Problems with environmental approvals

Paul Osborne

PROBLEMS WITH FEDERAL ENVIRONMENTAL APPROVALS

TIMELINESS

* A residential and tourism project in north Queensland was deemed a "controlled action" (needing federal environmental checks) in September 2006. The action was initially approved in February 2011, but the errors in the approval notice, identified by the department in May 2015, made it invalid. A new approval was issued in August 2015, 1852 days past the due date.

* A proposal to reopen an existing gold mine in the Northern Territory was determined to be a controlled action in June 2011. The department, NT and proponent were unable to agree on the conditions to be applied to the approval. It was eventually approved in January 2018, 1257 days late.

* A proposal to expand an open cut gold mine in north Queensland was deemed a controlled action in September 2011. The state government asked for more information to make its decision. The proponent submitted a variation in November 2016 to meet Queensland's concerns and it was approved in March 2017, 959 days late.

POORLY WRITTEN CONDITIONS

In May 2017, a tourism and residential development in Cairns was approved, but was determined to have a likely significant impact on the spectacled flying-fox due to disturbance during construction and the removal of roost trees.

The department attached a number of conditions to the approval relating to how vegetation can be cleared, timing of construction and the monitoring of impacts.

But the conditions failed to properly specify who was responsible for which tasks, when to pause construction or what was a "significant increase" in the abortion or abandonment of juvenile flying-foxes.

Wildlife carers found 426 abandoned juvenile and 334 dead flying-foxes, with the CSIRO confirming the number of deaths was "significantly higher than previous years".

But following a site visit, the department did not find evidence that the mortalities and abandonment of juveniles could be directly attributed to the development.