No grounds to keep Toondah documents secret, council told after Redlands 2030 make Right To Information request

DEVELOPMENT AREA: The Toondah Harbour PDA area as defined by the state government.

DEVELOPMENT AREA: The Toondah Harbour PDA area as defined by the state government.

REDLAND City Council has been told it has no grounds upon which to keep secret 589 pages of information on the proposed $1.4 billion Toondah Harbour redevelopment.

The decision was handed down by the Office of the Information Commissioner last month after environmental activist group Redlands 2030 last year began pushing for the documents to be released under right to information laws.

Redlands 2030 secretary Chris Walker told council’s general meeting on Wednesday that council needed to better comply with its legal obligations to act transparently in the public’s interest.

“Over the past eighteen months we’ve been finding out that it’s difficult and time consuming to find out if council’s decision making has actually been in the public interest, despite laws requiring transparency,” he said.

“...I urge councillors to learn from this sorry saga.”

Mr Walker said he expected the documents would be released before Christmas.

Redlands 2030 secretary Chris Walker.

Redlands 2030 secretary Chris Walker.

Assistant Information Commissioner Anna Rickard said in her report that decisions made by government about the development and sale of public land to private entities needed to be transparent.

The development would feature the use of public land which eventually would become units and a marina which would become privately owned.

“Decisions made by government about the development and sale of public land to private entities, should, in my view, be attended by the highest possible levels of transparency and accountability,” she said.

Protesters have long called for the high-density redevelopment to be canned, saying the environmental impacts on wetlands used by migratory birds and the area’s koala population would be too great.

Cleveland woman Jeannette Douglass told councillors that the development would ruin the area.

“A large residential development is being proposed on 42 hectares of an international wetlands site,” she said.

“This development, I have learnt, will destroy roosting and feeding areas for critically endangered and threatened species.

"We have been told many times both verbally and in writing ‘lets wait for the science’ to information a decision on the proposal.

“Well guess what, the science is already there. Proper due diligence in the beginning should have uncovered it.”

Ms Rickard said it was not surprising that debate about the project continued given environmental impacts, native title issues and the sale of public land.

“I note the project represents a benefits to private entity, Walker, to develop a significant area of coastal publicly-owned land and waters, most of which are protected under the Ramsar Convention, for commercial gain,” she said.

“In terms of the community benefit from the project, there is $116 million of infrastructure to be delivered, with $56 million under the Infrastructure Agreement and the remainder to be delivered under the DA.

“...Given the significance of the project, I consider it reasonable that the community has a legitimate interest in obtaining information about the actions of a local government and a state development agency and possibly a local government investment vehicle, involved in the project.”

Ms Rickard dismissed legal objections lodged by objectors Redland council, Walker Corp and the Queensland Economic Development minister regarding breaches of confidentiality.

“...It is my view that considerations meriting disclosure are, in this case, of significant weight, sufficient to displace any factors that might be argued in favour of non-disclosure,” she said.

A council spokesperson said council would not appeal the decision but the other parties involved had the right to do so.