Wetlands, Biodiversity, Jurisdiction, Administrative, Air pollution, Evidence, Wildlife, Permits, Standing
Blue Wedges Inc. was a conservation organisation formed in 2003 in response to a proposal to use a dredging process to deepen shipping channels in Port Philip Bay and the Yarra River. It challenged the minister’s jurisdiction to make an approval decision for the dredging of Port Philip Bay by the Port of Melbourne Corporation (EPBC 2002/576). Blue Wedges Inc. also separately sought judicial review of the minister’s decision to approve the proposal to use a dredging process to deepen shipping channels in Port Philip Bay and the Yarra River. Blue Wedges argued that the minister failed to take relevant considerations into account and acted unreasonably when making his decision. The Minister had to consider the impact of the project on protected matters, namely, on certain threatened species, on some wetlands of international importance and on certain Commonwealth land. He also had to consider the social impact of the project. The Act required him to take into account the principles of ecologically sustainable development such as the integration of long-term and short-term economic, environmental, social and equitable considerations. Blue Wedges Inc contended that the Minister failed to take these principles into account when considering the protected matters and when considering the social impact of the project, and also that the Minister was bound to take into account a number of relevant matters and that he had failed to do so. Those matters were the impact of maintenance dredging, the impact of oil or chemical spills, and the impact of the removal and disposal of toxic sediment in the north of Port Phillip Bay. Blue Wedges Inc also alleged that the Minister had failed to follow a procedure required by the Act, in that, he failed to consider whether to inform the Minister for Resources, Energy and Tourism, and the Minister for Climate Change of his proposed decision to approve the project. Alternatively, if he did consider that matter, then his conclusion not to inform those Ministers was so unreasonable that a reasonable Minister could not have made that decision. The Federal Court dismissed Blue Wedges’ application on all grounds with costs, and confirmed that the minister acted in accordance with the administrative law principles and the requirements of the EPBC Act when making his decision to approve the project. It is not the function of the Court to make a judgment as to whether the channel deepening project is a good thing or a bad thing or whether it is harmful to the environment or not. State and Federal laws provide for a very elaborate process of assessment of those matters. The law then requires the Minister to evaluate the benefits and detriments of the proposal and the Court can only consider challenges to the process by which the Minister made his decision and determine whether the Minister acted in accordance with the law. In this case Blue Wedges Inc has not established that the Minister failed to act in accordance with the requirements of the law.