The Beattie government was given approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC) to build the Paradise Dam (on the Burnett River, upstream of Bundaberg) by the Howard government under Minster Kemp on January 25, 2002.
On August 8, 2003 the minister varied the approval requiring the Queensland Government to comply with nine conditions to demonstrate successful mitigation to ensure that a “significant impact” did not occur to the Neoceratodus forsterii, commonly known as the Australian lungfish.
Condition 3 of the variation of approval was that: “Burnett Water must install a fish transfer device on the Burnett River Dam suitable for lungfish. The fishway will commence when the dam becomes operational.”
This variation was the result of scientific assessment of the potential impacts to the species and the requirement for upstream and downstream migration to spawning and feeding habitats.
A Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries (DPIF) report by Brooks and Kind (2002) on the lungfish made a recommendation that a decadal study of the Mary River lungfish populations should be produced before any further dams or extraction was planned, or indeed carried out.
On April 26, 2006 the then Premier, Peter Beattie announced, without any public consultation process, that his government was going to build a 300,000 MGL dam on the Mary River at Traveston 15km south of Gympie. I was fortunate enough to be one of the 6,000 people who attended that announcement and who unanimously turned their backs on the Premier.
On June 14, 2006, my contract with the Queensland Environmental Protection Agency was terminated because I was accused of breaching the public service code of conduct: I had made comments in the media to the effect that the Beattie cabinet was ignoring the recommendations of the scientific report by Brooks and Kind.
After a concerted media and lobbying effort by the Anti Traveston Dam group, Widebay Burnett Conservation Council (WBBCC), Save the Mary River group (STMRG), and the Mary River Catchment Coordinating Committee (MRCCC), the Premier dug his heels in and responded to an accusation by Professor Jean Joss that the “fishway was ineffective and not complying with the EPBC approval” (ABC 7.30 Report), with the following: “The paradise dam lungfish ladder is working effectively and they are breeding effectively as far as I’m concerned.”
WBBCC lodged a freedom of information request to the Premier’s Office seeking documentation (scientific research papers or Cabinet briefing documents) to substantiate the Premier’s claims: “WBBCC is seeking access to all documents relating to the advice given to the premier on the functioning of the fish ladder on Paradise Dam on the Burnett River and lungfish breeding in the Burnett River”.
We obtained the following response:
A search was conducted of the records management system and physical searches were undertaken of pertinent areas of the office, however no documents were found … Certain documents were located which were initially considered to fall within the scope of your application, however processing your request involved consultation with third parties under S51 of the FOI act 1992, following consultation and examination, the documents were considered irrelevant to your request, as the Department does not hold any documents that fall within the scope of your application, access is refused under S28a (1) “An agency or Minister may refuse access to a document if the agency or the Minister is satisfied the document does not exist”.
After a meeting with Senator Ron Boswell at the mouth of the Mary River and communications with Senator Ian Macdonald, I was asked to attend the Senate Regional and Rural Affairs Committee hearing into the Traveston Dam proposal on June 11, 2007, to give evidence on the effectiveness of the fishway.
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