Dog owner fined for attack on seal at Long Reef – NSW Land & Environment Court's head Judge Quashes dogs being on-leash or off-leash on Station Beach, barrenjoey
Council has announced this week that a 47-year-old Dee Why man has been fined $1320 for allegedly allowing his off-leash dog to attack an Australian fur seal in the Long Reef Aquatic Reserve, a no dogs area.
Photos of the attack, forwarded to Pittwater Online by a witness, and posted by Pittwater Online News on its Facebook platform page and in a subsequent report run in Issue 473, helped identify the dog’s owner.
NPWS Manager Sydney North, Chad Weston, said this week “The National Parks and Wildlife Service is also investigating as people getting closer than 40 metres to seals on land can be fined up to $3300.’’
All Australian marine mammals are protected under NSW laws.
All dogs are protected too, from cruelty and irresponsible dog ownership.
The seal incident is the second dog fight event to be sent into Pittwater Online this week. Reports from witnesses state that an altercation took place between two male dog-owners on Station Beach, Palm Beach, on Thursday November 12th in which a man with a dog off-leash and a man with a dog on-leash devolved into violence over one requesting the other to put his dog on a leash as it was lunging at and on his own. Those present had to pull the two apart as ‘’the fight went on and on’’, one witness stating the two adult men ended up on the ground, with one bleeding.
On contacting the Northern Beaches PAC for confirmation, the police said in a statement;
‘’About 5.45pm on Thursday 12 November 2020, two men were walking their dogs on Station Beach, Palm Beach, when they were involved in an altercation and one of the men, aged 67, was allegedly assaulted.
Officers from Northern Beaches Police Area Command were notified and have commenced an investigation.’’
This dog fight follows on from another earlier this year in which a gentleman north of The Boathouse on Station Beach was attacked by an off-leash dog, resulting in chunks of skin being torn from his arm.
On Friday, November 20th, the Land and Environment court case brought against Council by a Palm Beach residents organisation regarding the Station Beach dogs on the beach ‘trial’ received a judgement by the Hon. Justice Preston that confirmed what Council’s own REF, contracted for and drafted and then made available to residents after the initial consultation, had pointed out in black and white.
The Hon. Justice Preston’s ruling quashes both on-leash and off-leash dogs being on this beach.
The Hon. Justice Preston is the Chief Judge of the Land and Environment Court in New South Wales.
In response to the judgement the resident’s organisation said in a statement;
‘’The Palm Beach Protection Group today welcomed the decision by the NSW Land and Environment Court that Northern Beaches Council failed to adequately consider the environmental impacts of off-leash and on-leash dogs on Station Beach.
In Hon Justice B.J. Preston's decision, handed down today, the NSW Land and Environment Court has declared the Council’s decisions of 27 August 2019 and 17 December 2019, which purported to authorise an off-leash dog trial for 12 months on Station Beach and, by the December decision, purported to permit dogs on-leash on Station Beach, invalid and has quashed those decisions.
The Court’s decision validates the Palm Beach Protection Group's claim that in making its decisions for on-leash and off-leash dog access to Station Beach, the Northern Beaches Council had failed in its duty to consider to the fullest extent possible the environmental impact of the activity. Justice Preston plainly stated in his decision that "allowing dogs on-leash at Station Beach… is likely to significantly affect the environment," further noting that the Council's decisions were inconsistent with the protective and mitigative measures stated in the Review of Environmental Factors (REF). The decision further notes that there is "no evidence that dogs on-leash will have less impact than dogs off-leash", refuting Council's assertion that a dog on-leash is a mitigation measure.
Station Beach is home to the largest seagrass community in the Pittwater estuary, which includes the threatened Posidonia australis seagrass population that nurtures a diverse habitat of marine life, including the threatened White's seahorse.
The Palm Beach Protection Group has long argued that the fragile nature of Station Beach means it is unsuitable for dog use due to the likelihood of significant environmental harm.
Today’s Court ruling highlights how Council failed to conduct satisfactory environmental assessments on their on-leash and off-leash decisions by not undertaking an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for both activities. The Court notes that the Council failed completely to assess any environmental risks for the on-leash activity on Station Beach. ‘’
In his ruling, the Hon. Justice B.J. Preston said:
“I find on the evidence that the Council, in its consideration of the activity of allowing dogs on Station Beach, did not examine or take into account to the fullest extent possible all matters affecting or likely to affect the environment by reason of the activity”.
