FORMER federal environment minister Josh Frydenberg says he disagreed with his department’s advice on the $1.4 billion Toondah Harbour redevelopment to get a full environmental assessment.
His comments come after ABC Radio reported that Mr Frydenberg had rejected advice from his department that the project proposed by Walker Corporation was “clearly unacceptable” due to its impact on a wetland listed under the Ramsar convention.
“This was not an approval of the development,” Mr Frydenberg said. “Rather this was an opportunity for a proper assessment...”
Mr Frydenberg said the project had support from the state government and Redland City Council.
“In this particular area of Queensland, there is a need for more jobs and the project was going to involve a ferry terminal, a marina, new construction of accommodation and the like and create a tourism hub in that area,” he said.
Mr Frydenberg said that under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, the minister had the opportunity to get his department to undertake a full assessment.
This could result in more information that might lead to mitigation or offsets of any significant environmental impact the project would have.
Responding to the ABC report, mayor Karen Williams said the important EIS process had not begun.
“Council has always said the project needs to stack up environmentally and that is a decision for the federal government to make after the EIS process has been completed,” Cr Williams said.
Walker's Queensland general manager Peter Saba said the company supported Mr Frydenberg’s response to the ABC that there was a clear and transparent process for Toondah with the EIS ensuring the project was subject to the best scientific review.
”Walker is getting on with the job of designing a project that if approved will be transformational for the Redlands,” Mr Saba said.
“It will deliver significantly upgraded port and marine infrastructure and new community facilities, including a Southbank style swimming lagoon, that will boost the lifestyle of local residents.”
The ABC reported that further documents showed Mr Frydenberg’s department was subject to sustained pressure to approve the development, including a legal threat against the minister and environment department by Walker Corporation.
The ABC reported that Walker Corporation had been a relatively regular donor to both sides of politics over the past 10 years.
In June, Walker released revamped plans – part of a new referral submitted to the federal government – that showed a 30 per cent drop in the development size.
BirdLife Australia chief executive officer Paul Sullivan said the project should never have proceeded to this stage.
“The proposal to build 3600 waterside apartments and a marina on a Ramsar site flies in the face of Australia’s international obligations,” Mr Sullivan said.
“The minister should have followed the advice of his own department and rejected this project outright.
“Critically endangered migratory shorebirds like the eastern curlew rely on this important wetland for their survival.
“If approved, Toondah will set a dangerous precedent for 2331 Ramsar sites around the world. The international community is watching what happens next.”