Science that stands in the way of any commercial operation is not to be listened to.
Queensland Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney has intervened to force the removal of all references to climate change-derived sea level rises from the regional plan of Moreton Bay Regional Council, a decision experts say could have wide ramifications.
In a letter to the council dated November 28, Mr Seeney wrote: “I direct council to amend its draft planning scheme to remove any assumption about a theoretical projected sea level rise from all and any provision of the scheme.”
The council is obliged by law to obey the direction.
Councils across Queensland are now worried they could face huge liabilities for failing to take climate change into consideration in local planning, and the Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) has sought legal advice on their behalf.
Some of the biggest coastal councils including Brisbane, Sunshine Coast and Townsville have also incorporated the same assumption of a 0.8-metre rise in sea level by the year 2100 that Mr Seeney has ordered be removed in Moreton Bay.
The ABC understands the LGAQ today wrote to Mr Seeney seeking clarification of the implications for other councils, with particular concerns about future liabilities and insuring council assets.
The Council of Mayors of south-east Queensland also plans to write to the Deputy Premier with similar concerns.
On coming to office, the LNP removed a Bligh government requirement for councils to incorporate the 0.8-metre rise in sea level, putting itself at odds with the insurance industry and the majority of scientific opinion.
Moreton Bay Regional Council, which takes in many low-lying coastal suburbs north-west of Brisbane as well as parts of Bribie Island, had retained the sea level rise in its planning policies despite direct appeals from Mr Seeney.
Seeney intervened to ‘ensure rights of residents’
At a council meeting held today to discuss Mr Seeney’s direction, a report in the agenda noted that the Deputy Premier had previously called two meetings with the council to discuss the issue.
“Council noted the Deputy Premier’s concerns but indicated the inclusion of climate change factors, including sea level rise, based on the best scientific and technical information available to the council, was necessary in order to protect the council against legal liability,” the report said.
Mr Seeney told the ABC he had intervened “to ensure residents’ rights to build and develop their properties were maintained and not restricted by their local council”.
He said the Moreton Bay Regional Council’s decision to include the 0.8-metre sea level rise in their planning scheme had prompted complaints to council and the State Government and angry public meetings.
“Local member Lisa France was invited to attend these meetings and, on behalf of her constituents, brought the issue to my attention,” he said.
“I am prepared to protect the property rights of Queenslanders in other council areas should this issue arise again.”
Climate change intervention looks ideological: adviser
Dr Justine Bell, an expert on climate change adaptation in the University of Queensland’s law school, said the Moreton Bay move could have state-wide implications.
“We’re going to have more development in hazardous areas and more people who are going to be affected by sea level rise,” she said.
Dr Bell said Moreton Bay Regional Council had taken a “brave” stance on climate change in the face of the Government’s policies.
Councils in Townsville and the Whitsundays had also incorporated the 0.8-metre sea level rise prediction in their plans and would now be concerned, she said.
However, Dr Bell noted that Mr Seeney’s ruling “seemed like a bit of a backflip” after a letter from the Deputy Premier to Moreton Bay Mayor Allan Sutherland in January said “each coastal local government should proceed to determine the extent of coastal hazards in the manner that it considers appropriate and plan accordingly”.
Dr Bell said the decision to intervene put the state at risk of increasing its liability by making it more likely that development would take place in hazardous locations.
Donovan Burton, who advises governments, NGOs and companies on how to adapt to the effects of climate change, said the intervention “looked ideological” and would create liabilities for future generations.
Mr Donovan said even the 0.8-metre prediction of the Bligh government was “conservative” and lower than that of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
LGAQ president Margaret de Wit said there needed to be consistency “for all of the coastal councils”.
“We have obtained legal advice which we have passed onto those councils, including Moreton Bay Regional Council,” she said.
“The new planning development act the State Government is creating means the issue will be dealt with, but at the moment that’s only a bill.
“Moreton Bay Regional Council has been very concerned about the directions they have received. Councils in Queensland don’t have the level of indemnity of councils in other states, the same degree of protection.”