We can’t leave environmental protection to luck – or governments – without the community keeping an eye on things.
So yes, there are good reasons to support the Conservation Council to help us to continue our work for the environment.
While we are busy across many environmental matters in the ACT and region – climate change, transport and waste just to name a few – one of our big roles is working hard to protect the natural values of the Bush Capital.
In 2017 the Conservation Council lodged an objection to the estate development at North Coombs next to the Molonglo River corridor after issues with this proposed development had been brought to our attention by a sharp-eyed supporter.
We wrote to the planners that the proposed development took out too many of the existing native trees and that development would be partly over habitat for the endangered pink-tailed worm lizard.
We also raised concerns that the development would occur next to the natural areas of the Molonglo River corridor reserve yet there was no clear plan for that reserve to reduce the impacts of neighbouring development.
In short, we were advocating on behalf of the Conservation Council, our member groups, our supporters and the community to protect the values that make Canberra the Bush Capital.
These are the values which inspire us and we know that saving the environment won’t happen without someone standing up and saying something about it.
So what happened with the North Coombs development? The Government planners noted some of the issues raised and approved the development.
Then, after discussion with the Board of the Conservation Council, we lodged an appeal through the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT).
We don’t do these things lightly. It costs time and money to try to stop or change decisions at ACAT. And the Government prides itself on winning appeals against planning decisions* so they bring substantial resources to bear on proceedings.
It was a classic David versus Goliath scenario.
But then things got really interesting.
Usually when an appeal is lodged there is no work on the development until the case is heard. However, due to human error, news of our appeal was not passed on by ACAT to the planning authority and so they didn’t know to tell the developer – Suburban Land Agency – to immediately stop them from doing the tree felling and habitat clearing.
All the trees to be removed were cleared and the habitat removed before the case had even started to be heard in the Tribunal!
But the news gets worse.
Documents presented through this process reveal that there is a breakdown in implementing commitments made by the ACT Government to protect matters of national environmental significance.
Federal Government legislation requires that State and Territory governments will protect these matters which include nationally significant habitat or nationally recognised endangered species.
For the ACT this work includes reports and studies and monitoring and reporting such as production of a Molonglo plan of management, protection of pink-tailed worm lizard habitat, rehabilitation of certain areas … the list goes on but much of it is not happening. The environment is missing out.
We did make some gains in this process but we need to do follow up. We actually had some good discussions in mediation – everyone was dismayed at the failure of process that had let work proceed – and it was agreed that we need to keep talking about the issues.
We got a commitment from the Government that they would release a plan of management for the Molonglo River reserve before the end of March 2018 – which they have now done.
And we will have to follow up on publishing of required documents so that everyone can know how our unique natural environment can be protected.
In other cases it might mean that new rules need to be developed and commitments need to be properly audited and the evidence is that we need a strong voice for the environment to do this.
The Molonglo River Reserve draft management plan was launched on 8 February with public consultation until 23 March 2018. There was interesting coverage in Canberra Times 8 February 2018 Plan for Molonglo nature reserve released after legless lizard habitat bulldozed.
And while the draft plan has been launched it does does not set a buffer for the Kama Nature Reserve to help protect it from urban development. A buffer is required under the Molonglo National Environmental Significance (NES) plan.
The government seems to be thinking that the buffer will be determined in the planning for Stage 3 of Molonglo. However, the Government is currently considering an Environmental Impact Statement exemption for this area!
Conservation Council has lodged an objection to this s211 EIS exemption Molonglo Stage 3. We have spoken with Directorate officials and pointed out that an exemption would not allow us to see the advice provided to the Minister on Kama buffer and we might like to comment on those documents.
So, how can you help? What can you do?
You can write to Ministers and Members of the Legislative Assembly and ask them to do more to protect the values of our Bush Capital.
You can visit our local areas and tread lightly as you learn about the beautiful local areas that make Canberra the Bush Capital and then be prepared to support better protection of our unique environment.
Your support will help us to keep going through and double-checking not just the words in ACT Government documents but also the detail of how they are doing what they have said they will do.
And, in case you’re wondering, yes we have previously asked the Federal Government to audit the ACT Government on its environmental responsibilities. The Federal Government said that it did not regard State and Territory governments as a problem! This points to the need for stronger, better and enforced national environment laws (and that’s a story for another day).
So it’s back to us as citizens and community organisations to do the work of watching the government and getting them to abide by their own rules and commitments.
We need an aware and active community working through organisations like the Conservation Council and our member groups to speak up and advocate for the environment, for the Bush Capital, for doing something about climate change, for saving our natural areas. Then we will see action.
We want your support in helping us work towards our mission: To influence government, business and community through effective public policy and engagement to protect nature.
As you know, the Bush Capital is a lucky, lovely place. But its luck will only hold out while there is the Conservation Council and our member groups and all our supporters to remind governments and the community that we have to keep working to protect what we’ve got.
There is some good news in that we have had positive feedback on our proposal to add to the protection of mature native trees. Several member groups are working together using existing legislation to protect more trees through system change by applying science and advocacy to planning and development processes. We remain hopeful this will be successful and we will work to provide additional evidence to decision-makers.
Further good news is that more and more people see “Bush Capital” as an expression of pride, something to be protected and enhanced (did you see how the community voted on number plate slogans?). We need your support to build on this pride, to increase awareness of the many activities that will help enhance the Bush Capital – as well as awareness on the things that will diminish or Bush Capital.