As lawyers working to protect nature and ensure that all Australians can enjoy a healthy, thriving environment, we have a clear perspective on what works and where our current laws are failing. That’s why we were a founding partner of the Places You Love Alliance, and why we have continued to make the case for substantial reform.
There are many things that need to be fixed – we need stronger laws that provide better protection for threatened wildlife and their habitat for a start. But stronger laws alone are not enough.
We also need strong, independent institutions to ensure that protecting the places we love, the wildlife we value, and the rights of all Australians to a clean and healthy environment, is an ongoing priority, not dependent on the whim of the government of the day or compromised by vested interests. That’s why a critical part of the reforms we’re asking for is the creation of a new National Environment Commission.
Here’s five reasons why a National Environment Commission is critical to a strong and effective new generation of environmental protections:
1. A long-term view. Governments come and go, and promises are made and broken. But we need our living world to last forever. That’s why it’s important we establish an independent National Environment Commission that outlives government terms and acts in the best interests of people, places and wildlife.
2. Effective national standards. We know from our work with communities impacted by air pollution that the most effective way to save thousands of Australian lives is to set effective national standards on pollution controls. Right now, the process for setting standards is a lengthy and complicated process that depends on agreement of state governments, which are often reluctant to act. An independent, expertise-driven National Environment Commission can make sure that appropriate national standards are put in place to protect our air and the health of our communities from toxic pollution.
3. Properly resourced plans to protect threatened wildlife and special places. Plans to protect threatened species and recognised places of value are continually undermined by development proposals. Planning processes are developer-driven and favour offsetting environmental destruction rather than environmental protection. And threatened species protection plans are under-funded and under-resourced. We need an independent Commission that has the capacity and expertise to undertake the planning necessary to ensure that places and wildlife at risk are protected.
4. Strong national leadership on environment protection. State governments prove time and time again they cannot be trusted when it comes to environment protection. Although states have a key role to play in environment protection, they are too close to the action and too ready to wave through development proposals. Strong national laws overseen by an independent National Environment Commission will improve accountability and compliance with regulations, strategies and plans put in place to protect our air, water and wildlife.
5. Integrity and a defence against corruption. A National Environment Commission will improve accountability and protect against undue influence and corruption. It will make sure decision making is not undermined by lobbying, donations, back room deals or vested interests. A strong, expertise-based National Environment Commission with a legislative requirement to operate with independence and integrity will assist in restoring public confidence in environment protection.