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					                         THOSE WHO CREATE EXTINCTION

                                      M. S. Graham
                                   Buckombil Mountain
                                    28 January 2006.

I have sadly been drawn to write this essay to express to the world a great number of my
deepest concerns and frustrations and to endeavour to shift a seemingly unshakeable,
unresponsive and highly irresponsible juggernaut; a juggernaut that is intent upon
stripping away our society’s natural capital for short term gains delivered to a privileged
few. The last fifteen months of my existence has been drawn away, nay stripped, from
independent determination and autonomy, by involvement in one of the greatest
injustices and saddest proposals put forward by any Government in the recent history of
our nation.

I am an Ecologist; I study the plants and animals around me on a daily basis. I
photograph them, document their fascinating interactions and try on a daily basis (as best
I can) to prevent their ongoing loss and ultimate extinction. I experience immense
personal delight and consider myself highly fortunate and ultimately privileged to bear
witness to, and pursue an understanding of, the amazing biodiversity of our country; a
country that is instantly recognizable worldwide for its uniqueness of diversity. Much of
the material contained within this essay is written from the softer, emotional corners of
my soul. I mostly write “scientific material”, material that is delivered in a dispassionate,
technical and unemotive style.

As is well documented, Australia is the only developed/first world/industrialised (strange
terms these!!) nation on the planet to be considered “mega-diverse”; that is, possessing a
portion of nature’s expression comprising of more than one million species. We
Australians are incredibly fortunate to possess such a unique and fascinating heritage; a
heritage forged from the ancient and fiery hearth of Gondwanaland, tempered at the
grandest scale by the movement of continents and finally polished at the hands of the
now vanquished Aboriginal custodians.

I am almost thirty years of age, a mere heartbeat in the life of our world, yet sadly I have
already borne witness to and documented several extinctions on the North Coast of NSW.
This is my greatest cause of sadness, frustration and futility of being; it weighs heavily
upon me, and is a burden I find impossible to accept. It is largely with a sense of
powerless inevitably that I know that this trend will continue; that many more of my most
cherished of observations of our diversity face the same horrifying destiny.
I am presently engaged in studying wetlands on the frosty crest of our grandest mountain
range, The Great Divide. Over the past several months I have (amongst many other
fascinating discoveries) made the first records of bizarre creatures including the Giant
Dragonfly, an insect known to have flown between the legs of Brontosaurs. It is a
perverse honour and immense burden to know that many of the first time observations of
species occurring in these wetlands that I am currently making are likely to be the last.
The death warrant of these ancient (some are older than fifty million years) and
irreplaceable wetlands has been signed by our society’s (and the world’s) addiction to the
burning of carbon.

It is a national shame that Australia (as many undoubtedly already know) has the grand
and unenviable reputation of being one of the world’s great extinction capitals. This is a
distinction that continues in a horrifyingly malignant fashion, particularly when
considering (to name just a few) the death of our greatest river system (the Murray), the
bleaching into poverty of our greatest marine treasure (The Great Barrier Reef) and the
ongoing drifting away to a permanent grave in a sea of agricultural indifference of our
woodland birds.

I live in the small, incredibly diverse and stunningly beautiful rural community of
Meerschaum Vale, located to the south of Alstonville on the North Coast of New South
Wales. It is the southernmost margin of “The Big Scrub”; a formerly immense (seventy
five thousand hectare) and impenetrable stand of Lowland Subtropical Rainforest, the
largest in the world. Today the Big Scrub is reduced to a pitiful scattering of weed
infested, ecologically dysfunctional and gradually diminishing remnants (totalling no
more than four hundred hectares) in a sea of agricultural land on a downward spiral of
degradation, acidification and loss of productivity.

Remnants of the Big Scrub are still being lost to the actions of both intentionally
malevolent and ignorant landholders. Very few of these individuals are equipped with
any comprehension of the significance of the fragments in their possession (like the final
jewels thrown free of a crown shattered by the steamroller of European society), nor the
permanent ramifications and extinction causing outcomes of their actions. It is however
pleasing to see a highly dedicated and steadily growing band of stalwarts intent upon
appreciating, retaining, restoring and educating other members of society upon the
importance of the Big Scrub. Like emergency department medicos, their task is neither
easy, nor in any way assured of ultimate success.

My great grandfather cleared several hundred hectares (about all that remains today) of
the Big Scrub in the 1870’s and 1880’s in the hinterland of Byron Bay, near a small
hamlet called Newrybar. Today my father and I derive our greatest of pleasures and a
sense of collective familial appeasement of conscience, in caring for, expanding and
communicating the value of the very forests our forebears saw fit to destroy.

