On March 11, EJA was in court on behalf of the Australian Conservation Foundation seeking the release of documents, which recorded meetings between the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment and the Walker Group.
The Walker Group sought to build a marina and associated development at Toondah Harbour. Toondah Harbour forms part of an internationally protected Ramsar wetland and provides habitat for turtles, dugongs, dolphins and Eastern Curlews. The Proposal was originally rejected by the Department outright because it was clearly unacceptable, but was subsequently accepted for assessment by the then Environment Minister, Josh Frydenburg.
The Walker Group had met with the Department a number of times prior to lodging an application for assessment under the EPBC Act. These are known as pre-referral meetings. The ACF sought access to copies of notes of these meetings, which was refused on the basis that the documents were confidential and that, by disclosing the documents, the Department’s ability to undertake its work would be prejudiced. The ACF sought to challenge on the grounds that there was no basis to assert the notes were confidential and that the public interest in disclosing the documents outweighed any prejudice to the Department, which was in any event, overstated.
The hearing ran for one day and the court will hand down its decision at a later date.