Questions loom over LNP-backed clearing
A Queensland grazier has been charged $450,000 for bulldozing native woodlands.
Scott Harris and his company have been fined in the Cairns Magistrates Court for illegally clearing 2,875 hectares of native vegetation at Strathmore Station in Queensland's Gulf Country.
The conviction could derail his plan to clear 2,100 hectares at another cattle station — Kingvale in Cape York – which has the support of Federal Government MPs.
Four Queensland members of the federal Coalition lobbied then-Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg over the Kingvale clearing last year.
Documents obtained under freedom of information laws show Northern Australia Minister Matt Canavan, fellow senators Ian Macdonald and Barry O'Sullivan, and MP Warren Entsch met several times with officials from the Environmental Standards Division in the federal Department of Environment and Energy (DEE).
The clearing at Kingvale was first approved by the former Newman government in 2014.
Mr Harris' lawyer David Kempton was an assistant minister in the Newman government, and has refused to comment on the case so far.
The relevant legal acts allow the federal Environment Minister to “consider whether the person is a suitable person to be granted an approval, having regard to … the person's history in relation to environmental matters”.
A guidance note attached to the legislation says: “Information relevant to the person's environmental history is that which will indicate whether a person is likely to comply with the conditions of an approval”.
The federal Department of Environment and Energy says it has “sought information from the Cairns Magistrates Court, the [DNRME], and the proponent in relation to charges against the proponent”.
“The department will consider this information for the purpose of preparing advice to the Minister on whether the proposed clearing of vegetation at 'Kingvale' should be approved under the EPBC Act,” the department told reporters.
Mr Harris still faces a charge of failing to take reasonable practical measures to ensure activities do not harm Aboriginal cultural heritage at Strathmore.
Queensland Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch says federal approval of the clearing at Kingvale would show “total disregard” to its claim that it would help reduce land clearing as part of the Great Barrier Reef conservation plan.
“The kind of run off from that particularly block of land, or that particular area, onto the Great Barrier Reef will absolutely have impact, which is not what anybody wants,” she said.
“It could potentially put the Great Barrier Reef at risk of being on that 'in danger' list and being taken off the World Heritage list.”
“If that happens the impact to industry will be absolutely catastrophic.”
Also this week, a company linked to federal energy minister Angus Taylor is being investigated over alleged illegal landclearing.