Federal laws ignored as threatened species habitats bulldozed in Great Barrier Reef catchment

Queensland Conservation Council, Australian Conservation Foundation, Wilderness Society, World Wide Fund for Nature


25 July 2017

Federal laws ignored as threatened species habitats bulldozed in Great Barrier Reef catchment

Australia’s peak environment groups have today released satellite imagery of what appears to be ongoing land clearing at Olive Vale Station on Cape York Peninsula.

This is one case in a much larger environmental crisis unfolding across Queensland where broad scale clearing is occurring with no regard for national environment laws. Such clearing brings into question the Turnbull Government’s credibility on addressing land-based threats to the Great Barrier Reef.

 The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), The Wilderness Society (TWS), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Queensland Conservation Council (QCC) are calling on the Federal Government to follow through on their 2015 commitment that the project would not proceed until a referral under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act was made and approval given. 

 A permit to clear 31,000 hectares of woodlands at Olive Vale Station was controversially granted by the former Newman Government in January 2015 using changes to land clearing laws they put in place in 2013. However, there is no public record of any attempt by the proponent to seek approval from the Federal Government under national laws, required when Great Barrier Reef catchments and threatened species habitats are involved.

About 1,700 hectares had already been cleared before then Minister for Environment Greg Hunt intervened in mid-2015. The clearing was suspended and Minister Hunt provided written assurances that a referral under the EPBC Act would be made “within months” for the Olive Vale proposal.

Two years later, no referral has been made nor has there been any sign of action taken by the Federal Government over the large areas already cleared. This is despite the high potential to impact on water quality for the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and the presence of threatened species habitats. 

 Today’s release of satellite imagery has revealed that a further 130 hectares had been cleared on Olive Vale.  The ABC reported recently there were plans to clear another 2000 hectares later this year.

 “The former Newman Government created this crisis by, and in their words, “taking the axe” to Queensland’s forest protection safeguards.  While those protections need to be restored in state law, the last line of defence right now is national environmental law. However, the Federal Government appears reluctant to enforce its own law, leaving wildlife and the Reef without any defence against bulldozers in Queensland” said Dr Tim Seelig, Coordinator of the Queensland Conservation Council.

 “By failing to call-in the Olive Vale project, one of the largest agricultural intensification developments proposed within a Reef catchment, the Federal Government has misled both the Australian public and UNESCO. Nationally important wetlands, threatened species and the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area are all at risk from this project and the Federal Government is looking the other way.” said ACF’s Northern Australia Campaigner Andrew Picone.    

 “Allowing ongoing clearing at Olive Vale without consequence is unacceptable and is just one case in a much larger crisis unfolding right across Queensland, where one million hectares have been cleared in Queensland alone in the past four years with almost no federal oversight. It highlights the need for much stronger environment laws at both state and federal levels” said Gemma Plesman, Queensland Campaign Manager for The Wilderness Society

 “Any clearing that significantly impacts threatened ecosystems, threatened species or Great Barrier Reef catchments is by law required to obtain federal approval.  Much smaller projects like Mt Emerald wind farm (38 ha cleared) have gone through due process.  Why in this and many other tree clearing cases do we see no effort to follow due process, and little effort by the Federal Government to do something about it? It seems there is no even-handedness in how the EPBC Act is enforced.” Said Martin Taylor, Conservation Scientist with WWF Australia.

 WWF, TWS, ACF and QCC are calling on the Turnbull government to take its job of protecting matters of national environmental significance seriously and call in Olive Vale and many other instances of past and proposed tree clearing for referral under section 70(3) of the EPBC Act and assess them for their full range on impacts.


For comment contact:

Andrew Picone, Northern Australia Campaigner, ACF: 0457 798 359

Gemma Plesman, Queensland Campaign Manager, TWS:  0423 044 431

Martin Taylor, Conservation Science Manager, WWF: 0406 384 289

Tim Seelig, Coordinator, QCC: 0439 201 183



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