Thursday 19 June 2008

Is Garrett burning the midnight oil?

With attention now firmly focused on the appalling development site at False Cape, for all the wrong reasons, we now have to ask what is the Government, and Cairns Regional Council going to do?

Over four months ago, several officials from Peter Garrett's Environment Ministry visited the False Cape Site. This was to prepare a report looking at the sediment run off into the Great Barrier Reef, among other things.

The report was requested in reaction to astonishing video and photographic footage being released by Save False Cape, CAFNEC, and CairnsBlog over a long period. The then Cairns City Council failed to react and investigate the developer.

A passenger of yesterdays ill-fated helicopter surveillance expedition, Mark Buttrose of Save our Slopes, is now asking where the Minister's report is.

"[I wonder if] Peter Garrett is acting on the sediment report they commissioned some four months ago now," he asked Senator Jan McLucas today.

"We are running out of time to carry out remedial works before the next wet season," Buttrose demands. "My estimation is there is a good six months work required to stabilise the site before the wet."

He says that the photos that they took yesterday, prior to the crash, were appalling.

They are still awaiting for a copy of the Sediment Report, that the Federal Minister commissioned. Garrett seems to be not responding to requests from CAFNEC or the Save False Cape group, when it is his role to protect or environment.

This has been the experience with the former Cairns City Council.

"One way of looking at this situation is that if the Feds had been doing their job, yesterday would not have happened, Mark Buttrose says.

"Please excuse us for thinking this way, but [Minister] Garrett will not reply to correspondence and quite frankly we are getting a very annoyed at the lack of response.

There has been a lot of discussion about the release of the Minister's report.

Denis Walls, one of the founding members of the Save False Group, have been greatly concerned that nothing have been made public.

"Whilst I previously advised that we were looking at releasing a version of the report, we continue to consider what to do about the False Cape site," said Steve Mercer of Department of the Environment.

This office manages the compliance and enforcement of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act

Mercer says that the report contains information of an 'evidentiary nature'.

"We are concerned that public release may prejudice our options for enforcement or compliance action under the EPBC Act should this become necessary," said Steve Mercer.

"We therefore do not believe it appropriate to release the report at this time."

"I understand that the Minister has written to the Environmental Defenders Office [in Cairns] along the lines above. The Minister wishes to keep his options under the EPBC Act open," he says.

"Public release of the report could prejudice these options, at this stage."

However, Adam Millar, Principal Solicitor & Coordinator of the Cairns EDO's office has not received any response from Minister Garrett.

"Perhaps the Minister has sent a letter, but it has certainly not arrived here, whether by email, mail or fax," Millar said yesterday.

Adam says it's usual these days for surface mail to take up to 10 days from Canberra (certainly from the Minister) to Cairns.

"I will keep you advised upon receiving any response from the Minister."

The EDO's office will respond to Steve Mercer’s statements regarding the potential compromise of the evidentiary value of the report if it is released publicly.

Millar believes that the reasons put forward by Mercer appear, to me at least, to be poor excuses for not releasing the report to the community.

"[The community] who appear to have been the primary monitors and ‘whistle-blowers’ in relation to this development," Millar says.

"Given the history of communication and dealing with the Government's Department of the Environment, I would not be surprised if it was part of a deliberate strategy to continue to keep the public in the dark," he says. "[This would] reduce any criticism of the relevant authorities whom appear to have not monitored the site properly over the construction period. I anticipate that a lot of us are of the same view."

There needs to be a radical change of approach to dealing with the False Cape site. Despite strong public opposition, it was approved.

Byrnn Mathews of Save False Cape says that as well as their 'evidentiary' issues, they also have to maintain a transparency with the permit holder. "They can’t play the 'we’ve got a report that says you’re not meeting our requirements but we’re not going to tell you' game with Reef Cove Resort."

"If they have to tell the developer, they’ve basically got no excuse to not give [the public] a copy," Mathews says. "If they haven’t told the developer, they can hardly prosecute them for things they haven’t been told to fix. There are still elements of natural justice that have to be applied.

What a mess. Garrett needs to do more than get a new haircut. Mind you, there's some resemblance with much of the False Cape site.

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