HERBERT GEER & RUNDLE acted for Bald Hills Wind Farm Pty Ltd in its successful move to have the federal Minister for the Environment reconsider his decision to block a wind farm in South Gippsland.
In a rare move, the Minister reversed his decision in late December after a judicial review resulted in consent orders being agreed upon to review the original decision.
In April last year, the then federal environment minister, Ian Campbell, refused to allow a $220 million wind farm to be built at Bald Hills, in Victoria’s south east, after he received a report on the highly endangered orange-bellied parrot that indicated wind farms near the coast could obstruct their flight path.
The report said there were only about 200 left in Australia and even if only a few of the birds were killed by the wind turbines, it could have a significant effect on their population.
Wind Farm’s original application to the Minister went undecided for about three years. The decision to refuse the application came only after the company took legal action to have the decision made.
“We were instructed in February 2006 to seek judicial review of the Minister’s failure to make a decision,” said Brian Arthur, a consultant to HGR who led the case with partner Julie Armstrong.
“That got underway, and by April he had decided to refuse the proposal, so we then we had further instructions seeking judicial review of that refusal.”
In August last year, following a directions hearing before Federal Court Justice Mark Weinberg, Wind Farm and the Commonwealth agreed on consent orders, which were then given by the court. These set aside the minister’s decision, and ordered the matter be reconsidered according to law and the Commonwealth pay Wind Farm’s costs.
On 21 December, Senator Campbell reversed his decision in April subject to conditions agreed to by Bald Hills, which included ensuring no turbines are built within 2 kilometres of the coast, or within 300 metres of the boundary of the Bald Hills Wetland Reserve.
Bald Hills Wind Farm must also help to ensure the long-term protection of listed threatened and migratory species by submitting an avifauna management plan to the Minister, including the identification of a qualified independent observer to undertake monitoring of listed species using the site.
They must also notify the environment minister in writing of the death of a member of a listed threatened or migratory species on the site within 48 hours of becoming aware of the mortality.
Arthur said experienced counsel had told him that to have a matter referred back to a minister and for that decision to be reversed is “unprecedented”.