We have lived for the last eight years on a mountain called Buckombil. Buckombil means
“place of many Black Beans” in the local Bundjalung Aboriginal dialect. The Black Bean
is a local rainforest tree, also known as the Moreton Bay Chestnut. Today a grand total of
three Black Beans remain on Buckombil Mountain, a location where thousands once
grew. My father and I over the last eight years have planted many hundreds (amongst a
tally of close to ten thousand trees), in a valiant attempt to enhance and support the
unique biodiversity that dwells in the wetlands, rainforests, eucalypt forests and
heathlands surrounding our abode.

We chose the location of our property “Spring Waters” specifically because of the
phenomenal biodiversity on both it and the surrounding lands. There is more biodiversity
in the (highly geographically limited) wetlands and mountain ranges surrounding our
property than in the entirety of Western Europe – quite a distinction by any estimation.

This now brings me to outline what I consider to be one of the greatest expressions of our
society’s greed and indifference to the natural wealth we collectively possess. In October
of 2004, my father and I noted an advertisement in the local newspapers stating “The
NSW Roads and Traffic Authority wishes to advise that planning has commenced for the
Woodburn to Ballina Upgrade of the Pacific Highway”. Shortly thereafter a flyer arrived
in the mail with a blurry map of “the Woodburn to Ballina Study area”, an oddly shaped
(somewhat reminiscent of the Loch Ness Monster) blot across the Richmond River
Floodplain, abutting the Blackwall Range and Tuckean Swamp. The flyer displayed the
study area as extending across the eastern portions of the Tuckean Swamp and to within a
kilometre of Buckombil Mountain and called for nominations for a “Community Liaison

For those unfamiliar with the Pacific Highway in this area, the present alignment in the
Woodburn to Ballina section traverses the completely flat and primarily straight
Richmond Floodplain, an area most consider to function ideally as the location of a
national highway linkage. The Highway is mostly located through cleared and degraded
cane farming lands on the eastern side of the Richmond River. This section of the Pacific
Highway is amongst the safest (as opposed to areas such as the Burringbar Range,
Bulahdelah Mountain and Bonville known to be major blackspots and requiring
upgrading), and there have been fewer injuries and deaths across this section. The most
direct route across the Woodburn to Ballina area is in very close proximity to the existing
highway, as a result the location and shape of the study area, extending some four
kilometres westward of the current highway was highly perplexing.

As I maintain an active interest in and engagement with the landscape, ecology and
community of the area, I prepared a nomination for the Community Liaison Group. My
nomination was prepared as both a community and environmental representative –
representing (amongst others) the peak NSW conservation organisations – The NSW
Nature Conservation Council and Total Environment Centre. My nomination was
accepted and I duly attended the first meeting in December 2004.

Upon attending the initial meeting of the Community Liaison Group it became apparent
that the NSW RTA and their consultants had a scant or nonexistent regard for the
internationally biologically significant lands across which they were intending to build a
six lane freeway. The RTA is a government agency that builds roads; as a result it is
populated with road builders, in other words, engineers. It was immediately apparent that
the engineers employed by the taxpayers of NSW had no knowledge of the host of
environmental issues at stake, they had a job to do (build a six lane freeway), and by
jingo they were going to do it their way. Furthermore the proceedings of the Community
Liaison Group were to be shrouded in secrecy, as all attendees were required to sign
privacy agreements before being allowed to attend subsequent meetings.

I commenced my massive (and entirely voluntary) involvement in the shabby processes
concocted by the RTA by asking a simple question of the RTA Project Manager, a
bureaucratically droll engineer named Shane Higgins – “How was the study area for the
Woodburn to Ballina project defined?” As I work within the environmental profession I
had a good understanding of the processes entailed in defining and establishing such
study areas. I further asked, “Who prepared the study area map?” and finally “What data
sets were used to define the study area - were Digital Elevation Models (three
dimensional maps) or other data sets considered?”. To the present day I have not received
any satisfactory response to my initial questions. The best that Mr Higgins could muster
(and minuted as such) was “a RTA staff member in Sydney manually drew the line
defining the study area”.

In other sections of the upgrade, particularly where a relatively straight and safe section
of the Pacific Highway existed, the RTA has adopted a “duplication approach” as
opposed to a bypass or complete realignment. It was nothing short of bizarre that a
duplication approach had not been adopted in this area. The rationale and drivers behind
this bizarre announcement were not to become apparent for many months yet.

