Reason 8 why the Cth should not devolve environmental approval powers to the States: it reduces accountability

*In breaking news this morning, the Prime Minister is reconsidering her plans to delegate Commonwealth environmental approvals powers to the States.

Another reassurance from the Commonwealth on this topic is that they claim that they can always retract an accreditation of an approvals process under the EPBC Act in certain instances if they are unhappy with how a given State or Territory is using those powers.

However, history has shown that once entered, these sorts of agreements are very difficult to unravel.

The best example is the precedent set by the use of Regional Forestry Agreements (RFAs) in Australia, which we mentioned in part in blog 1 in this series.

If an ‘approved’ RFA is in place with regard to a certain forest in Australia, logging activities in that forest are exempt from the approval requirement of the EPBC Act. RFAs are an example of a state instrument ‘accredited’ under the EPBC Act.

History has shown that once a RFA is entered, the Commonwealth has proven itself unwilling to either require compliance with it, or to retract the accreditation associated with it.

This has been true even when a State has blatantly failed to comply with an RFA. The best example of this is the manifest failure of the Tasmanian Government to meet its obligations under RFAs over the years, and the absolute unwillingness of the Commonwealth to address this. In once infamous instance, the Commonwealth resolved the situation of the Tasmanian governments non-compliance with an RFA by simply changing the terms of the agreement to avoid litigation.

If the COAG proposal proceeds, how much power in a practical sense will the Commonwealth truly retain over the States? RFAs are a living, breathing example of what happens when the States are given responsibility through accreditation of an instrument over protection of our national environment. This experience should be at the forefront of the Prime Ministers mind when considering the practical reality of the COAG proposals.*

Read more about the COAG attacks on environmental laws.

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