Jam Land, the company part-owned by the energy minister, Angus Taylor, and his brother, Richard, has sought a ministerial review of an order to restore native habitat after it was found to have illegally poisoned critically endangered grasslands.
Last month, the federal environment department concluded a three-and-a-half-year investigation and ordered the company to remediate 103 hectares on a property in the New South Wales Monaro region.
The department said the company was now appealing that decision and had sought a ministerial review of the determination.
The review will be conducted by a departmental delegate for the environment minister, Sussan Ley, not by the minister directly.
Angus Taylor is a shareholder in Jam Land, via his family company Gufee, and his brother, Richard, is one of Jam Land’s directors.
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.
The department’s investigation concluded Jam Land illegally used herbicide on up to 28.5 hectares of the critically endangered natural temperate grassland of the south-eastern highlands on a property in Corrowong in NSW on or about 30 October 2016.
Under national environment laws, the company has 20 days to seek a ministerial review of the decision. It may also seek an appeal through the federal court.
Richard Taylor, one of Jam Land’s directors, confirmed the company had sought a ministerial review.
“I don’t want to go into the facts of the case,” he said.
“But I will say we have always been very upfront that no one in the Monaro agricultural community knew anything about this listing (of the grasslands under national environmental law).”
“The reasons this is such a big issue is that the definitions of grasslands [in the listing] cover large areas of agricultural land in the Monaro. We see it as a huge overreach.
“When the department came down we told them they had just driven down dozens of paddocks containing the grasslands. They can’t have it both ways. It can’t be endangered and also affecting so many farmers.”
Richard Taylor said the reason why Jam Land had been investigated was because there had been a complaint, and that there was no proactive enforcement by the department.
“This is a major issue for Monaro farmers and to suggest otherwise is just wrong,” he said.
A spokesman for Ley said: “In accordance with the normal course of compliance activities the review decision will be made under delegation by the department.”
A spokesman for Angus Taylor said the department’s decision “is a matter for Jam Land”.
“Minister Taylor has no direct or controlling interest in the company,” he said.
A Guardian Australia investigation 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.
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.
Both he and Frydenberg have said the meeting was focused on the “technical aspects” of the grasslands listing.
Frydenberg’s office sought advice from his department about whether protection for the grasslands could be weakened in secret. Departmental emails also show Frydenberg sought urgent information about the investigation after it was raised in parliament by an unnamed person.
Notes from a senior official suggest Frydenberg later indicated he was “keen to see [if] he can accommodate Angus Taylor’s requests” and asked his department for a “how to guide” on changing laws designed to protect the grasslands. The documents do not make clear what Taylor’s requests were.
Neither minister has said what Taylor’s “requests” to Frydenberg were but Taylor’s spokesman has said the minister “has never asked Mr Frydenberg to change laws governing the clearing of native grasslands”.
The department’s investigation found the use of the poison had a significant impact on the critically endangered grasslands. It found that Jam Land did not refer the activity to the environment minister for consideration and that, at no point, had approval been granted for use of the herbicide.
A spokesperson for the environment department said it had “received a request from Jam Land seeking a ministerial review of the remediation determination”.
“While the matter is under review, the department will not comment on this matter,” the spokesperson said.
Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, Jam Land can also appeal to the federal court either within 28 days of the determination or following a ministerial review if it affirms or varies the department’s decision.