|Title||STANDING COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND HERITAGE
|Source||House of Reps
|Committee Name||STANDING COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND HERITAGE
|System Id|| committees/commrep/7361/0009
CHAIR âWelcome. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that these proceedings are formal proceedings of the parliament and consequently warrant the same respect as proceedings of the House itself. It is customary to remind you that giving false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as contempt of parliament. On that bright and cheery note, are there any opening remarks or introductory comments you would like to make?
Ms Davis âWith regard to that?
CHAIR âNo, on your submission. That one is just a given.
Ms Davis âI did provide a supplementary submission today, having noted that the topic for today was the sustainability principles and frameworks. So I have added a bit to what I had said earlier. I would just like to direct you through it, if that is okay.
Ms Davis âThe first issue is sustainable populations. The first attachment is The Seventeen Laws Relating to Sustainability by Professor Albert Bartlett. He goes into great detail about sustainable levels of population. We have here in our city, on the Gold Coast in south-east Queensland, one of the highest rates of population growth. We are the most rapidly growing area and we are also an area of very high biodiversity. So there are major conflicts going on all of the time.
The other issue is the protection of that biodiversity. You will see that on the submission I have included a few pictures. They are not really clear, but I have a colour copy of the satellite image which shows basically the Gold Coast. It is on page 2 of your submission. You can see that the bottom part of our city or even half of our city is the scenic rim of the Mount Warning Tweed volcano. It is an area of extremely high biodiversity. We have a national park which is World Heritage listed and it is in three parts. So all of the area around that national park, although it is in private hands and is freehold land, should also be protected. We at Gecko spend a great deal of our time trying to protect those lands.
All levels of government have acknowledged this area as an area of extremely high biodiversity. The federal government, your department, named it as one of the top biodiversity hot spots. In the next photo down, which you cannot see very clearly, all of the dark bits are areas of high nature conservation significance as determined by the Environmental Protection Agency in Queensland. Those areas too are not protected. You can see the scenic rim area down on the bottom right of that photo. It is judged to be an area of state significance and it is full of rare and threatened species. All of these areas are under great risk due to not only urban settlement but also the need to provide for areas of recreation and areas of tourism to support those people who live in those areas. So the protection of biodiversity is key. The next one is valuing ecological services. Also in the middle of that picture, you can see our Hinze Dam. All the area to the south of that is the catchment for that dam. That dam provides us with clean drinking water for the Gold Coast, yet there seems to be very little value placed on what that area provides to the human population that is settled along the coast.
CHAIR âSo there is little restriction on activity in the watershed there.
Ms Davis âThere is little restriction, yesâsome restriction but not much. As a community group whose mission it is to protect the natural areas of the Gold Coast, we are constantly fighting to protect that area. On open and accountable government, the recent government elections here on the Gold Coast have presented us with quite a challenge. As you know, one of the key principles of sustainability is open and transparent governanceâthe local community having a say in what goes on. Over the last 10 years at least Gecko has been working with the Gold Coast City Council through its environment advisory committee and through all of the processes that they have put in place for community consultation, and we have been working with the government of Queensland under the south-east Queensland regional planning process SEQ 2021. I have provided you with a copy of my submission to that. It is the second attachment, which is quite extensive because it is full of all the attachments to that. That also says in more detail what I did not say in the submission.
One of the problems with open and accountable government is that the development lobby and the commercial lobby have not been exactly getting the rapid approval of their developments that they would like. For the recent local government elections there was a fund from the commercial interests which provided funding for all the candidates. I have provided you with a copies of some of the articles that relate to that, which show some of the key developers in the Gold Coast providing money for local government elections. We have now got a development dominated local council, and we fear that a lot of the policies and procedures that have been put in place over last 10 years will go by the wayside. Immediately after that set of newspaper articles, you will find a two-page submission which we put to the Premier last week about our concerns regarding this funding of our local government.
The final attachment is a paper, written recently by a doctoral student who is with the coastal CRC at Griffith University, on the ecological footprint of south-east Queensland. That relates to the fifth point in my submission: lowering our ecological footprint. The point of the submission in general is that we must lower both our consumption rates and our population growth rates in order to become sustainable. Anything can be justified, it seems, at local government level if you have to accommodate more and more peopleânot only accommodate them but also provide for all their other needs: their recreational needs and their employment needs et cetera.
