The following article appears on the Brisbane Line. This is the e-bulletin of The Brisbane Institue, an independent organisation funded by a cross-section of universities, government departments, corporations and individuals. The Institute is a generator of ideas and facilitates discussion.

The common threat to the sustainability of the planet's biodiversity is the impact of Homo sapiens. Nowhere else in Australia has this impact been as pronounced in recent times as in South East Queensland.

It can only become more pronounced with an additional million plus people making the region their home in the next 20 years.

Tamborine Mountain, which has been described as a 'national treasure' has long been a battleground between developers and conservationists.


Tamborine Mountain is an undulating plateau behind the Gold Coast, at an elevation of 500 to 550 metres, surrounded by a largely uninhabited and heavily wooded  escarpment containing subtropical rainforest. It has more than 1,000,000 visitors a year, most of them from South East Queensland.

The plateau, a maximum 8km long and 4km wide, comprises a complete miniature landscape with three village areas and a number of residential estates surrounded by a countryside of orchards, pastures, rainforest patches and wildlife corridors.

There can be few places of relatively modest altitude which not only command such immense and varied allround views, but also can be clearly seen from all directions both near and far.

What makes Tamborine Mountain immeasurably more attractive is its biodiversity which is on a par with that of nearby World Heritage-listed Areas. It contains 60% of the Gold Coast Region’s terrestrial fauna species and 80% of its flora species, as well as more frog species than the whole of Canada. The fact that the biodiversity exists cheek by jowl with a community of over 6,500 people makes it even more remarkable. Add the realisation that the biodiversity is likely to be unsustainable – even before the SEQ Regional Plan, the Mountain’s forecast population was 9,500 – and it becomes even more precious.

Thus, the fate of Tamborine Mountain’s outstanding biodiversity is a global environmental story of our times. The common threat to the sustainability of the planet’s biodiversity is the impact of Homo sapiens on the earth.

Nowhere else in Australia has this impact been as pronounced in recent times as in South East Queensland and the impact will only be more pronounced with an additional 1,000,000 plus people making the region their home in the next 20 years.

Tamborine Mountain, which has been described in an article by Phil Dickie as a ‘national treasure’, has long been a battle ground between developers and conservationists. The provision for special facilities rezoning, which effectively allowed developers to drive a coach and horses through the 1985 Tamborine Mountain Development Control Plan (DCP), resulted in the approval of hundreds of new building blocks, with no regard as to whether such an increase was ecologically sustainable.

So when State Government’s attempt at regional planning, SEQ 2001, with its proposal for a Regional Open Space System (ROSS) was published in March 1994, the conservationists on the Mountain took heart. The ROSS, in formally acknowledging Tamborine Mountain’s scenic and environmental value to the State and region, not only came as long sought and welcome confirmation of the conservationists’ views on the Mountain’s environmental importance, it also encouraged them into thinking that at last something would be done to stop the developers.

After all SEQ 2001 identified Tamborine Mountain as a core area in the ROSS, as part of one of the ‘corridor’ elements and as one of 3 new Regional Recreation Parks modeled on Brisbane Forest Park. Moreover the ROSS had funding for land acquisition, which, notably, was true of none of its successors.

Although negotiations took place over a prominent parcel of land on the plateau, values on the Mountain were simply too high. State Government could get more bang for its bucks by acquiring land elsewhere, which it did.

Given that the Mountain’s projected population at the time was over 9,000, with glib talk of it being potentially over 10,000, maybe State Government concluded that Tamborine Mountain was already stuffed. The hopes of the conservationists were dashed and the developers continued to gain approval for their subdivision applications.

The ROSS did not make it to the May 1998 version of SEQ 2001, having been killed off in 1996 by a scare campaign by landowners who mischievously claimed that the ROSS would result in them losing control over their land. It was replaced by the Regional Landscape Strategy (RLS) which contained broad objectives but scant detail, conspicuously failing to mention any of the region’s places at all. The only funding was for running the Regional Landscape Unit.

It was the long overdue gazettal of a new Tamborine Mountain DCP in 1997 which, by doubling the minimum lot size in certain key areas on the plateau and throughout the escarpment,  eventually led to a halt to high density subdivision on the Mountain. Or so it seemed, but that was before the Integrated Planning Act (IPA) took effect. Doubling the minimum lot size did not provide the hoped for protection from development on the escarpment after all.  

IPA was seen as a crucial means of speeding up the devlopment process, to the extent of exempting a range of development applications from the need for public notification, thereby stifling public comment, which is what occurred on the escarpment. The reality has been that successive State Governments have been seduced all along by the mantra of development and growth above everything else and their regional plans are all about helping to make this happen.

The main reason for creating the SEQ Regional Plan was to legislate changes to IPA because IPA’s purpose is to speed up the development process in Queensland, not to limit where development can occur. The Draft SEQ Regional Plan, produced by the newly created Office of Urban Management (OUM), was rushed into being in October 2004, its primary function being to limit the urbanisation of SEQ’s open space. Whatever State Government might claim, the SEQ Regional Plan is certainly not about protecting SEQ’s biodiversity for present and future generations.

With the painful benefit of hindsight, what the OUM served up to the Tamborine Mountain community in the Draft Plan, an Urban Footprint covering the northern half of the plateau and the maximum protection from subdivision everywhere else, was an inexcusable failure by the OUM planners to do their work. Following a meeting with OUM officials, office holders of  community organisations representing conservationists, developers and those in between, were encouraged to propose modifications to the Draft Plan, the implication being that a much reduced Urban Footprint was achievable.

What seemed to be on offer was the chance, once and for all, to draw a line under contested development applications on the Mountain. Deliberations were intense, protracted and frequently acrimonious. Consensus was achieved on a reduced Urban Footprint  and on the need for the escarpment to be fully protected. Agreement could not be reached on the balance of the land on the plateau.

The Regional Plan published in June 2005 contained at least as large an Urban Footprint as the Draft Plan, but centered on the 3 village areas. The escarpment received the desired protection, but the pro-development minority view prevailed on the balance of the land on the plateau. In effect, most of the plateau is governed by the local planning document with a life of about 8 years and not by the Regional Plan with a life of 20 years.

The fear amongst the Mountain’s conservationists is that the large Urban Footprint will energise developers  anew and undo the good which the 1997 DCP was able to accomplish before IPA exposed its limitations.

Peter Kuttner        May 2006