The Albanese Government and the Toondah scheme

The Albanese Government and the Toondah scheme

The 2022 Federal Election result means integrity in Government is high on the agenda of change expected by the public. This year, the Toondah Harbour real estate scheme to build 3,600 high-rise apartments on top of Ramsar protected wetlands will be an integrity litmus test for the Albanese Government.

The Federal Labor Party’s current national platform includes an unequivocal statement on Toondah Harbour and Ramsar protected wetlands:

Ramsar Wetlands

This Conference:

  • Restates Labor’s support for the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, to which Australia is a Signatory, and notes that Toondah Harbour is in the Moreton Bay Ramsar-listed wetland;
  • Recognises the importance of Ramsar-listed sites to migratory wading birds;
  • Acknowledges that migratory wading bird numbers are in steep decline, principally due to loss of tidal roosting and feeding sites along their migratory routes from North East Asia to Australia;
  • Commits to protecting Australia’s intertidal habitat on which these birds depend, with special reference to Ramsar listed sites; and
  • Calls on an incoming Labor Government to fully apply Federal environmental law to protect Ramsar listed sites.

At paragraph 46, Labor’s policy also states:

  • Labor is committed to making sure that Australia meets its responsibilities under international environmental treaties including the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.
Saunders havill plan Walker
Walker Corporation's latest site cover development plan covering 40 hectares (100 acres) of Ramsar protected wetlands
The Toondah wetlands contain seagrass beds, mangrove forests and salt marshes - all important to climate change defence.

Federal Environment law is clear on this issue. In deciding whether or not to approve a plan such as the Toondah real estate scheme:

“the Minister must not act inconsistently with Australia’s obligations under the Ramsar Convention.” (Section 138 EPBC Act)

Our Ramsar Convention obligations are also clear. They include “conservation” of our listed wetlands, and not to “delete or restrict” a Ramsar boundary unless there are “urgent national interests”. For the details, see this post.

Obviously, further enriching a political donor property developer, Walker Corporation (Walker), does not qualify. Walker is a big political donor to Labor and the Liberal/Nationals. Since 2014, when Walker first became publicly associated with a Toondah Harbour scheme, Walker has declared donations totalling $500,000 to these major parties.

The Toondah Harbour controversy has been on the national stage for seven years now. It should have ended long ago, either through the Queensland Government revoking its ‘Priority Development Area’ or the Federal Government rejecting the development plan under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. The proposal remains “clearly unacceptable“.

The Toondah issue will come to a head soon, after the release of Walker Corporation’s long-overdue Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The public and the new Federal Parliament will be watching closely. By the end of this year we should know whether Anthony Albanese is to be believed on his promise of integrity in Government.