‘Flexibility’: Bending environmental credibility

There are really only two phrases that the Abbott Government has ever said in relation to the environment; ‘scrap the carbon tax’ and ‘one stop shop’.

There are really only two phrases that the Abbott Government has ever said in relation to the environment; ‘scrap the carbon tax’ and ‘one stop shop’. For years they have robotically delivered their two key environmental messages ad nauseam. While Tony Abbott is now trying to sell the scrap the carbon tax message overseas his environment minister Greg Hunt is still diligently working away on the one stop shop at home. His latest effort is the EPBC (Bilateral Accreditation Implementation) Bill 2014.

Today while Felicity Millner is representing Environment Victoria at the Hazelwood mine fire inquiry, Brendan Sydes and I appeared before the Senate Environment and Communications Committee inquiry into the Bill.

Not content with giving States and Territories the power to sign of on environmentally damaging projects without the need for any federal government involvement under the existing EPBC laws, the Government is now proposing that it be able to accredit ‘guidelines and policies’ so that the States and Territories can be said to be meeting the EPBC standards. There is a wealth of evidence that they don’t even come close.

Rather than the states and territories being asked to improve their standards, the Government has come up with a Bill that will facilitate the accreditation of clearly deficient state and territory schemes.

Not surprisingly the submissions to the Senate Committee Inquiry from the community and conservation groups strongly oppose the Government’s latest attempt to wind back the modest improvements that have been made over the last 30 odd years. Industry lobby groups on the other hand couldn’t speak more glowingly of the proposed changes.

Environmental Justice Australia’s submission to the inquiry focused on two aspects of the Bill; accrediting policy and guidelines and allowing bilateral agreements to adopt instruments as they exist ‘from time to time’ (meaning that they can be changed without any additional approval from the Minister or the Parliament).

These changes will give even greater control to the Federal Minister and state and territory ministers and remove Parliamentary oversight of potentially important parts of the laws that will now regulate projects that damage matters of national environmental significance.

The Government says that this will happen while ‘maintaining’ high standards of environmental protection. For a start there really aren’t any high standards to maintain but the claim that a Bill that removes explicit requirements in favour of ‘flexibility’ for state and territory ministers won’t mean poorer environmental outcomes really is utterly implausible.

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