I also continued to question the pace at which the RTA was conducting studies (they
stated that they were intending to arrive at a preferred route within a year). For similar
sized projects elsewhere, project planning and approval through to construction had taken
anywhere from four to nine years. The RTA repeatedly maintained that they had no
funding to undertake the upgrades presently being planned and that there were many
approved projects (such as the Ballina Bypass and Bonville deviations) for which they
had no funding. This raised a swag of questions – the primary one being “Why is this
process proceeding as it is?”. If the RTA had approval for numerous other projects, yet
lacked funding to build them, why not invest the large (yet publicly unpublicised and
otherwise inaccessible) amount of money being spent on planning for yet another
unfunded project in actually building a road? After all that is what the RTA and their
engineers are supposed to do.

During the first four or five Community Liaison Group meetings I continued to
endeavour to the best of my abilities to draw the attention of RTA Project Manager Shane
Higgins, then Hyder Consultants Project Manager Allen Maccourt and Geolyse
(Ecological Subconsultants) Project Manager Brett Campbell to the national significance
of the study area, particularly the presence of the largest intact tracts of floodplain forest
in the region, their exceptional diversity including the abundance of threatened species
residing within them and their documented high level of sensitivity to disturbance.

I had met just prior to the first Community Liaison Group meeting in late 2004 with Mr
Campbell and a Department of Environment and Conservation Representative to state my
experience and knowledge of the area and to outline the significance of the area. I
continually maintained the need for greater attention to be paid to the ecology of the
study area. Under this constant pressure, Mr Higgins, his manager, Pacific Highway
Manager Mr Bob Higgins and Mr Maccourt (soon to be replaced by Mr Harry Batt as
Hyder Project Manager) agreed to inaugurate an Ecology Focus Group to engage experts
to assist in determining the ecology of the area. This focus group was composed of Shane
Higgins, Mr Scott Lawrence (RTA Pacific Highway Environment Manager), Mr Toby
Heys (RTA Assistant Project Manager), a Department of Environment and Conservation
representative, Geolyse Manager Mr Brett Campbell, a representative of Ballina Shire
and Lismore City Councils, a representative of Friends of the Koala, a Regional Orchid
Expert and three community members, myself included. All attendees at the Ecology
Focus Group (with the exception of the RTA and their consultant) repeatedly
communicated the large volume of errors within the assessments prepared by Geolyse, as
well as the incorrect conclusions being reached within this material.

After having observed and partially documented the biodiversity of the area over the
previous eight years I was widely regarded as an authority on the area. Government
agencies (including the NSW Department of Environment and Conservation/ National
Parks and Wildlife Service), conservation organisations and community group members
all sought my advice on the significance of the area. Despite articulating these concerns
repeatedly from a position of both credibility and authority, in both verbal and written
submissions, they repeatedly fell upon deaf ears. Why was this so?

Having personally reviewed all ecological project studies undertaken for the RTA by
their engineering consultants Hyder and ecological subconsultants, Geolyse, I arrived at
the substantiated conclusion that the work was of a substandard quality. It did not even
address the rudimentary requirements of a local government environmental assessment,
let alone that for a major infrastructure development project with the potential of
irreparably destroying nationally significant wetlands, heathlands and rainforests.

Upon detailed review of the assessments undertaken by Geolyse Consultants for Hyder
Consulting and hence the RTA, major errors were identified. Vegetation mapping
prepared for the project was found to be over 80% wrong, many species had been
misidentified, and completely incorrect and unjustifiable assumptions and flawed
conclusions had been reached on the basis of a non-existent reference list. Thankfully I
was not alone in identifying these flaws, the NSW Department of Environment and
Conservation (formerly NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service), NSW Department of
Primary Industries (formerly the NSW Fisheries Department), Lismore City Council,
Ballina Shire Council and the Friends of the Koala had all uncovered similar errors in
their respective reviews of the work that the RTA continued to defend as accurate. Given
that engineers were running the show and had no experience in ecological assessment,
their inability to either comprehend or respond to ecological realities was highly apparent.

Due to the massive level of error in studies prepared by Geolyse Consultants on behalf of
(and reviewed by) the RTA and the dawning realisation that the RTA intended to
desecrate what were already known to be nationally significant ecosystems, I personally
undertook to ensure that the true level of their significance would be well documented
and the information made available to the broader public. I convened a number of public
meetings in order to alert the community to the fact that a six lane freeway was proposed
to pass through bushland, farms and homes as far away as four and a half kilometres from
the existing highway.

