Landmark Federal Court Decision
11 June 2004
In the first case concerning impacts on a matter of National Environmental Significance under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), the Federal Court ruled in favour of the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr David Kemp, in his civil case against the manager of the Windella wheat farm, Ronald Greentree.
Dr Kemp took civil action against Mr Greentree in 2003, after a site inspection revealed that the 100 hectares of the Gwydir Wetlands located on the 1200-hectare Windella wheat farm, near Moree, had been cleared and ploughed without approval.
On 11 June 2004, the Federal Court found that Mr Greentree and his company, Auen Grain Pty Ltd, were responsible for the clearing and subsequent planting of a wheat crop within the Ramsar-listed Gwydir Wetlands on Windella, and that this activity had a significant impact on the ecological character of the wetland.
Under the EPBC Act, actions that have or are likely to have a significant impact on the ecological character of declared Ramsar wetlands are prohibited unless prior approval is granted by the Minister. The maximum penalty provided for such offences under the EPBC Act is $550 000 for an individual, or $5.5 million for a body corporate. The matter will be the subject of further hearings in the Federal Court in coming weeks, in relation to the penalty and any rehabilitation orders.
The Gwydir Wetlands are one of Australia's 65 Wetlands of International Importance, listed under the Ramsar Convention. Ramsar listed sites are representative, rare or unique wetlands, and are important for conserving biological diversity. The Gwydir Wetlands provides seasonal breeding and feeding grounds for close to 500 000 colonial water birds, including rare and migratory birds, such as magpie geese, glossy ibis and brolgas.
For more details on the judgement: