a motion against the Toondah scheme, based on environmental and cultural heritage reasons, was put forward by an indigenous Elder. It was passed unanimously.
12. Public opposition to the scheme is strong
Another very significant indication of the strength of the public opposition to the Toondah wetlands real estate scheme is Save Moreton Bay’s petition, calling for an end to the scheme. This petition is supported by almost 60,000 people – and the numbers continue to grow.