NSW Garrett vs Freeman- local councillor fined for poor decision

A unique and defining court case in NSW sees heavy fines imposed on a local Councillor for breaching of environmental legislation requirements.

Freeman, the Director of Infrastructure at Port Macquarie-Hastings Council has just been fined $57,000 and ordered to pay over $150,000 costs for two offences under the National Parks and Wildlife Act. The Council was fined almost a quarter of a million dollars.

Despite a plea by Freeman that he had not been trained in environmental impact assessment, Justice Lloyd found that, more likely than not, he was aware of the offence, which caused damage to the habitat of three threatened species. It has been maintained that there are a number of "trip wires" that would trigger EIA along the way and that "these new procedures ensure that a person who plans to undertake an activity is accountable within the council’s management systems".

The seriousness of the offence is reflected in the Court's statement that "There is ... a need for general deterrence in this case to ensure that other local government authorities are not tempted to circumvent the requirement to obtain a permit prior to carrying out works which have the potential to significantly affect the biodiversity of fish and aquatic vegetation".

In a separate matter, EIANZ is calling for better government recognition of the CEnvP process, and the strict adherence to nominal codes of ethics for those who make decisions or provide advice in relation to environmental matters (read "Should I be Certified"). Although this landmark case reveals the need for better standards of training, unless this is done in accordance with the guidance from a professional institution such as EIANZ this may not be enough to guarantee accordance with both the requirements and the principles of independent environmental best practice.

Thanks to members of the Ecological Association of New South Wales for bringing this article to light.
Read the full case notes here.

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