It's several weeks since I watched Bimblebox, the movie. In the meantime, Queenslanders have been to the polls and replaced the Labor government with the LNP. Just before voting day, Anna Bligh stated a commitment to protecting Bimblebox, the Nature Refuge, but by then she knew that her government was doomed to suffer a defeat on a scale not seen for decades. Now we wait to see how Campbell Newman's deficit-slashing measures will impact on environmental protection agencies, and whether conservation will be aided by his party's traditional loyalty to its country constituents or hampered by the influence of big-bucks backers*.
Many more people are now committed to keeping Bimblebox in the public eye than there were a couple of months ago. Hundreds have read my first post on the subject (see Bimblebox, March 2012); people in the street are writing letters to newspapers and lobbying pollies; and green activists are promoting discussion online or in print.
The more I've read, however, the more confused I've become about what is happening right now in terms of decision-making about the future of the Nature Refuge in the light of Waratah Coal's proposed China First project. So yesterday I called the Queensland Co-ordinator General's office to see if I could find out. The Co-ordinator General administers large-scale projects – whether they be concerned with infrastructure or social and economic development – and ensures that the environmental impact of such projects is managed properly. Increasingly of late, these projects have stemmed from demand for Queensland's vast resources, especially coal and coal-seam gas. The new Co-ordinator General appointed by Campbell Newman is Barry Broe, formerly a Brisbane City Council infrastructure manager.
A man took time to explain to me that, in effect, there are two Environmental Impact Statements being processed with regard to Waratah's plans for a massive open-pit coal mine to replace a remnant desert upland ecosystem – one at State and one at Federal level. Waratah have to go through Queensland's EIS procedures, while Canberra is involved in the matter of national environmental significance.
In the case of China First environmental issues, the Queensland Co-ordinator General offered to channel all public submissions – more than 1800 of them – which had to in by the end of last year. These were copied and sent to Canberra for the Federal Government to consider the issues that fall under its jurisdiction. Both State and Federal agencies are studying the submissions in order to produce an evaluation report. In theory, the two are not in conflict.
Following their conclusions, instructions will be sent to Waratah outlining any further environmental recommendations by the State. This stage is not far off, I was informed, but will take months rather than weeks. (The EIS is not just about Bimblebox but also a proposed rail line required to transport the coal to the coast for export.) Waratah will then have to address these issues.
I was told that, ultimately, nothing is protected from mining except a national park. Nature Refuge status affords the lowest level of protection against the will of those working within the requirements of Queensland's Mineral Resources Act. The Federal Minister for the Environment, Tony Burke, is empowered, however, to veto mining projects in favour of endangered species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The National Parks Association of Queensland's submission lists 143 species of birds currently using Bimblebox, several of which are vulnerable or near-threatened. They describe the Refuge as an essential habitat for the endangered Black-throated Finch, and the area's 'conservation significance' for a number of mammal and reptile species, including koalas.
On 26 March the online Business Spectator reported that Clive Palmer had announced that the China First project's plan to export coal by 2014 was already a year behind schedule, thanks to the prevarication of the Bligh government. And this despite China First having been given 'significant project' status – which means a project is fast-tracked rather than getting bogged down in bureaucracy, and the State receives its tax revenue and royalties quicker.
At Easter I visited Conondale National Park and the Obi Obi Valley in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland. I walked through sun-spangled, ever-changing forest listening to Bell Miners 'tinking'; sat by babbling creeks and waterfalls; and almost got lost on deserted tracks through rolling open country. It was an uplifting experience.
Please write/email/tweet Tony Burke (http://www.tony
burke.com.au/get-in-touch). He needs to know how much you value Black-throated Finches. And he needs to know now.
* Waratah Coal's chairman, Clive Palmer, has donated at least $3 million to the LNP
This post was last updated on 13 April 2012