There was immense concern over, and widespread media coverage of, the proposals
being put forward by the NSW Government to construct a freeway through pristine
mountains and valleys and over two hundred and fifty people including Greens Member
Ian Cohen, Local National Party Member Steve Cansdell and several Ballina Shire
Councillors attended a meeting at the Meerschaum Vale Hall. The Blackwall Highway
Action Group came into being. The group resolved to defend the Blackwall Range, its
residents and ecology from the horrific proposals emanating from the agents of the NSW
Government. A webpage was prepared, community barbecues staged and a concert held
and many more community members became active in their opposition of the activities of
the NSW Government.

I agreed to coordinate a detailed assessment of the biodiversity of the Blackwall Range,
Wardell Wetlands and the Tuckean Swamp on behalf of the Blackwall Highway Action
Group in order to truly document its significance, overcoming the woeful and grossly
negligent inadequacies of the work funded by the RTA. With the assistance of numerous
volunteers from the community, the consent of the vast majority of landholders in the
area and over six months of trapping, spotlighting, digging, driving looking and listening,
we were able to depict the true national and international significance of the area. Many
thousands of man-hours, tens of thousands of trapping nights and traverse of the entire
area at a very fine scale enabled the preparation of maps that were highly spatially
accurate and included details of what threatened species were present in each patch of
bush, whether it was old growth vegetation and whether it was regarded as an
Endangered Ecological Community (protected under NSW Legislation).

The exceptionally high volume and detail of field assessments and the high level of
accuracy of the work enabled the preparation of a monograph entitled “The National
Conservation Significance of the Wardell Wetlands, Tuckean Swamp and Blackwall
Range”. Numerous threatened species were found as part of the study including the
Endangered Coxen’s Fig Parrot and Bush Stone Curlew and Vulnerable species such as
the Albert’s Lyrebird, Ground Parrot, Wallum Sedge Frog and Spotted Tailed Quoll. A
total of forty eight threatened flora and fauna species were found in this study alone (with
reports of additional species by community members and local experts).

The existence of a newly discovered and highly limited species of orchid (amongst a total
of over 60), over 10% of all Australian frog species, 9 native rodents (one of the highest
recorded diversities in Australia) and the presence of the largest and most significant old
growth floodplain forests in the region was all documented. These areas were all found to
be of national conservation significance, whilst remnants of the Big Scrub in the study
area were found to meet criteria for inclusion in the World Heritage Listed Central
Eastern Rainforest Reserves of Australia. Furthermore this work was peer reviewed by
national experts, in order to ensure that the credibility and accuracy of this material had
been externally commented upon. Site visits and field inspections were also undertaken
in their company.

A summary of the key results of this assessment was delivered to the RTA along with a
review of the various ecological assessments prepared by Geolyse Consultants pointing
out the massive disparities in results and conclusions of the respective studies. The RTA
did not provide any response to this written review, nor did it address any of the large
number of flaws pointed out to it. This remains the case to the present day.

This monograph and a review of Geolyse and Hyder’s work was also presented as written
and oral evidence to the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into the Pacific Highway Upgrades
and recorded within Parliamentary Minutes (Hansard). Limited and highly selective
references to these submissions are contained in the Interim Report of the Inquiry, despite
detailing a host of massive errors and huge concerns with the handling of the matter by
the RTA.

Around the middle of 2005, when answers to so many questions about the handling by
the RTA of the Woodburn to Ballina Upgrade were being sought, indications of a larger
agenda started becoming apparent. Research by myself, as well as colleagues up and
down the coast, started to uncover parts of “the bigger picture”. An organisation called
the Transport and Tourism Forum Ltd (TTF Ltd) publicised on its webpage, “TTF has
lobbied for specific infrastructure development projects ripe for private sector
involvement – including, Pacific Highway Upgrade…” Further scrutiny of the TTF
webpage revealed statements including: “TTF has ramped up its advocacy activity in
land transport planning over the past twelve months with major lobbying and networking
programmes undertaken: *Strongly campaigned for the fast tracking of the Pacific
Highway……to be constructed as a tollroad”.
The pieces were starting to fall into place – a private tollway (akin to the disastrous
Sydney cross city tunnel) was being planned.

Who were the members of TTF Ltd? Looking further through their webpage the penny
finally dropped. TTF stated in its members’ section that it was composed of two hundred
corporations involved in infrastructure development nation-wide. The NSW Roads and
Traffic Authority and the NSW Department of Commerce proudly displayed their
corporate logo alongside such major corporations as Baulderstone Hornibrook (the
builders of the cross city tunnel), Bovis Lend Lease, Macquarie Bank, NRMA and SKM
being notable amongst many others. At last an explanation for the inconsistencies, lies
and deception and the lightning pace at which the RTA was moving.

