Train Depot 'illegal'

Reproduced with the kind permission of the
Editor of The Weekend Independent and the journalist Patrick Hay.
November 1996 Issue.

THE construction of a major train refueling depot on Moreton Bay's Whyte Island was illegal, an environmental group has claimed.

The depot has been operating for 12 months.

The decision to build the facility in an area protected by an international wetlands treaty was made by the former state government.

A member of the Australian Marine Conservation Society, Mel Holz, said he had sought advice from community legal organisation, the Queensland Environmental Defenders Office.

A report, given by an EDO solicitor on the matter, cited a 1995 High Court decision as evidence that the construction was "in breach of Australian law".

The report said the decision showed governments were legally bound to conform with international treaties which they had signed.

Australia (and the Queensland government) is one of 93 countries to have signed the RAMSAR convention to maintain the "ecological character" of the world's wetlands.

Moreton Bay is listed as a significant wetland area in the treaty, which took its name from a Middle-Eastern town where the convention was first held.

* Continued on Page 4

Train depot risk to wetlands

Moreton Bay is also included in wetland treaties with China and Japan.

Mr Holz said although the government was legally obliged to have considered the treaties when approving the development, he said there was no evidence to show it had done so.

"In Freedom of Information searches on the Department of Environment, Department of Primary Industries and Queensland Rail we found no evidence whatsoever that they had considered RAMSAR," he said.

Despite Mr Holz's findings, he said he had received a letter from current Transport Minister Vaughan Johnson which claimed that the treaties had been considered by the Transport Department during development approval stage.

Mr Holz said Mr Johnson and the Nationals in opposition had been outspoken against the development, but now did not want to move the facility because it would cost millions of dollars.

He said until the site was moved it would pose considerable risk to Moreton Bay wetlands, despite assurances by both governments that the facilities conform with best practice environmental standards and was "fail safe".

As the Opposition's Transport spokesperson in the former government, Mr Johnson said the situation was "totally unacceptable" and called for a full environmental assessment with an "exhaustive consultation" process with the public. He also said: "I am one that will never run away from a hard issue."

Mr Holz said the current audit into the site was only part of a certification process, which Mr Johnson had already pre-empted by stating the depot would remain in its current position.

He said that there was ample room for the depot on Fisherman Island, where risk to the Moreton Bay environment would not be so high.

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