The beautiful native brolga is set to star in cover-up claims laid before the Victorian anti-corruption watchdog, after police referred allegations that brolga data went missing or was ignored when the state bureaucracy was considering permit applications for two wind farms.
The Chepstowe wind farm, a three-turbine project near Ballarat, and the 63-turbine Mt Gellibrand project near Colac, have persistently struck roadblocks in the years since they were first announced.
Now long-running allegations relating to environmental studies completed for their permit approvals have been handed to the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission by Victoria Police detectives.
Hamish Cumming, a mechanical engineer and farmer whose Darlington property is near two other proposed wind farm projects, alleges incorrect information about the brolgas flocking and nesting near Chepstowe and Mt Gellibrand was knowingly provided to and accepted by the Department of Sustainability and Environment (now Department of Environment and Primary Industries), with staff gagged if they expressed concern.
Detective Senior Constable Wayne Ryan wrote to Mr Cumming last month to inform him the police would not investigate but had referred the case to IBAC. “The entire matter has been forwarded to IBAC for their opinion/investigation,” he said. “The authority that should have challenged the reports submitted to the planning authority is the DEPI.
“If there is corrupt activity being undertaken . . . then IBAC is the appropriate body to undertake that investigation.”
Detective Ryan said he had forwarded documentation provided by Mr Cumming to IBAC.
An IBAC spokeswoman said it would not comment on whether it would investigate because of ‘‘legal and operational reasons.’’
A DEPI spokeswoman said the department would cooperate with any external investigation.
Planning Minister Matthew Guy approved the Chepstowe wind farm in 2011, three months after he used his powers to call it in from Victoria’s planning tribunal.
At the time, he said the decision responded to concerns raised about potential impacts on local brolgas. The Mt Gellibrand wind farm received approval for 116 turbines in 2006 but was later sold and a new permit granted for 63 turbines in 2012.
Birds have persistently proved problematic for Victorian wind farm developers, with an application for the Bald Hills wind farm temporarily stymied after the Howard government declared it would threaten the critically endangered orange-bellied parrot.
DSE guidelines specify wind turbines should be at least 3.2km from brolga nests and 5km from roosting sites. Mr Cumming said he believed senior bureaucrats had been pressured into overlooking the brolga information.
“We’ve got DSE by the short and curlies well and truly now because we’ve proved data has been removed, we’ve proved they’ve gagged staff,” he said. “I’ve had five (DSE) guys come to me and say they’ve been gagged.
“People are just covering their backsides. It’s fraud on a grand scale,” Mr Cumming said.