Company part-owned by Angus Taylor illegally poisoned grasslands, ministerial review finds | Conservation


Jam Land, the company part-owned by the energy minister Angus Taylor and his brother Richard, illegally poisoned critically endangered grasslands and should restore native habitat, a ministerial review of the original investigation has concluded.

The decision, published late Friday, follows an 18-month review of the original determination which ordered Jam Land to restore 103 hectares of grasslands on a property in the New South Wales Monaro region.

It comes more than five years after the company poisoned the grasslands, known as the natural temperate grassland of the south-eastern highlands, on a property in Corrowong.

Richard Taylor, one of Jam Land’s directors, said the company was considering whether it would appeal the decision in the federal court and accused the department of agriculture, water and environment of sitting on the outcome for the past nine months.

“We’re obviously very disappointed but also annoyed that the department, having sat on this for nine months, have delivered it to us two weeks before Christmas and we’ve only got 28 days to lodge an appeal with the federal court,” he said.

“We would like to do that but we’ve just got to make sure we can resource it.

“For us, it’s a matter of principle.”

In May last year, Jam Land sought a ministerial review of the federal environment department’s determination that the company illegally cleared about 30 hectares of the grasslands in late October 2016.

The original determination ordered the company to undertake restoration work – including weed management, erecting stock-proof fences and avoiding broad-acre application of herbicides or fertilisers – on a separate area of the property to the cleared land.

Angus Taylor is a shareholder in Jam Land, via his family company Gufee.

The Jam Land investigation has been controversial because Angus Taylor sought meetings with senior environment officials about the grasslands while it was under way. The office of the then environment minister, Josh Frydenberg, subsequently sought advice about whether laws protecting the grasslands could be changed.

A delegate to the environment minister, Sussan Ley, upheld the original decision in the case on Friday.

The statement said the initial investigation found the poison had a significant impact on the critically endangered grasslands. Clearing without first seeking approval carries a maximum penalty of $11m for a body corporate.

“In responding to the contravention of the Act, a delegate to the minister made a remediation determination, requiring Jam Land as the landholder to mitigate the damage by managing and enhancing the natural ecological values of 103 hectares of native grasslands on the property,” the statement says.

It is the first time in the history of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act that a ministerial review of a remediation order has been sought.

Richard Taylor said the company believed it had undertaken a best practice environmental assessment when it commissioned an ecologist to assess the property before the clearing in 2016.

That assessment was done in accordance with the relevant state legislation, he said, and the broader community had been unaware the grasslands were also listed under federal laws.

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Taylor said the department had not consulted the community about the listing, something the department disputes.

In a briefing released to Guardian Australian under freedom of information laws in 2019, department officials wrote there had been public consultation at the time of the original listing in the 2000s and again when it was upgraded to critically endangered in 2016.

The latter had exceeded the statutory requirements of the Act and included emails to councils, local land services and the National Farmers’ Federation and NSW Farmers Association.

Taylor said as a result of the assessment of the property, Jam Land had fenced off a larger, separate area that was identified as having high conservation value and managed it for conservation “at our own expense and we’ve had no credit for that”.

He said about 30 to 40% of his land holdings in the Monaro region were being managed for conservation and this was also typical of other farmers.

“The way the department is behaving, that goodwill has just vaporised not only for us but throughout the district,” Taylor said.

He said he was unhappy with the way the department had handled the investigation with multiple delays since it was referred to them five years ago.

“They’ve strung this out I believe for political purposes. It’s been very politically charged,” he said.

A department spokesperson said the matter was complex in nature and “the department considered the issues raised by Jam Land to enable the delegate to determine whether to affirm, vary or set aside the determination to ensure natural justice was provided.”

The spokesperson said the department sought Jam Land’s engagement throughout the process and the decision to affirm the remediation order was made in accordance with compliance policy.

A Guardian Australia investigation in 2019 revealed Angus Taylor met with senior environment officials and the office of the former environment minister Josh Frydenberg in March 2017 about the listing of the grasslands while the investigation was under way.

Frydenberg’s office sought advice from his department about whether protection for the grasslands could be weakened in secret. Departmental emails also showed Frydenberg sought urgent information about the investigation after it was raised in parliament by an unnamed person.

Angus Taylor has repeatedly stated that he sought the meeting with departmental officials on behalf of constituents in Hume who were concerned about the grasslands listing. He has previously said “I did not make any representations to federal or state authorities in relation to any compliance action being undertaken.”

A spokesperson for the department of environment and energy said officials “did not discuss the compliance matter with Taylor”.

Both Taylor and Frydenberg have said the meeting was focused on the “technical aspects” of the grasslands listing.

Comment was sought from Angus Taylor.



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