CHAIR âDo you feel you have been fighting an ongoing battle for all of those 10 years, or do you sense a shift in attitudes that has supported the goals of your organisation?
âThere was a point where we were very hopeful about the future of the Gold Coast. We had a wonderful CEO, Dr Doug Daines, who was an expert in local community involvement in planningâhe was a lecturer at Sydney University. He was fired by our councillors because he was attempting to put limits on flood plain development and to have a sustainable city. So we have been working steadily with council since they fired him in 1998. Generally the voting was 7-7 but now it is more like 10-4. So we are very fearful about the future of our city and getting any implementation of the strategies that have been developed.
CHAIR âWe heard earlierâI had the figuresâabout the area of reservation of land around the Gold Coast. Are those numbers not reflecting the biodiversity importance, or are they reflecting an absolutely minimalist level of protection?
Ms Davis âThe only thing that is protected is Springbrook National Park. Ultimately, the national parks are the only things that are protected. Gold Coast City have had a strategy of buying open space over the last few years. However, these are still freehold properties and council can still allow multiple uses thereâincluding camping, horse riding, four-wheel-driving and bikewaysâthat would conflict with biodiversity protection. We do not consider those areas to be protected. They can also sell off parts of those areas if they find that they are not of high biodiversity value.
Currently, the state government and local government are developing trail strategies throughout those regions, and we have had a very long and hard fight trying to do something about that. Attachment B of my submission to the SEQ 2021 projectâwhich is probably the thickest of the attachments; it is 20 pagesâincludes a series of letters to the government about the need to protect those areas and not run trails all over the place. Because of the volcanic lava flows, this is a very steep and constrained landscape, with multiple waterways. We have many rare and threatened species in that area and we are constantly trying to get all levels of government to do something about it. Instead, they are running all these strategies to support the recreational and open-space needs of people in the same places where we would like to see the needs of wildlife supported and their habitats protected.
CHAIR âIt was suggested to us that public engagement in SEQ 2021 was driven in part by an awareness that things cannot keep going forever in the way they are now. People started sensing some impact on their living standards or aspirations for their neighbourhood and the broader community that they are involved with. Is it your sense that there is a broadening of the conversation about these issues amongst the citizens of your region? It sounded to me like not much has changedâit is a battlefield and you are up for a blue on everything, because there is not an inculcation of those sustainability principles more generally and you are in there fighting to push them forward almost every step of the way. Is that a characterisation of it?
Ms Davis âThat is correct. The SEQ 2021 project started in 1991 as SEQ2001âit was supposed to be a 10-year project. At that time, in 1991, we started talking to government, through that project, about sustainability. I remember a conversation with Terry Mackenroth in 1994. He is now the Treasurer and in charge of the newâ
CHAIR âHe chairs some part of the process.
âThere is a new agency in Queensland, which was an election promise, of urban management and infrastructure provision. Terry Mackenroth, the Treasurer of Queensland, will be the head of that agency. Mr Mackenroth used to be the head of local government and planning, back in the early nineties under the Goss government. We often lobbied him for energy efficiency, water efficiency, more protection of open space et cetera, and he would say things like, `Oh, well, we have two houses that are energy efficient that the developers are looking at.' It seems to be a totally developer driven state, region and, now, city. I spoke to Mr Mackenroth recently at a function at Parliament House. We had just heard that he had about $30 millionâmaybe it was more than thatâfor some infrastructure provision. I spoke to him, and I said, `Are you going to be providing open space with some of that money?' and he said no. I said, `Open space is one of the building blocks of sustainability. It is something that your government should be providing. It was part of the original regional framework for growth management,' and he said, `Oh, yes, but that is not what this money is for.' The government have provided no money for open space since the ROSS, the Regional Open Space Scheme, went under in, I think, 1994. Its funding was cut because the land-holders did not want their land bought out from under them. They have stopped any funding of further open space, so it has been up to the local government to purchase open space with its own levy.
Mr JENKINS âUsing the Gold Coast as a case study, what do you really think the federal government can do? What are the things that might best assist in countering the problems that you are confronting?
