DELAYS AND LOOPHOLES MEAN PM BROTHER NOT FACING PROSECUTION FOR ILLEGAL CLEARING BY HOWARD GOVERNMENT
The Prime Minister’s brother, Stan Howard, is under investigation from Wingecarribee Shire Council and the NSW Government for illegally clearing approximately 70 protected trees at his properties near Bowral in the Southern Highlands.
“Stan Howard could also have been also have been facing charges under the Howard Government’s environment laws had the Federal Environment Minister not seriously delayed the listing of endangered ecological communities under Commonwealth environment laws” says Nicola Beynon, Wildlife and Habitat Program Manager at the Humane Society International (HSI).
The trees are from the highly endangered ecological communities Southern Highlands Shale Woodlands and Robertson Basalt Tall Open Forest both protected in June 2001 under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act, 1995 as a result of nominations by HSI submitted in July 2000.
In December 2000 HSI also nominated the two woodlands for endangered listings under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, 1999. Under both NSW and Commonwealth laws a scientific committee is given 12 months to assess public nominations and pass recommendations to the federal Environment Minister, who then has 90 days to reach a decision. Under the statutory timelines a decision on these nominations from the federal Environment Minister should have been due in March 2002.
However, in November 2001 then federal Environment Minister Dr David Kemp told HSI that he was rejecting the nominations (along with 10 others) because the Commonwealth had a grand scheme to list the nation’s ecological communities systematically. (A scheme that has never eventuated).
The rejection came after a rumoured instruction from the PM’s office to the Minister not to do anymore to upset private landholders after the controversial EPBC Act endangered listings for brigalow woodlands and blue grasslands in Queensland to much furore earlier in 2001 (notably an election year).
HSI lawyers wrote to the Minister pointing out that under the legislation having a grand scheme was not a valid excuse to reject a public nomination. Conceding the point, the Minister agreed to reconsider the nominations but when HSI later question delays over his new decisions, we were told nominations under reconsideration were not be subject to statutory deadlines anymore. In March 2003 HSI renominated the ecological communities so that the statutory timelines could be reapplied.
“Six years on from the original nominations HSI is still waiting for a decision from the Federal Environment Minister and we are very angry about it”, said Ms Beynon. “Only 400 ha remains of Robertson Tall Open Forest and only 2020 ha remains of Southern Highlands Shale Woodlands. Meanwhile, private landholders like the Prime Minister’s brother appear to be getting away with clearing the remnants”.
HSI understands Wingecarribee Council is planning to settle with Stan Howard over the clearing offence rather than bring the matter to court. The NSW Government will not provide HSI with an update on their own investigation of the breach that has occurred under NSW law. “HSI strongly urges NSW Environment Minister, The Hon Bob Debus, to bring Mr Howard before the courts so that at least one level of Government fulfils its legal obligations in relation to these endangered woodlands”, concluded Ms Beynon.