Judge Finds Morrison Government Error In Approving Preliminary Work On Tarkine Residue Dam | Preservation

Conservationists have won the battle over Tasmania’s Takyana/Tarkine rainforest after a judge found the Morrison government had made a mistake in approving preliminary work on a mining dam.

Federal court Mark Moshinsky found that then-Minister of the Environment, Sussan Ley, had not applied the precautionary principle before authorizing drilling and surveying for a new tailings dam near the town of Rosebery, on the state’s west coast.

In a verdict late Monday, Moshinsky said a January decision by an environmental department official representing Ley had not considered whether the works would cause serious or irreversible damage to the habitat of the endangered Tasmanian masked owl.

The judiciary did not issue immediate orders, but noted that the approval would likely be set aside. That could mean mineral company MMG’s proposal needs reassessment under national environmental laws.

The Bob Brown Foundation said the verdict was one of the most important in environmental law since the enactment of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act in 1999, as it showed that the precautionary principle should be applied when the effects of a proposed development were unclear.

The foundation’s campaign manager, Jenny Weber, said the masked owl – considered endangered in Tasmania and believed to have been reduced to about 500 breeding pairs – “wasn’t considered at all” in the approval decision.

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“This decision tells miners, loggers and other proponents of major projects that they can no longer take advantage of the uncertainty that follows a lack of high-quality scientific research,” she said.

Neither MMG nor the Tasmanian government, which is a strong supporter of the development, had responded to Guardian Australia before publication.

The validity of the federal approval of the drilling and road works was already under discussion after Ley admitted before the election that there were reasons to formally reconsider it. Responsibility for that process was handed over to the new Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, after Labor won the election. She has yet to make a decision.

Bob Brown, the former Greens leader who founded the foundation, said the judgment was huge and would strengthen Plibersex’s hand “in defending endangered species from the Tarkine to Cape York to the Burrup Peninsula”.

He said the Commonwealth should compensate nearly 100 protesters arrested while campaigning against the development.

In a statement on Tuesday morning, Plibersek said the legal action related to a decision made under the previous federal government, that she had been informed of the verdict and would consider it in detail.

The largely Chinese-owned company says a new tailings dam is needed to extend the life of the 85-year-old Rosebery zinc, copper and lead mine. If the dam is approved, the company expects up to 285 acres — roughly equivalent to 350 football fields — of rainforest and other land for the dam and a 3.5km pipe that would carry toxic waste from the mine across the Pieman River.

The Bob Brown Foundation says crossing the river would place the tailings dam in the Tarkine, an ecologically diverse area recommended by the Australian Heritage Council 10 years ago to be protected. It says there are other options for MMG.

The judge reserved his orders until a hearing expected later this week.

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