Ms Davis âThe point may be more what the state government can do, but I know we are talking to the federal government. One thing is to provide protection and buffers to World Heritage areas and areas of high nature conservation value. At this point, the only thing we have to call on the government with is the EPBC Act and, as you know, there are only six or seven triggers under that actâ
Ms Davis âand so there are a lot of times when we cannot actually prove that this one particular thing that a developer might do is going to have a significant impact on the rare and threatened species in that area. Also, there is an issue about whether or not the EPBC Act can intervene in a planning matter if a local government plan, for example, is about to have a significant impact on a World Heritage area or an area of rare and threatened species. For example, we now have a Springbrook, which sits at the very south of our city; it is a small plateau. It is now developing a local area plan. Our local councillor is pro-development and has very little regard for or knowledge of the values of this area. He has got his lobby group, which will be pushing to have everything in that local area plan be code assessable, so no impact assessable development, so the rest of the community, the rest of the worldâanyone who is concerned about that areaâwill not have a look-in; it will be decided amongst the councillors in council, with no requirement for any advertising.
As Professor Spearritt said earlier, we do not necessarily want to see everybody's back deck; but we do want to see if someone is putting in a development that is incompatible with the protection of water quality and the protection of the World Heritage values of that area. I would think that, if the federal government has identified these areas as areas of high nature conservation value or areas of high biodiversity, there should be some World Heritage protection. There does not seem to be. Unless the community is out there, calling upon the government under the EPBC Actâand, of course, you are very constrained under that actâwe do not have any hope. Every level of government has acknowledged that this area is very important and very valuable.
The state government and local government had agreed to a joint planning process for the protection of those values in Springbrook, because we called upon them and said: `Look, all of these activities are being planned in this area. We must have some coordinated process.' That was two years ago. Nothing has happened since. We, the community, have been sitting and waiting for this process to start and, in the meantime, the pro-development lobby have got themselves together and are pushing for decisions to be made outside that process. So, everywhere we look, we are not getting assistance, even with protecting areas of World Heritage value.
Ms GEORGE âYou talk about a need at the national level for a means by which sensitive areas can be designated as such. How would you see that operating and what would you see as the criteria for the declaration of these areas?
Ms Davis âQueensland have been very active in developing a strategy, particularly here in south-east Queensland. Their original nature conservation strategy lists a number of criteriaâI think there are about 13 to 15 criteriaâwhich they have mapped, and that is what the map I have here is based on. This is a layered map of those 13 to 15 criteria, which includes areas where rare and threatened species have been seen, areas where there is a large remnant remaining and areas where the ecosystem is designated as endangered or of concern. They layer the GIS mapping and come up with areas considered of state, regional or local significance. I would think that the federal government would like to have an area of federal significance.
Ms GEORGE âOn the issue of housing choice, you make the point that the pressures on the coastal strip will inevitably mean that it becomes an option only for high-income earners. You say that housing affordability and social disadvantage are really separate issues from that. Do you want to explain a bit more about what you had in mind?
Ms Davis âWe just put in a submission to Gold Coast City's affordable housing strategy. I think the point is that no matter how much affordable housing you have, if your population is growing on an ongoing basis, you will always need more. There is some concern among the developers. A recent election campaign was run by a member of the Labor Party and, in the last article that appeared in the Australian this past weekend, he justified his involvement with big developers by saying he wants the average Aussie to be able to afford a house on the beach in the back blocks of Casuarina Beach or the Salt development on the Tweed coast. If you were to carry that to the extreme you would say, `Why shouldn't they have an affordable house on the front blocks of Casuarina Beach?' It is just a nonsense. You cannot keep growing in population and continue to have affordable housing without destroying all the values in the area. There are limits to growth and the sooner the government actually acknowledges that there are limits to growth and does something about it the better off we will all be.
Ms GEORGE âSo, in terms of the developments in the area, what plans are in place to ensure that there is some protection of those with little capacity to afford coastal living so that they are also a part of the social mix in future years?
Ms Davis âCouncil have a policy of integrated housing whereby they have various forms of housing in every development. Developers often do not like that; they want to have gated communities or whatever so they can have alternative sites. But we argue against having, say, trailer parksâwhat are they called? Sorry, I am American.
Ms Davis âYes, caravan parksâthey isolate segments of the community in `affordable housing'. We have some horrific examples of what happens when you isolate those people in certain areas. They do not have access to the services that normal housing provides and are ghettoised.
CHAIR âIn your submission, you talk about a strong centres policy. We heard the previous speaker say that he thought it would work reasonably well in Sydney. Are you seeing that kind of thinking coming through in the SEQ 2021 work?
