The federal government’s environmental one-stop shop policy is in its final stages of approval, but many doubt the ability of the Newman Government to properly manage Queensland’s national treasures.
Giving the power away to Queensland and other states and territories will allow them to ignore national environmental standards, Greens Senator Larissa Waters said.
“I think Greg Hunt is in a state of denial if he thinks that standards will be upheld when he himself has just passed legislation through half the parliament that allows the states to effectively ignore those standards,” Senator Waters said.
The federal legislative change would hand over environmental responsibilities of national importance to the states and territories, the Department of the Environment website said.
The law would grant accreditation to Queensland’s Environment Ministry for all approvals on large coal mining and coal seam gas developments.
These decisions would have potential to impact on Australia’s water resources and Great Barrier Reef (GBR), but the new law would distance Canberra from doing anything about it.
Currently all state and territory matters of national environmental significance, such as World Heritage properties and listed threatened species, come under the Federal Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act (EPBC Act).
Federally overseeing state decisions on these matters has been essential as state and territory environmental laws vary significantly from the EPBC.
If the Abbott Government’s “one stop shop” laws pass, Queensland and other states will be required to align their environmental assessment and approval laws with the EPBC to maintain the same protection for important areas like the GBR.
The Greens and conservation groups however, argue the alignment will fall short putting conservation values under more threat.
Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s recent media statement said the one-stop policy was necessary to streamline business approvals while maintaining high environmental standards.
“The One-Stop Shop reform is about simplifying the approvals process for businesses, while still maintaining strict environmental protections. This will help to grow the economy, reduce costs for business, boost productivity and create jobs,” Minister Hunt said.
Greens Senator Larissa Waters said the Federal government should be doing more, not less at a time when Australia is facing increasing development pressures, leading to a degradation of its natural landscape.
“It is a crying shame that right when they are most needed, the Abbott government wants to give away what power it does have to actually change things around,” Senator Waters said.
One of the main issues found in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Bilateral Agreement Implementation) Bill 2014 is the lack of any detail regarding the processes and timeframes in which state and territory governments will have to bring their environment laws up to national standards in order to be accredited under the EPBC Act.
Senator Waters said states and territories will effectively be able to ignore, water down or dilute the current Federal environmental standards.
Queensland Resources Council Chief Executive Michael Roche said state environmental laws will actually strengthen due to the one-stop shop policy.
“The Queensland Government is strengthening legislative protection for the Great Barrier Reef to meet Commonwealth standards,” Mr Roche said.
“Despite increasingly hysterical claims, under the so-called one-stop shop for environmental approvals there is no reduction in environmental standards.”
Australian Conservation Foundation’s Healthy Ecosystems Campaigner Ruchira Talukdar said the state laws which are currently before the senate are not effective enough to protect Australia’s environment and biodiversity.
“Looking at the state laws that are being accredited to the bilateral agreements, the state laws are not up to standard,” Ms Talukdar said.
“National environmental laws are going to be weakened by this.”
Ms Talukdar said without higher environmental law standards, the pressure for approvals by big business will cause states to compromise their environmental standards.
“Things are fast tracked, decisions are made even when there is not enough information and these are the things that will happen more and more when the powers are handed down to the states,” Ms Talukdar said.
The Queensland Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection Andrew Powell was unavailable for comment.
Senator Waters pointed out the EPBC Act was not designed to fast track approvals or cut through “green tape”, but was enacted to protect Australia’s flora and fauna.
“Fundamentally this shouldn’t be about business convenience, this is an Act that is meant to protect Australia’s environment and biodiversity for future generations,” Senator Waters said.
Photo Mic Smith.