Senate debates destruction of Australia’s environmental law
In the Senate today the country’s foremost environmental legislation has its last chance to survive the government’s proposed leap backwards. The Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill is up for its final debate this afternoon, and it is likely that it will pass with the suggestions of the opposition and minor parties, and the concerns of 137 private individuals and community groups completely ignored.
The government’s proposed amendments sacrifice the scientific objectivity that has been the hallmark of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act and put the protection of Australia’s natural environment at the whim of the Minister for the Environment.
“Perhaps most significantly, with climate change finally making headlines and swaying political decisions, these amendments completely ignore the reality of climate change and its impacts, and neglect to declare it a matter of national environmental significance. Together with water (which has also been ignored in the amendments), climate change is probably the most significant environmental issue under discussion at the moment, and a critical opportunity will be lost if the government fails to implement a climate change trigger” said Michael Kennedy, Humane Society International (HSI) Director.
“The EPBC Act as it stands has allowed Australia to claim a leading place in world environmental legislation. These amendments take us, as a country, back to the 1980’s in terms of public access to the courts, as well as ignoring the need for scientific objectivity when dealing with environmental issues,” added Mr. Kennedy. “By giving up these fundamentals, the government has signalled a retreat to the days of unparalleled executive power and equally restricted public rights”.
HSI has engaged with the Government over the EPBC Act since its development and passing in 1999. The failings that it has encountered are not the fault of the law but the paltry resources given to the Department of Environment and Heritage for implementation of the Act.
“Today’s Senate debate represents our last chance to avoid the destruction of best practice legislation, and its replacement with a subjective over-extension of ministerial powers. We have to hope that the Commonwealth Government can finally put its duty ahead of cost-cutting and political compromising” said Mr. Kennedy.