How an owl stalled a proposed Chinese toxic waste dump in Tasmania

·Environment Editor
·3-min read

Plans by a Chinese-state-owned mining company to build a toxic waste facility in a pristine Tasmanian wilderness have been interrupted by an owl.

On Monday, the Federal Court ruled former environment minister Sussan Ley had failed to properly consider threats posed to the rare Tasmanian masked owl when she gave approval for preliminary mine expansion works.

Mining company MMG has been working to build a tailings storage dam in the Takayna/Tarkine rainforest, which would hold waste from its Rosebery mine in the state’s remote west.

An aerial view of the MMG Rosebery mine's existing tailings dam in Tasmania. Source: AAP
Chinese mining company MMG has been working to build a new facility to hold waste from its Rosebery mine in Tasmania. Source: AAP

The mine has existed since the 1930s, and MMG maintains the new facility is required if it is to continue operations beyond 2024.

At least one bonded pair of Tasmanian masked owls, and a juvenile, have been documented by members of the Bob Brown Foundation, who brought about the Federal Court action.

The foundation’s Jenny Weber said while owls are “elusive”, they were detected by tree sitters who had camped in branches to protect the forest from industry.

“[The protesters were] hearing the owls frequently and saying: This is is bizarre… there's something significant about this forest because we hear the owls so much,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

“Obviously MMG have chosen the wrong spot [to build their facility].”

Tanya Plibersek responds to MMG waste decision

In handing down his ruling, Justice Mark Moshinsky said Minister Ley did not consider the "precautionary principle" in relation to the masked owl as required under the environment protection act, and did not bring "active intellectual process" to the decision.

"While the delegate ... identified a number of threats to the Tasmanian masked owl … the delegate did not go on to discuss or make a finding as to whether those threats posed by the proposed action were serious or irreversible," he said.

Bob Brown Foundation says this masked owl was photographed on Wednesday, 150 metres from MMG's drill rig was placed. Source: Rob Blakers
Bob Brown Foundation says this masked owl was photographed on Wednesday, 150 metres from MMG's drill rig. Source: Rob Blakers

MMG told Yahoo News Australia it could not comment on the matter as they are yet to receive final court orders, but it will have more to say on the matter next week.

Justice Moshinsky is yet to make any immediate orders on the future of the project. The Bob Brown Foundation is now calling on Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek to overturn approval for it altogether.

In a statement provided to Yahoo News Australia, Minister Plibersek said she was aware of the court’s announcement on Bob Brown Foundation v Minister for the Environment.

“This legal action concerns a decision made under the previous government,” she said.

“I have just received notification of the finding, and I will consider it in detail.

“As the Justice still has to give directions, I will not be commenting further at this time.”

Bob Brown urges government to compensate protesters

Bob Brown, the former Greens leader who began the foundation, said the more than 100 protesters who were arrested opposing MMG should be compensated by the Commonwealth.

“They are the environmental citizen heroes who stood firm when the minister and government failed them and the law,” he said

Minister Ley was found to have not properly considered the mine's impact on the Tasmanian masked owl. Source: AAP
Minister Ley was found to have not properly considered the mine's impact on the Tasmanian masked owl. Source: AAP

In the wake of the court’s decision, Ms Weber called for a review of new Tasmanian anti-protest laws which will see anyone who obstructs a business face fines of up to $8,650, or 12 months in prison.

Penalties are increased for anyone found to have caused “serious risk” to themselves or others, and repeat offenders face fines of $21,625, or up to two-and-a-half years in jail.

Body corporates found to have obstructed a business could attract a fine of up to $103,800.

With AAP

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