Commonwealth environmental regulators have once again refused to resolve the question of whether or not land-clearing at the Beeliar wetlands is proceeding lawfully.
“If this work is deficient, then the Roe Highway land-clearing is proceeding unlawfully and work should stop immediately, either as an act of good faith or by court order,” said Australian Greens Co-Deputy Leader and Senator for WA Scott Ludlam.
“Last night I asked, for the fifteenth time, whether or not surveys of nesting habitat for endangered cockatoos were done properly before the bulldozers were turned loose. Once more, the officers stalled for time, deepening the mystery as to why the Government is so desperate to keep this information secret.
“We have an easier time getting information on complex foreign policy decisions. Perhaps there’s some national security element to these cockatoo surveys we aren’t cleared for?
“The evidence they let slip has only sharpened our suspicions that the surveys were deeply deficient, which would confirm direct observations by people on-site that rigorous survey work didn’t take place.
“Hours after the confrontation took place in the committee, the officers backtracked and issued a statement that something would be put on the record on Friday – safely after Parliament has risen. It is time this dismal farce was brought to an end,” Senator Ludlam concluded.
Statement on failure to produce evidence Condition 4 has been met.
I have been extremely concerned about the impact of this project on federally listed Carnaby’s and Red Tail Black Cockatoos.
The 2014 Great Cocky Count recorded that the population of Carnaby’s Black Cockatoos on the Perth-Peel Coastal Plain are declining at a rate of 15% annually. If the current rate of clearing does not stop and this decline continues, Carnaby’s Black Cockatoos will face extinction by 2020.
EFFORTS MADE TO OBTAIN EVIDENCE CONDITION 4 HAS BEEN MET
My office has made 12 separate efforts - escalating in their urgency - since January 12, 2017 - to obtain evidence that Condition 4 was met prior to construction commenced on site.
In addition to this, during the assessment period my office wrote to then Minister Hunt on four separate occasions with evidence that the proponent was using fatally flawed survey methods and incorrectly reported no roosting or nesting sites within the project area.
Given the significant nature of these concerns, my office has also requested independent verification of the surveys produced by the proponent as part of the Assessment twice. This request was ignored.
A timeline of the efforts we’ve made is below.
During Assessment of Roe 8:
- 24 July 2015: Letter to Minister providing reasonable grounds the survey methods used by the proponent contributed to a significant undercount of significant trees and an incorrect conclusion that there was no evidence of breeding or use of potential nesting hollows within the project area by black cockatoos by being flawed in three fundamental ways, most notably the definition of ‘significant trees’ as only those with a diameter greater than 500m at breast height
- 25 July 2015: Letter to Minster describing failure to consider traffic impacts on Carnaby’s Black Cockatoos, with an estimated 70,000 vehicles using the road and flocks of up to 150 recorded at Bibra Lake
- 28 July 2015: Letter to Minister Hunt describing concerns with survey methods for Forest Red Tails were fundamentally flawed given that breeding occurs year-round and there has been 5 periods since 1999 where almost no breeding occurred at study sites and the species has up to 15 month breaks between recorded breeding events
- 2 September 2015: Letter to Minister Hunt describing concerns with flawed and almost illegible Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo surveys conducted in 2010 as part of the PER, in which the proponent incorrectly reported no roosting or nesting sites within the project area, and requesting independent verification of the survey data used in the PER.
Once clearing had commenced at the Roe 8 site:
- 12 January 2017: Letter to Minister Frydenberg describing concerns with evidence of breaches with Conditions 4,5, 7, 8, 9.
- 13 January 2017: Phone call directly to Minister Frydenberg outlining significant concerns that Condition 4 has not been met, and requesting a copy of the surveys.
- 16 January 2017: Phone call with federal Environment Department , General Counsel Simon Writer and Acting First Assistant Secretary James Barker to discuss concerns with Condition 4.
- 21 January 2017: Letter to Minister outlining further concerns with breach of Condition 4 - missing black cockatoo surveys, asking they be provided by January 25.
- 13 February 2017: Senate Motion (Order for Production of Documents) ordering Minster to provide evidence Condition 4 was met before clearing began, to be tabled in the senate by 5pm 13th Feb.
In response the Minister failed to table surveys and instead provided written assurance the investigation was completed on the 14th December 2016.
- 13 February 2017: Senate Motion (Order for Production of Documents) ordering the Minster to provide a summary of breaches reported since construction began and his response to each, and the number and location of compliance officers on site since construction began, to be tabled in the senate on 15th February.
In response the Minister refuses to comply with the order and instead provided written assurance that neither he nor his Department has received any reports of breaches on site. This is categorically untrue. My office sent an 18page letter on 14th February at 1230pm with forensically detailed breaches, including Condition 4, and by that date Phoebe Corke had sent 13 emails from the monitoring team on site.)
- 14 February 2017: Letter to Minister with 18 pages of evidence of serious and systemic non- compliance with federal approval conditions, urging him to stop works to investigate, and step in and do the job the WA EPA/Minister should be doing (attached). No reply has been received to date.
- 16 February 2017: Senate Inquiry established into the ‘continuation of construction of the Perth Freight Link in the face of significant environmental breaches’, in response to the failure of the Minister to provide evidence Condition 4 has been met and the mounting evidence of breaches with Condition 5.
- 16 February 2017: Letter to Minister sent requesting works halt by 2pm AEST in light of senate inquiry being established and even further evidence of breaches on site and prima facie evidence Condition 4 has not been met. No reply has been received.
- 23 February 2017: Public hearing held the Senate Inquiry in Perth during which Federal Department officers refused to provide evidence of Condition 4 being met.
Questions were put directly to the Federal Department of the Environment regarding how Condition 4 was met, but answers only raised more doubts.
For example, evidence of the investigation being completed was once again requested but not provided.
The department were also asked how the surveys could have been completed on site on the 14th December, without being seen, and without any equipment (such as ladders or cherry pickers) on site.
The following were in attendance from the federal Department of the Environment, that is they flew all the way from Canberra to attend the hearing, but did not bring a copy of the investigation:
- Mr Dean Knudson, Deputy Secretary, Environment Protection Group
- Mr Matt Cahill, First Assistant Secretary, Environment Standards Division
- Ms Monica Collins, Assistant Secretary, Compliance and Enforcement
- Mr Bruce Edwards, Assistant Secretary, Assessments (WA, SA, NT) and Air Branch
- Mr Simon Writer, General Counsel (by teleconference)
- Mr Alex Taylor, Acting Director, Monitoring Assurance Section, Environment Standards Division (by teleconference)
- Letter to Minister Frydenberg 24 February 2017 – presenting two significant new pieces of information relating to Condition 4 and requesting suspension of approval and investigation.
- Senate Estimates hearing Monday 27 February 2017 – directly requested the surveys from the federal Environment Department during Environment and Communications committee hearing.
Note: Federal approval conditions for Roe 8 EPBC2009/5031 are here, our specific concerns relate to documented breaches with Condition 4 – Surveys of potential nesting sites for Black Cockatoos required before clearing.