Response to article: The ACT Government has exempted the huge Ginninderry development from an EIS

On the 30thof October 2018 the Canberra Times published a story under the headline “The ACT Government has exempted the huge Ginninderry development from an EISThis headline is false and much of the content of the story is false and misleading.

Section 211 of the ACT Planning and Development Act 2007 says that an:

EIS exemption, for a development proposal, means an exemption from the requirement to include an EIS in the development application for the project.

Ginninderry has not been granted an exemption from the requirement to complete studies that address all expected environmental impacts of the development.  An exemption from the requirement to include an Environment Impact Statement (EIS) in the Development Application can only be granted where a study equivalent to an EIS has already been completed beforehand, as is the case with Ginninderry.  The project team has completed a large and comprehensive EIS to meet specific Commonwealth Government Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act requirements, as well as other detailed environmental studies, prior to the lodgement of the development application. In effect, Ginninderry has received an exemption from a requirement to do the same work twice.

It is not unusual for the assessment of likely environmental impacts of the works proposed in a DA, and the prescription of measures to appropriately manage them, to be completed prior to the lodgment of the DA. This often occurs where the DA is one of a series of DAs in a staged project such as Ginninderry. In these circumstances it is logical to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the total project “up front”; individual DAs can then proceed in accord with the findings of this assessment. This holistic approach is more efficient; it is also considered to be likely to produce superior environmental outcomes when compared to a piecemeal, DA by DA, environmental assessment process. A more detailed explanation can be found here.

The Little Eagle

The article opens with the statement: The ACT government has ignored evidence about the nesting place of the Little Eagle”apparently based on assertions made by Ms. Robyn Coghlan of the Ginninderra Falls Association. This is false. The government did assess all material presented to it. The independent Planning and Land Authority assessed the proposal and prepared a report on the matter to the Minister for Planning. The report was published by the Government concurrently with the notice of the approval and remains available on the public record here.

The report notes the fact that representations had been made referring to the Little Eagle and gives due consideration to the potential impacts and mitigation measures.

The fact that the Planning Authority did not agree with assertions put to it by the Ginninderra Falls Association does not mean that they were ignored; they were simply found to be of insufficient weight or veracity to influence the decision compared to the superior and more recent research. It is particularly presumptuous of the Association to expect the Authority to agree with its assertions regarding the eagle when these assertions had very recently been demonstrated to be invalid in the ACAT process.

To read more on the status of the Little Eagle as at November 2018, click here.

The Canberra Times article contained a number of other errors of fact, unrelated to the Little Eagle, discussed below.

The article says “…the development will include about 800 hectares of land dedicated to conservationan effort to offset potential effects on the Little Eagle, Pink-Tailed Worm Lizard and a critically endangered, but low to moderate condition forest.”(our underline) The use of the term “an effort to offset…”is presumably intended to imply, and give the impression to the reader, that there is a deficiency in the environmental protection measures. The protection measures put in place are in fact at a best practice level and have been approved under the extremely rigorous EPBC process. A more accurate terminology would be “…land dedicated to conservation that scientists have determined will successfully provide protection for.”.

The article records the fact that The GFA had lodged an appeal against the development in the ACT Civil and Administrative Appeals Tribunal, which is correct. It is however highly misleading and mischievous to not also say that the appeal was withdrawn by the GFA in the face of the scientific evidence that demonstrated that their objections had no merit.

The article reports Ms. Coghlan as stating that the exemption approval was a “pre-determined outcome”. Apart from impugning the integrity of the ACT Public Servants involved in the matter without any supporting evidence, this statement is in fact false. The application for exemption was lodged in February of 2017, the Ministers decision was made in October of 2017, following his consideration of the detailed (69 page) report prepared by the Authority. The decision was certainly not “pre-determined”, the basis for it is fully detailed in the report.

Ms. Coghlan is reported as saying were talking about a spot on the ridge near the river which will have valuable views of the river..She seems to be referring to the spot around the nesting site (which of course is not proposed for development because it is protected by the 200m buffer); this land is not close to the river, nor does it have views of the river. The eagle nest site is about 1.5 km from the Murrumbidgee and the river is not visible from there or from any of the land subject to the Minister’s exemption approval.

Ms Coghlan is quoted referring to  “…a blatant error I have picked up…”. It is unclear what the error is.

The article refers to clearance zone “within 2.45 kilometres of the Lower Molonglo Dam”. There is no such dam and nor is one proposed. A clearance zone is provided relative to the Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre.

The article refers to the old Belconnen land fill “which contains asbestos from Mr Fluffy homes”. Loose fill asbestos recovered from Mr Fluffy homes is packaged at the home sites and disposed of at the asbestos disposal area within the Mugga Lane Resource Management Centre. The house demolition material, which is considered to be decontaminated but may contain residual amounts of asbestos, is disposed of at the West Belconnen Resource Management Centre.  Again, the article appears to be trying to create the appearance of a problem when it is not warranted by the facts

The article refers to requests for further information made by the ACT Heritage Council and the Conservator, and goes on to say “…it is unclear if that information was provided”. The intent of this statement is presumably to cast doubt on the veracity of the decision making process. The facts could readily have been ascertained by an email to the Planning Authority to ask if the information had in fact been provided. The answer of course is that it was. The inclusion of this paragraph in the article is further evidence of the lack of effort to check the factual content of the piece and is evidence of a very low journalistic standard.