Reason 5 why the Cth should not devolve environmental approval powers to the States: Transfer of Cth enviro powers to states – is it really good for business?

Setting national rules and standards across all sorts of spheres of life has been a trend for decades and it has been at Federal Government level that leadership has often been wielded. As far as business is concerned the long-term trend is to seek national arrangements over disparate State and Territory regimes. Higher education, corporations law, taxation, workplace relations are all examples of this tendency.  In a globalised world, the Commonwealth is the crucial and necessary link between local business realities and the world.  Why would it make sense for environmental regulation go the other way? Why devolve the practical administration of national environmental questions to what will continue to be disparate, uneven and clumsy State systems.

The likely upshot of the COAG environmental ‘green tape’ proposals is not nationally harmonised, strong and efficient national laws but a blancmange of administrative schemes in each State and Territory, each embarking on some approximation of the national environmental assessment and approvals system, under the brief of disparate local agencies and departments who have many other things on their plate. We think it’s likely that these arrangements will actually slow things down. Further, consider also the proposal from the Commonwealth for piecemeal, ‘progressive accreditation’ of State and Territory systems. In that case, business might find itself having to shuttle between accredited State laws and State laws that have not yet been accredited and thus require referral to the Commonwealth. Better hope your big corporate law team have a good map and compass!

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