As part of the decision, Justice Preston has deferred making any prohibitory or mandatory injunctions until the Palm Beach Protection Group and Northern Beaches Council have had an opportunity to put on written submissions and address the Court orally (if required). These submissions will be filed over the coming weeks.
Given Station Beach's environmental sensitivities, the Palm Beach Protection Group has stated it will continue in its quest to protect and preserve Station Beach for future generations.
Below is a summary of the court’s decision, with a link to the full court ruling.
Summary Decision: Palm Beach Protection Group Incorporated v Northern Beaches Council  NSW/LEC 156
(1) Declares that Northern Beaches Council has breached s 5.5(1) of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 (the EPA Act) in considering and determining to approve on 17 December 2019 the activity of allowing dogs on-leash at Station Beach, Palm Beach by not examining and taking into account to the fullest extent possible all matters affecting or likely to affect the environment by reason of that activity;
(2) Declares that Northern Beaches Council has breached s 5.7(1) of the EPA Act in granting approval on 27 August 2019 to the activity of conducting the dog off-leash area trial at Station Beach, Palm Beach for a period of 12 months, without having obtained or been furnished with, and having examined and considered, an environmental impact statement in respect of that activity;
(3) Declares that Northern Beaches Council has breached s 5.7(1) of the EPA Act by:
(a) not determining whether the activity of allowing dogs on-leash at Station Beach, Palm Beach, is likely to significantly affect the environment;
(b) granting approval on 17 December 2019 to the activity of allowing dogs on-leash at Station Beach, Palm Beach, without having obtained or been furnished with, and having examined and considered, an environmental impact statement in respect of that activity;
(4) Declares invalid, and quashes, the decision of Northern Beaches Council made on 27 August 2019 to conduct a dog off-leash area trial at Station Beach, Palm Beach for 12 months;
(5) Declares invalid, and quashes, the decision of Northern Beaches Council made on 17 December 2019 to allow dogs on-leash at Station Beach, Palm Beach;
(6) Directs the parties to file and serve submissions on the orders that the parties contend the Court should make by way of prohibitory or mandatory injunctions (if any) in accordance with the following timetable:
(a) The applicant to file and serve its submissions by 27 November 2020;
(b) The respondent to file and serve its submissions by 4 December 2020;
(c) The applicant to file and serve its submissions in reply by 11 December 2020;
(7) Grants leave to each party to relist the matter in order to fix a date for a hearing if a party wishes to have a hearing on the issue of the injunctive orders the Court should make.
(8) Orders the respondent to pay the applicant’s costs of the proceedings.
The full decision is available from the NSW Caselaw Website.
A statement on this matter was sought from Council on Friday. The reply;
‘’The judgement was handed down this morning by the Land and Environment Court and Council is reviewing and considering the decision. ‘’
The Applicants have not indicated what the total costs of the proceedings are as yet but commented that they are ‘very significant’.
Combined with the costs of the studies undertaken by council for the Station Beach ‘trial’, the costs of the ‘vote as many times as you like’ consultation process, the environmental destruction and already clear loss of wildlife on Station Beach, literally hounded from where it lives, and thousands of ratepayers from Manly to Palm Beach now openly expressing complete dissatisfaction with the lack of action on dogs off-leash on every beach, all the time, despite clear signage these are no dogs areas, the tally for usurping public space for private use has become disproportionately expensive.
It is anticipated that the dog lobbyist group will advocate to council that an appeal be lodged against the decision and continue to push for dogs off-leash on all local beaches, as indicated by the recent proposal placed into council through Pittwater Councillors Ferguson, McTaggart and White for Mona Vale Beach and North Palm Beach to be given over to the dogs off-leash lobbyists. Feasibility studies, and how this ‘could be done’, uncosted as yet, will come back to a future Council Meeting for Councillors to vote on.
As protected seals, turtles and penguins, along with protected permanent and migratory shore birds, either live here or frequent the whole of the northern beaches from Barrenjoey Headland to Manly and the Pittwater estuary and Narrabeen Lagoon, and much is being invested into restoring seagrass off our coasts along with beach and bush reserves, forwarding proposals for dogs off-leash on all beaches, where children play and visitors gather, may be viewed circumspectly by residents, among these many an owner of a much loved dog.