Federal Government sets the stage for uncertainty on environmental approvals
The Federal Government’s plan to hand environmental approval powers to the states will create economic uncertainty and a patchwork regulatory approach.
The Places You Love Alliance, which represents 40 environment and community groups from around the country, meets with major parties in Canberra today to insist the Government retain its environmental approval obligations.
“Australia is headed toward a patchwork regulatory system where each of the states and territories administers different approvals processes. It’s a backward approach, and perplexing policy given the call for national harmonisation in so many other areas of regulation,” said Dermot O’Gorman, CEO of WWF-Australia.
“Legislative and policy frameworks at the state-level are simply inadequate. Asking the states to take sole responsibility for assessing and approving projects that have serious environmental impacts is a recipe for disaster,” said Mr O’Gorman.
The Federal Government is looking to relinquish its approval and assessment responsibilities under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). The Federal Government reviews proposals where projects involve ‘Matters of National Environmental Significance’. These laws only come into play in relation to projects that have significant impacts on our most important places and wildlife.
CEO of Birdlife Australia Paul Sullivan encouraged the Federal Government to retain responsibility for final approval. “Currently the Federal Government only has a role where projects impact our most important places and wildlife. These impacts transcend borders and cannot be handballed to the states.”
“Australians work best when they work together. We can have good environmental protection and efficient regulation; evidence shows the vast majority of projects referred for federal review under the Act have been decided within weeks,” said Mr Sullivan.
Conflict of interest comes into play when the States are assessing and approving projects. They or their agencies are sometimes the proponents, they rely on significant royalties from mining and energy projects and they frequently draw political capital from major project approvals.
Humane Society International Director, Michael Kennedy said state decisions require scrutiny. “State processes are inherently compromised especially when there are multi-billion dollar mining royalties on the table.”
“The Queensland Government is looking at plans to ship uranium through the Great Barrier Reef, and dump dredge spoil in a World Heritage area. Millions of tonnes of coal will also be shipped through the Reef and port developments are occurring along the entire coast,” said Mr Kennedy.
The Places You Love alliance urges the Government to retain its responsibility to safeguard our most important places and wildlife.