At about this time, massive reforms to NSW planning legislation were enacted including
the commencement of Part 3A of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. Part
3A of this statute has the provision for the Minister to determine projects as being
“Critical Infrastructure” thereby circumventing detailed environmental assessments and
the requirement to undertake community consultation. These statutory reforms are
custom-designed to enable the NSW Government, in tandem with major infrastructure
development companies, to complete big infrastructure development projects in spite of
massive community opposition and with grossly inadequate assessment of their impacts.

Throughout my voluntary attendance at twelve meetings of the Community Liaison
Group, six meetings of the Ecology Focus Group, five meetings of a Flooding Focus
Group, a two day Corridor Management Workshop (read “expensive bureaucratic
junket”), a two day Value Management Workshop (read “even more expensive
bureaucratic junket”) and a NSW Legislative Council Inquiry into the Pacific Highway
Upgrade, I maintained the consistent and unwavering position that the areas of bushland,
wetlands and the adjacent Blackwall Range were of national (and in sections international)
environmental significance and that they contained habitat for many threatened species
(with over one hundred having been recorded in the area between Ballina and Woodburn).
This position remains unchanged today.

In late January 2006 and after having first brought matters of national and international
environmental significance to the attention of RTA staff and consultants as early as
November 2004 (some fourteen months prior), these matters still remain entirely
unattended and unresolved. At a meeting held yesterday between community
representatives (myself included), NSW Department of Environment and Conservation
representatives and RTA Pacific Highway Environment Manager Scott Lawrence and his
botanical consultant Dr Andrew Benwell it was concluded by Mr Lawrence and agreed
upon by Dr Benwell that “it does not matter if we got the environmental assessments
wrong, the economic considerations over-ride the environment”.

The only justification apparent for the RTA’s proposed Route 2C being so much longer
than the existing highway and across such a destructive path, is that it lines up six
quarries with the best quality shale (perfect for road construction) in the entire region.
Throughout the entire questionable process, run by engineers for the sole purpose of road
construction, engineering considerations alone are destined to lead to a permanent loss of
our society’s rapidly diminishing biodiversity and natural capital.

The RTA and their consultants are presently endeavouring to fast track, legitimise and
cover the massive volume of errors contained in their studies in an attempt to justify a
preferred route that is over two kilometres longer than the existing Woodburn to Ballina
section of the Pacific Highway, destroys what are recognised as internationally
significant rainforest areas, nationally significant old growth wetlands, as well as the
habitat of over 50 threatened species and the homes, farms, lives and livelihoods of
several hundred people who peacefully co-exist in a unique landscape matrix.

An agency composed entirely of engineers intends to use custom-tailored legislation to
enable an obscene marriage of big business and government free rein to strip several
hundred innocent people of their homes, farms and the bushland that they have proudly
maintained for generations, in order to establish a privately run six lane tollway to
appease the interests of a chronically unsustainable trucking industry. To put it mildly
this is a sickening situation.

The coming year will see several similar situations come to public prominence. The RTA
is at present undertaking planning for several other massive realignments of the Pacific
Highway. Of particular note are proposals to the North of Ballina and across the Clarence
and Macleay Floodplains, where the presence of similar nationally significant wetland
areas to those in the Woodburn to Ballina area is widely known. These projects are slated
for announcement of preferred route within the coming months.

Collectively the Upgrade of the Pacific Highway across the North Coast of NSW is the
greatest current agent of landscape change and will lead to permanent and irreversible
damage to the globally significant biodiversity of the region. Extinctions are assured at
the hands of the RTA and their private business chums. Regional and local extinctions of
already critically declining species, such as the Albert’s Lyrebird, Grey Crowned Babbler
and Spotted Tailed Quoll, will be imminent as a result of construction of Section 2C of
the Woodburn to Ballina Tollway. Of further immense concern is the last remaining
population of the Coastal Emu, which faces extinction as a result of construction of the
Clarence Valley Pacific Highway Upgrade.

If the NSW Government’s road building agency is fully prepared to trade-off an
irreplaceable natural heritage created over hundreds of millions of years for nothing but
rock, then our society has collectively reached a shameful juncture.

In the year 2006, having the full benefit of knowledge of Australia’s shameful extinction
history, why do we continue to tread the same poisoned and rutted trail of
impoverishment and permanent loss of our globally admired natural legacy?



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