ECoCeQ v Environment Minister Harris - EDO NSW

Environment Council of Central Queensland vs Minister for the Environment and Anor

EDO NSW filed proceedings in October 2018 on behalf of our client, the Environment Council of Central Queensland (ECoCeQ), challenging a decision of the Federal Minister for the Environment in regards to a proposal to clear 2,100 ha of native vegetation on the Cape York Peninsula.

27 November 2018: The Federal Court has upheld this challenge. The Federal Minister for the Environment has conceded that the decision was not made lawfully.

Read our media release: Media concedes unlawful decision on land clearing in Reef catchment

More on the background to the case: ECoCeQ is challenging the Minister’s decision to assess the environmental impacts of the proposed clearing using the least rigorous assessment method available: ‘assessment on referral information’.

The Minister is permitted to determine that a proposal should be assessed using ‘referral information’ only if satisfied that the proposal meets a number of stringent criteria outlined in the federal environmental legislation, including that the relevant impacts of the proposal are expected to be short term, easily reversible or small scale, and that the degree of public concern about the proposal is, or is expected to be, moderately low.

We are arguing, on behalf of ECoCeQ, that:

  • the decision to apply the least rigorous assessment option to the proposal was unlawful because the Minister was not satisfied, as required by law, that the proposal met the criteria outlined in the legislation.
  • it was unreasonable for the Minister to find that the proposal was of ‘moderately low’ public concern in circumstances where, among other things, the Minister received more than 6,000 public submissions objecting to the proposal at the preliminary referral stage.


The Great Barrier Reef and Cape York - Envisat image.

This clearing is likely to have significant impacts on matters of national environmental significance, including the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and listed threatened species and ecological communities.

Emily Long, Solicitor at EDO NSW, has carriage of this matter for ECoCeQ. Brendan Dobbie, Acting Principal Solicitor, is the solicitor on record.

We are grateful to barristers Stephen Lloyd SC and Ashley Stafford for their assistance in representing ECoCeQ in this matter.

Link to this case summary.

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