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Federal Court Win for the Tarkine & Tasmanian Devil

By July 17, 2013 April 10th, 2018 Biodiversity, Cases

This morning, the Federal Court delivered a major win to a conservation group's legal battle to protect the endangered Tasmanian Devil in Tasmania's Tarkine Region.

Image Wayne McLean

This morning, the Federal Court delivered a major win to a conservation group's legal battle to protect the endangered Tasmanian Devil in Tasmania's Tarkine Region.

The victory was achieved by the Tarkine National Coalition (now known as Save the Tarkine) and their dedicated legal team of solicitors Bleyer Lawyers, and Counsel Richard Niall SC and Emrys Nekvapil.

Justice Shane Marshall's judgment invalidated a 2012 decision by the Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke to approve an iron ore mine in North West Tasmania.  The Court found that the Minister's decision was invalid because Minister Burke had failed to genuinely consider approved conservation advice for the Tasmanian Devil, thus breaching the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

The conservation advice included important information about the future of the Tasmanian Devil and its possible extinction. 

The Court judged that the Minister's failure to consider the advice was a fatal mistake.  The conservation advice is approved by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee established under the EPBC Act and, the Court noted, a pivotal element in the EPBC Act's protection of threatened species. The Court stated it is therefore unsurprising that Parliament would require the Minister to have regard to [the approved conservation advice] concerning a threatened species before approving an action which will have, or is likely to have a significant impact on that species”.

In making its decision, the Federal Court found that other grounds raised by the conservation group were not as compelling: for example, the Court found that the Minister had validly imposed a condition that the mine could proceed, even though it would have unavoidable impacts on the Tasmanian Devil, if the mining company donated money to the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program Appeal.

The proposed mine will now likely go back to the new Environment Minister, Minister Mark Butler for a new decision – and as the Federal Court noted, it is open to the Minister to make an entirely different decision.

In the meantime, Save the Tarkine and their legal team have achieved a great victory for the environment, and an important landmark in environmental law, showing that government decisions that impact specices on the verge of extinction cannot simply ignore important scientific advice.

You can read the Federal Court's decision online here.

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