Developer withdraws from controversial Toondah Harbour project

<span>The Ramsar-listed wetland is home to threatened species, such as the critically endangered eastern curlew.</span><span>Photograph: Dan Peled/The Guardian</span>
The Ramsar-listed wetland is home to threatened species, such as the critically endangered eastern curlew.Photograph: Dan Peled/The Guardian

Walker Corporation has withdrawn its proposal for an apartment and retail development on an internationally important wetland at Queensland’s Moreton Bay.

The environment and water minister Tanya Plibersek said the company’s decision was “great news for the animals that call this place home”.

Walker Corporation withdrew its application after Plibersek proposed rejecting the development because of the unacceptable impact it would have on the Ramsar-listed wetland and threatened species such as the critically endangered eastern curlew.

The project was opposed by an almost decade-long community campaign backed by scientists and conservationists because of the impact it would have on irreplaceable habitat.

“The decision to withdraw the application will allow Walker and the project partners an opportunity to review the federal government’s proposed decision and consider if there are alternative options that would still allow vital infrastructure and housing to be delivered,” a company spokesperson said.

The company said it had been on a “long journey to deliver a world class vision for a revitalised Toondah Harbour” but it respected the minister’s opinion that the project in its current form did not provide the necessary protections for the environment.

“We need the appropriate amount of time to understand and address those concerns, to satisfy the government’s reasonable, high environmental standards,” the spokesperson said.

“We have been overwhelmed by calls and messages of support over the past week from the Redlands community as well as local, state and federal political and community leaders, who understand how critical this project is to the region’s future.”

Plibersek released the draft decision last week and gave Walker Corporation and the public 10 business days to provide feedback before a final decision was reached.

Related: Tanya Plibersek plans to reject a $1.3bn development at Moreton Bay. Why was it so controversial?

She said Walker Corporation’s decision to withdraw the application “means the project will not go ahead”.

“The wetlands where this project was proposed are rare, unique and are important to prevent the extinction of animals,” she said.

“These include loggerhead and green turtles and the critically endangered eastern curlew, which migrates 12,000 kilometres from Russia to Australia and relies on Moreton Bay as habitat for feeding and roosting.

“The project would also have had significant impacts on a range of other species including iconic Australian animals like dugongs and dolphins.”

Plibersek said the project should never have made it so far in the federal environmental assessment process and should have been rejected by the former Coalition environment minister Josh Frydenberg when his department gave him advice in 2016 that the project was “clearly unacceptable”.

Frydenberg sent the project to the next stage of the assessment process, a decision that was contrary to advice from the attorney general’s department, which warned it could put Australia in breach of its international obligations.

Documents released to Guardian Australia under freedom of information in 2020 showed the former minister had considered removing the protections from an area of the wetland after he was lobbied by Walker Corporation.