Ms Davis âI think so. The Gold Coast in particular has a very strong centres policy. However, whether or not those policies are adhered to is a problem. The Integrated Planning Act, which is of course the Queensland act, does not allow any prohibition on development and it requires local government to pay any land-holder whose rights are in any way taken away. Having to compensate developers, in light of current knowledge, for not allowing them to do something that was decided 30 years ago makes it virtually impossible for councils to do their forward planning and to not carry through the decisions they made in the past when they did not have that knowledge.
CHAIR âYou do not have an urban property authority in Queensland that can assemble large parcels of appropriately zoned and suitable land for major commercial and economic activity. It is my understanding that you do not have a government agency that could bring that together, so you end up with spotty bits of activity because it is hard to bring together a number of parcels of land for a more rounded proposal that might be more responsive to sustainability principles.
Ms Davis âThe provisions in the Integrated Planning Act which allow for local governments to require developers to pay for their own infrastructure if they are outside the benchmark development sequencingâ
CHAIR âWhat is that?
Ms Davis âBenchmark development sequencing is basically where the local government decides: `This is where the next bit of development is going to happen and we are going to provide infrastructure in that area. If a developer wants to put a development out here'â
CHAIR âIf they want to leapfrog that.
Ms Davis â`they have to pay for the provision of that infrastructure.' Our council recently levied infrastructure charges, as they are allowed to do under the act. IPA came in in 1997, I think, and Gold Coast City started its new planning scheme in August last year. Part of that planning scheme is the development of infrastructure charges. The new policy would require about $14,000 per block. That is one of the reasons why the developers were up in arms recently, which led to theirâ
âparticipation in the local government elections. They wanted those charges reversed or at least reduced. When it comes to providing all that infrastructure, $14,000 is probably minimal.
CHAIR âAre you familiar with the UNESCO biosphere program?
Ms Davis âA little bit.
CHAIR âDown my way, we have an urban biosphere, one of the first in the world, where we are trying to recognise that humans are a species in the environment as well, and that it is not mutually inconsistent to try and find reasonable living standards and look after the ecology and social wellbeing of the community. One of the things we keep running into is how to provide economic and employment opportunities for the dormitory masses that want to come and sleep in our municipality but then nick off and go somewhere else chasing work. Is that becoming an issue that your organisation has put its mind to, whether it is SEQ 2021 or the centres policy or something like thatâhow to have those other aspects of community and people's lives and the city come forward in parallel with these waves of people just wanting to live here? Is that something you have put your minds to as part of your work and your advocacy when talking to people about avoiding becoming a commuter dormitory area?
Ms Davis âGold Coast City has an economic development branch and we have been participating, as I said, through the environment advisory committee of Gold Coast City Council.
CHAIR âSo your main way in is through that?
Ms Davis âYes. We also pay attention whenever any policy is advertised and submissions are requested and try to respond. However, we would like to see a greater separation. I noted that your terms of reference talk about this issue of humans integrated with the environment. However, it is very difficult for wildlife to live among humans. We have an issue here in south-east Queensland with the koalas. We have been told by koala specialists that the koala on the Gold Coast is in danger. It is down to 10 per cent of its original numbers. If you look at a map of the Gold Coast the majority of the coastal plain has been cleared. That is where the koalas like to live.
CHAIR âThat is their habitat.
Ms Davis âThey do not like to live up in the mountains; they like to live in the rich soils that produce good eucalypt trees. We also know that, even if you provide a bit of your suburb as koala habitat, the road kills and the dog kills just eat away at them. Redlands, for example, has a couple of koala kills a day. My husband and I used to live in Redlands and he was the wildlife rescue officer. We were constantly coming acrossâ
CHAIR âCalled out for an accident.
Ms Davis âdog kills and road kills.
âBut do you have investors come into you saying, `You guys know the neighbourhoodâyou know the area; you know the issues. Here is something we are thinking we might like to do. What do you guys think? How can we find some common ground to move an idea forward?' Does that dialogue occur at all or is it all usually a bit combative and confrontationist when it pops up?
Ms Davis âNo. There was a very good example of that recently with an ecovillage that has been planned for the Currumbin Valley area, which is where our office space is. We have been working closely with the developers on that ecovillage. However, I must say that that was a good outcome for an area that was already zoned as park/residential. We would not like to see those ecovillages spread throughout the rural area.
CHAIR âWhat is park/residential?
Ms Davis âPark/residential means that you can go down to 4,000 square metres or something like that.
CHAIR âThank you for your submission. It is resolved by the committee that the material provided to us today by Ms Davis be authorised for publication.