On October 18th, 2013, the Federal and Queensland Governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which is the first step of the process to create a ‘one stop shop’ for environmental approvals. This is a worrying move which would significantly weaken our important environment protect laws.
The bilateral agreement will accredit state planning systems under national environmental law, creating a single environmental assessment and approval process. The reform is a component of the State and Federal Governments’ deregulation agenda and its intent is to reduce the steps in the approval process for investments, so that only one application instead of two is made – what is regarded to be a streamlined process. Our concern is that this would lead to a reduced standard of environmental assessment.
Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt was confirmed that the Commonwealth will retain control over decisions involving offshore Commonwealth waters, nuclear actions, and projects for which state governments are “likely to have a significant conflict of interest” as the proponent. Chris McGrath, a Senior Lecturer in Environmental Regulation at the University of Queensland noted that “Projects for which the state is the proponent” presumably will include projects where a government-owned corporation is the proponent or a joint venture should also mean that the Commonwealth will still assess projects like the Queensland Government’s Traveston Crossing Dam and the Victorian Government’s trial of alpine grazing. He is concerned that with the devolution of powers to the States, there could be a dilution of the appropriate checks and balances normally carried out by the Federal Government.
Environment groups are concerned that recent actions and decisions taken by state governments demonstrate that the federal government needs to retain the final decision-making power and take responsibility for its international legal obligations. These decisions include state support for:
- massive port developments along the Great Barrier Reef,
- logging and shooting in NSW national parks,
- grazing in NSW, Victorian and Queensland national parks,
- logging in Tasmanian world heritage areas
- huge coal developments in Queensland’s Galilee Basin
- the decision by the Queensland government to revoke the phase-out of sand mining on North Stradbroke Island and instead extend it to 2035 with fewer restrictions.
One of the continuing major concerns of environment groups across Australia is the protection of nationally significant endangered species. The Commonwealth Government accredited state government forest management with the ‘one stop shop’ system, in the form of Regional Forest Agreements, implemented to streamline the management of native forests to protect the environment and support logging industry workers. In reality, RFAs have turned into a ‘one stop chop’ used to prop up the unprofitable companies, including state forestry agencies, squeezing a few quick bucks out of our precious forests with no consideration to wedge-tailed eagles, the swift parrots, with only 2,000 left of that species in the whole world, or the tiny and critically endangered Leadbeater’s possum.
A copy of the Memorandum of Agreement with the Queensland Government can be found at http://www.environment.gov.au/topics/about-us/legislation/environment-protection-and-biodiversity-conservation-act-1999/one-stop
WHAT CAN WE DO?
DRAFT BILATERAL AGREEMENTS ARE OPEN FOR PUBLIC COMMENT
Have your say!
The draft bilateral agreement is now open for public comment until x November 2013. All comments must be taken into consideration and must be reported upon in conjunction with the contents of the agreement.