In July, ACT Minister for the Environment, Simon Corbell MLA, signed a new bilateral agreement with Greg Hunt, Federal Minister for the Environment, to streamline ‘the environmental assessment process in the ACT through the Australian Government’s ‘One-Stop Shop’ policy.’ This in essence means taking the responsibility of assessing environmental approvals for new developments from the federal government and offloading them onto the ACT and State Governments. The intention of this agreement is to ‘reduce the regulatory burden on business’ or cut the ‘green tape’, while attempting to maintain high environmental standards. The decision may indeed ‘reduce the regulatory burden on business’ but surely this is more to this picture? At what cost do we cut ‘green tape’? What even is ‘green tape’? And should we be cutting it? What do these regulations protect and what irreversible damage are we exposing the places we love to if we allow this to happen?
The Conservation Council ACT is strongly opposed to these bilateral agreements and has launched a public petition to remind the ACT Government that the vast majority of Australians know what’s best for their environment and want environmental approvals kept at the federal level. On this site you’ll find answers to the questions above, links to more information and contact information so that you can get in touch, stay up to date with the campaign and let us know why it’s important to you to protect the places we love.
What are Environmental Approvals and what do they protect?
Environmental Approvals are mandatory requirements that all developments in Australia must adhere to in order to ensure the ongoing protection of Australia’s environment. They ensure that all developments, whether residential, commercial, or government, account for their impact on flora and fauna, and meet strict standards to ensure no unnecessary harm comes to their ecosystems.
Currently these approvals are exercised by the federal government under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC), and are enacted in relation to all projects that could have a significant impact on the various “matters of national environmental significance” identified in the EPBC Act. In the past they have stopped oil rigs being built on the Great Barrier Reef, a dam blocking the majestic Franklin River and a coal port in pristine Shoalwater Bay. These laws are effective at the federal government level as our national environmental assets, including World Heritage Listed sites like the Great Barrier Reef, belong to all Australians, and not just the government of one state.
Why are they proposing this change and what is ‘green tape’?
These changes will cut the regulatory requirement on business – which is what is meant by ‘cutting green tape’ – BUT the green tape only exists to stop reckless development from ruining our environment. The ‘green tape’ is regulation that does not halt business in Australia (as is suggested by some federal ministers) rather it simply encourages new developments to be sustainable while attempting to avoid environmental destruction.
The only business green tape ‘burdens’ is the type that destroys the environment.
These changes are specifically seeking to weaken the law protecting our environment so that ‘business’ can make short-term profits at the expense of our environment, granting current leaders a boost to the economy to us for re-election, all at the cost of environmental destruction that is left to future leaders and future generations. Australia needs tougher environmental laws, not the weakening of existing protections.
What does it really mean for Australia?
The fragility of our national environmental assets means that one hastily approved development can cause irreversible damage; hence decisions affecting the permanence of our environmental wonders simply cannot be allowed to lie at the whim of any one State Government.
Their governance is temporary but the impact of their policy and decisions can last forever.
To put it into perspective, take one of our great environmental assets – perhaps the Great Barrier Reef, Tasmania’s Tarkine or WA’s Kimberley region to name but a few – all are areas with significant environmental, tourism and ecological value. We rely on these areas not only for tourism revenue but, more importantly, for maintaining Australia’s biodiversity, which plays a crucial role in balancing our climate and managing our environment. If environmental laws are weakened and a development is allowed to proceed without the appropriate environmental protections in place, and part of or an entire ecosystem is destroyed, it can never be recovered – at least not in our lifetimes. These natural wonders took centuries to develop but with modern machinery they can be destroyed in a matter of days. And all for what? Short term economic gain for developers, creating profit that will unlikely be invested back into Australia, let alone our environment. And meanwhile the ecological value is lost for good.
By having environmental approvals at the federal level, decisions to allow new developments are subject to more scrutiny and debate, while also enabling more resources to be committed to independent analysis of the environmental impacts. It is only the federal government who has the scope and capacity to make fair decisions that will affect the environment shared and relied on by all Australians.
Is there support for this cause?
A poll conducted at the end of 2012 showed that 85% of Australians want the Federal Government to make final decisions on environmentally risky development proposals.
What does this mean for the ACT? This is important for Canberra residents for several reasons, the first and the most important is to do with our size and location. We share our environment and resources with much of NSW, and these changes would mean that any NSW Minister for the Environment in the future would be able to make decisions that could have detrimental effects for the Canberra environment – and Canberrans would be left voiceless in the debate. You only need to look at some of the current state leaderships to understand that those sorts of decisions should not be left up to any potentially anti-environment Premier. There needs to be federal control where the proper due-diligence is applied. Secondly, as an Australian citizen residing in Canberra, do you not think that you too should have a say in the fate of our greatest environmental treasures? The current system gives you that voice, the changes will silence you. Further, the ACT Government quite simply lacks the resources to manage a vigorous and effective environmental approvals process. The Conservation Council already has examples where the ACT Government has failed to ensure local developments adhere to environmental and conservation requirements.
Where can I learn more?
Professor Rob Fowler spoke on ABC Radio and explained why the change doesn’t create a one-stop-shop, and instead potentially creates an eight-stop-shop. Listen to him here.
Visit our friends at the Places You Love for further information.