Environmental Law Australia

Paradise Dam case

This case involved an application by the Wide Bay Burnett Conservation Council (WBBCC) for a declaration and an injunction to restrain an alleged contravention of an approval under the EPBC Act for the Paradise Dam.

The Paradise Dam (previously called the “Burnett River Dam”) is a major dam with a storage capacity of 300,000 megalitres constructed on the lower Burnett River approximately 80 km southwest of Bundaberg in Queensland.

The respondent to the litigation was Burnett Water Pty Ltd, which owned and operated the dam.

The Burnett River contains one of only two known endemic populations of the Australian or Queensland lungfish, a species that is well over 100 million years old, and listed as vulnerable to extinction under the EPBC Act.

The Paradise Dam was approved in 2002 and in 2003 the conditions of the approval were varied to include the following condition:

3. Burnett Water Pty Ltd must install a fish transfer device on the Burnett River Dam suitable for the lungfish. The fishway will commence when the dam becomes operational.

Burnett Water Pty Ltd installed an upstream fishway and separate downstream fishway on the dam but WBBCC alleged these were not “suitable for lungfish”. A series of pictures showing the dam and the fishways is available here.

The dam was explained with maps, pictures and some footage of the fishways in a 2020 lecture about water law in Queensland available at this link:

The trial was orginally listed for 4 weeks commencing on 7 September 2009 but on the first day of the hearing it was adjourned until 9 November 2009 after the respondent applied to the Federal Environment Minister to amend the condition on which the case is based. The Minister subsequently refused to amend the condition.

The proceedings commenced in late 2008 and the trial was held on 9 – 23 November 2009. Due to the illness of one of the witnesses, it was adjourned part-heard until 1 February 2010. The judgment was reserved for over a year before being delivered on 4 March 2011. The Court dismissed the application.

Major structural problems with dam

In 2019 the Queensland Government announced that it would reduce the height of the dam by 5 m due to serious structural problems in the design and construction of the dam that left it at risk of structural failure threatening downstream communities such as Bundaberg in a major flood event.

In 2020, the dam wall was lowered by 5.8m due to these safety concerns. Early work on returning the wall to its original height began in 2023, with the state and federal government both committing to funding half of the $1.2 billion project. Major work was due to start in 2024.

But, in early 2024, SunWater revealed the dam’s safety issues cannot be fixed and wall will need to be completely rebuilt.

Key documents

EPBC Act referral

Originating process & pleadings 

Motion for stay

Motion for discovery

Evidence for motion

Motion for particulars

Motion to strike-out discretionary factors

Defence to Amended SoC and Reply


Amended Application & pleadings

Expert reports tendered at trial by WBBCC


Exhibits tendered at trial

  • Exhibit 3 – Maps showing location of Paradise Dam
  • Exhibit 4 – Graphs of percentage of total time the Paradise Dam upstream and downstream fishways operated between 28 November 2005 and 24 May 2009 based on particulars provided by Burnett Water Pty Ltd on 11 June 2009.
  • Exhibit 82 – Joint expert report on lungfish

Note: Over 4000 documents were disclosed by the parties prior to the trial. These were reduced to an Agreed Bundle of 800 documents for the trial (printed in 15 volumes).

Of these, 105 exhibits were tendered at trial in addition to scores of documents annexed to witness statements. Many of these documents are not published here because they remain subject to copyright.

Trial decision

Subsequent monitoring reports

Following the conclusion of the litigation subsequent monitoring of the dam and fishways showed high lungfish mortality in flood events and ongoing lack of operation of the fishways: