Return of the nearly dead parrot: orange-belly holds up marina

Stefan Borzecki

Stefan Borzecki, a director of Western Port Boat Harbour, on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, says the $50m project will create 200 ongoing jobs. Picture: David Geraghty Source: The Australian

CONCERNS about the rare orange-bellied parrot threaten a $50 million marina expansion on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula despite expert advice the bird has not been seen in the area for 25 years.

Six years after the parrot gained notoriety when it prompted the Howard government to veto a proposed Victorian wind farm, the bird has been cited as one of three reasons the Environment Department has referred the Yaringa Boat Harbour expansion for assessment under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

In requiring an assessment, the department cited environmental concerns over the parrot, the southern brown bandicoot and the fact that the development is near the Western Port Ramsar wetlands site.

The referral for assessment has frustrated Western Port Boat Harbour Pty Ltd, which argues it has been dealing with the Environment Department for a year and spent $1 million on consultants. It also sparked opposition calls for a streamlining of the environmental approvals process.

The government says much of the delay was caused by the six months the company took to complete an environmental survey, requested in June, as part of the EPBC Act referral process, and the department is simply following due process by proceeding from the initial referral stage to the formal assessment stage.

Stefan Borzecki, a director of Western Port Boat Harbour, said the project involved expanding the Yaringa Boat Harbour from its existing 600 berths to 1000, in a $50 million project that would create 200 ongoing jobs.

A report from consultants Ecology & Heritage Partners, handed to the government last month, found the proposed marina expansion would have no impact on the Ramsar waterways, and that it was “likely that southern brown bandicoot and new holland mouse are not present within the study area at the current time”. The report said the orange-bellied parrot was last seen in the area in 1987.

In 2006, the Howard government’s environment minister, Ian Campbell, used the parrot as a reason to veto a proposed Victorian wind farm project.

The parrot is one of the world’s rarest birds, with only 50 believed to be still in the wild. It migrates each year from Tasmania to southeastern Australia.

The Yaringa development sparked a political row, with opposition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt declaring this was the sort of “bureaucratic red tape that undermines confidence in the environmental process”. He said the Coalition would maintain standards while simplifying the system.

“It is ludicrous that a major project which will create hundreds of local jobs has been put on hold because one day an orange-bellied parrot may decide to fly over the area, even though they have not been seen in this location for a quarter of a century,” Mr Hunt said.

“We would create a one-stop-shop to provide consistency in decisions and better quality outcomes rather than wasting millions of dollars on nonsensical studies when our efforts should be directed to the real environmental issues.

“The minister must make it absolutely clear whether he believes a system which stops a project of critical state importance for an imaginary parrot is acceptable.”

Environment Minister Tony Burke said the department had responded within two weeks of the original EPBC referral in June and within three weeks of receiving further information last month and the delay was caused by the applicant taking six months to provide more information. “Environmental approvals are important decisions and assessments must be rigorous,” he said.

“In that context, I fail to see how these timelines have been unreasonable.”

He said the current requirements for environmental approvals had been in place since the EPBC Act became law in 1999. Many of the threatened species that may be affected by this proposal have been listed for years.

“If the development is responsible and conforms with national environmental law it will be able to go ahead,” Mr Burke said.

Mr Borzecki said he had been working on the expansion for the past 10 years and, despite spending $1m on consultants, he could not get final Victorian government approval until the federal government passed it under the EPBC Act.

He said that when the drought broke the Environment Department had required further details of the impact of the expansion scheme on bird breeding in the areas as earlier assessments, conducted during the drought, may have understated bird numbers.

This new assessment was done in spring under a full moon by Ecology & Heritage and submitted to the department in December.

“We’ve done everything they’ve asked for and they still want more,” Mr Borzecki said.

He said the project, which is close to BlueScope Steel’s Western Port operations, which have suffered job cuts, would provide a potential alternative source of employment for local workers.

“We want to upgrade the marina to modern standards,” Mr Borzecki said.

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