December 3rd 2012
Do you know what Julia Gillard is up to on Friday?
Few Australians would not feel proud today that the Franklin River was saved, that oil rigs on the Great Barrier Reef were stopped, that the Daintree and Wet Tropics World heritage Area was established to protect priceless natural treasures. But this Friday the Prime Minister is sitting down with state leaders to sign away most of the Australian government's power to stop damaging development and leave decisions up to, in Queensland's case, the Campbell Newman government. Following is an article by Jo Bragg from the Environmental Defenders Office putting the case on what this decision could lead to and what can be done to help reverse it.
Greentape, Environmental Regulation &
protecting the places we love
Would you like the pristine waters of Shoalwater Bay to be home to a large coal port? Like me, probably not. Luckily the Federal government said no to that proposal. But the Queensland government is moving to cut, restructure and weaken environmental regulations, and the Federal government plans to delegate its long held environmental powers to the Queensland government.
The Federal Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, (“EPBC Act”), provides that certain “actions” (projects or developments) require Federal approval. The Traveston Dam required Federal approval because it significantly impacted on species like the Queensland Lungfish, the Mary River Cod and the Mary River Turtle as well as RAMSAR Wetlands and World Heritage.
In 2009, after a major campaign lead by the Save the Mary River Coordinating Group, Federal Environment Minister Garrett refused to approve the project. Historically the Federal government has protected other key environmental areas when States would allow their destruction.
Think Franklin River, think Shoalwater Bay and the Alpine National Park. It is vital that the Federal government continues to have a decision-making role on projects where matters of national environment significance such as vulnerable species are at risk.
Yet the Gillard government, prompted by the COAG (Council of Australian Governments) agreement and the Business Council of Australia, has decided to make a fresh agreement with the Queensland government and delegate most decision-making power on referrals under the EPBC Act to the Queensland government.
Premier Newman slams
Federal listing of the koala as 'vulnerable'
as “mindless green tape”...
This is despite strong criticism of the Queensland environmental assessment of the Alpha mine and rail project by current Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke in July 2012, and despite Premier Newman slamming Federal listing of the koala as vulnerable under the EPBC Act as “mindless green tape” in May 2012.
The State government assumes slashing environmental regulation at a rapid speed is a high priority task, and to date has done so with very limited consultation with experienced stakeholders outside government and probably within government before planning instruments are changed or Bills go to Parliament.
For example the State Coastal Plan and sections of several regional plans concerning the coast were suspended and replaced with a Coastal Protection State Planning Regulatory Provision on 8 October 2012 without prior consultation with our office or community stakeholders on a written draft.
This might help developers who can convince the Planning Minister to let them destroy high ecological significant areas (he gets a new discretion under the changes) but it might in fact damage the tourism industry, one of the government’s “four pillars” which relies on natural beauty to attract visitors.
The law about planning and development assessment affects who can develop where, so massively impacts on the environment and needs close scrutiny in the public interest.
One change proposed in the Sustainable Planning and other Legislation Amendment Bill 2012 is to make the Chief Executive of the Department of Sustainability Development Infrastructure and Planning (DSDIP) the “single state assessment manager and referral agency” in certain circumstances.
We must protect the places we love, like Shoalwater Bay, and stop the 1132 species on the vulnerable list under the Nature Conservation Regulation 2006 from going extinct.
What you can do
You might ask, given the government’s rush to reduce regulation in Queensland, how can we protect environmental regulation? One way is to make public submissions on the Bill's introduced to Queensland Parliament,(click here)
At a Federal level the situation is at a critical level with the next Council of Australian Government’s (COAG) meeting on 7 December 2012 looking to progress the Business Advisory Forum’s “green tape reduction” agenda. The Prime Minister needs to hear from the community that handing over environmental approval powers to the Queensland government is a very bad idea.
Visit (here) and the Places You Love Facebook page (here) to see the various actions you can take right now to save the wildlife and the places we love!
Places you love
The Places You Love campaign is looking to increase its pre-COAG activity in Queensland which is critical for a number of reasons. The massive unravelling of environmental laws and protections built up over the past 20 years is happening at a frightening pace under the Newman LNP government since it came to office in March 2012.
Meanwhile Queensland is home to a number of high profile members of the Gillard Federal government including the Treasurer and Deputy Premier Wayne Swan, Minister for Trade and Competitiveness, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Asian Century Craig Emerson and former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
All three have strong associations with the Goss Labor state government which began the path toward environmental reforms following the end of the Bjelke-Petersen era in 1989.
We need to make sure they get the message that handing over federal responsibilities to the Newman government is not on. Hard copy postcards need to be distributed and signed; as well, there is an e-petition online (click here) you can sign.
If you can help support the campaign over the next few months please contact Karen Robinson on 0403 017184 or email her c/- email@example.com.
Article by Jo Bragg, Principal Solicitor EDO Qld.
Photo of Golden Bell Frog by Lance Jurd