‘Green tape’ could be cut

Green Lifestyle online

The Abbott government passed a bill through the lower house last night to allow state governments to control environmental approvals, which could put Australia’s ecosystems at risk from unsustainable development.


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A bill to downgrade federally-managed approval powers to state governments was passed through the lower house last night, ignoring the World Heritage Committee’s concerns just before some big international decisions regarding Australia’s environment this week.

Federal powers assure decision-making is not influenced by personal or company benefits, or mining royalties. The bill that passed the lower house last night also includes a clause that states could pass responsibilities onto the local-government level as well.

The bill comes at a time when the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) meets this week, with part of the agenda to discuss controversial changes to the World Heritage levels of protection offered for Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and a large swathe of wilderness area in south-west Tasmania.

The World Heritage Committee released a draft decision a year ago warning that a hasty handover of federal approval powers to the states could have a detrimental effect on the Great Barrier Reef.

Australian Greens environment spokesperson, Larissa Waters is concerned, saying, “Tony Abbott is ignoring this international expert concern and forging ahead with his plan to give state premiers the final say over destructive projects threatening our World Heritage Areas and threatened species."

“Leaving the fate of the Great Barrier Reef in the hands of Queensland’s Premier Campbell ‘we’re in the coal business’ Newman would put this already struggling World Heritage Area in grave danger.”

The bill’s passing is part of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s aim to “cut the green tape”.

While Abbott calls this ‘green tape’, The Australian Conservation Foundation’s healthy ecosystems campaigner, Ruchira Talukdar, tells Green Lifestyle that she sees federal management as an essential safeguard.

“The laws that protect Australia’s most significant environmental assets – our World Heritage areas, precious water resources, internationally significant floodplains and threatened species – are not pesky ‘tape’, they are essential safeguards for our life support systems,” says Talukdar.

In a world-first for any country to strip federal environmental controls, many environment groups claim that the new bill could mean a free-for-all approach is taken to new developments, with potentially harmful decisions no longer being approved by qualified environmental scientists.

Senator Waters says that “federal environmental approval powers have been in place for more than 30 years and saved the Reef from being scarred with oil rigs in Bjelke-Petersen era”.

Such high-level environmental management – of various political persuasions throughout Australia’s history – has also helped to end sand-mining on Fraser Island, and prevent the damming of the Franklin River in Tasmania.

Further, John Howard’s introduction of the federal Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act in 1999 recognised that the environment doesn’t stop at our state borders, protecting the Great Barrier Reef and forests in Queensland, and the Murray-Darling Basin as a whole.

Talukdar warns that, “States are often the proponents of projects currently referred to the federal Environment Minister under the EPBC Act, making state governments unable to make impartial decisions in the national interest”.

“Big resource extraction projects – like those proposed and underway in the Galilee Basin – should be scrutinised at both state and federal levels, not fast-tracked without proper examination from the national government,” said Talukdar.

“With Tony Abbott’s bill to put the states or even local governments in charge, environmental standards would drop and the fox would be in charge of the hen house,” Senator Waters said.

“The Greens will do everything we can in the Senate to see this retrograde step to unwind federal environment protection blocked.”

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