Approval to bulldoze prime bilby habitat followed political donations and lobbying

Government documents show the Western Australian government rejected a cattle company’s application to destroy bilby habitat next to an ecologically sensitive wetland – then approved the clearing following a flurry of political donations and lobbying.

The Pardoo Beef Corporation, owned by a foreign investor, has cleared a total of 840 hectares of Greater bilby habitat immediately adjacent to the internationally significant Eighty Mile Beach wetland, south of Broome in WA’s Kimberley region.

The company’s application to clear 450 hectares of bilby habitat in 2016 was initially rejected.

However, after the company donated money and lobbied, in 2017 the WA government approved essentially the same clearing proposal. (The only change to the application was the removal of 50 hectares that was not within the pastoral lease in the first place.)

The application was approved despite the permit itself conceding that it ‘may be at variance with’ a number of principles designed to conserve areas of high biological diversity, prevent land degradation and protect significant habitat.

Among other activities, documents obtained by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) under Freedom of Information show Pardoo Beef Corporation:

  • Donated more than $183,000 to political parties in a single financial year.
  • Donated $30,000 to the WA National Party on the same day the application for clearing was re-submitted (while the Liberal-National government was in power in 2016).
  • Donated $3,000 to the WA Labor Party a week after representatives of the company met with new Labor Premier Mark McGowan and the day after meeting with the Environmental Protection Agency to discuss long term plans at Pardoo.

“Political donations help corporations gain greater access to decision makers and we see this access turn into influence,” said ACF’s Democracy Campaigner, Jolene Elberth.

“When politicians pay attention to their donors, rather than the community they represent, decisions are made that put corporate profits ahead of the health of people and nature.

“Public disclosure of political donations should be much clearer and faster. We urgently need sensible reforms to shine a light on the money flowing into politics,” she said.

The greater bilby (Macrotis lagotis) is listed as a threatened and vulnerable species under WA and Commonwealth legislation.

“Over the last 200 years bilbies have suffered a significant decline in population, they now occupy only 20% of their former range,” said Environs Kimberley Director Martin Pritchard.

“Unfortunately, governments of all persuasions are allowing the continued destruction of bilby habitat in the Pilbara and Kimberley, driving it further towards extinction.

“The Eighty Mile Beach Ramsar listed wetland and the bilby are being sacrificed to landclearing to grow food for live export cattle and unfortunately state environmental laws are failing to protect these wetlands and threatened species habitat.

“This demonstrates how dangerous it would be for the federal government to hand over national environmental approval powers to states.”

The federal government is considering a fast-tracked bilateral agreement with the WA government that would accredit state approval processes under the national environment law, allowing proposed projects to be assessed only under state arrangements.

Since Australia’s national environment law took effect 20 years ago, an area of threatened species habitat the size of Tasmania has been logged, cleared and bulldozed.

A recent report by the Environmental Defenders Office identified 30 examples where state and territory laws failed to meet national benchmarks.

Header pic by Jiri Lochman, Lochman Transparencies

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