Queensland has said it will resist pressure from the Morrison government for states to take greater responsibility for environmental decision-making, unless it supports stricter national standards to protect wildlife.
The Federal Coalition is attempting to amend national environmental laws to allow it to sign bilateral agreements with states and territories to give them “one-touch” environmental approval powers for significant developments.
Critics say he is moving forward with the change without having formally responded to recommendations from former competition watchdog Graeme Samuel’s statutory review on environmental protection and biodiversity conservation . [EPBC] Act, which was released in January.
Samuel’s review found that laws had been ineffective in protecting the country’s wildlife, that the nation’s environment was in unsustainable decline and called for an overhaul.
Queensland Environment Minister Meaghan Scanlon said the Commonwealth must fully respond to Samuel’s review, including introducing strict national environmental standards, before the state seriously discusses the allocation of powers approval.
Speaking at an environmentalists forum Wednesday night, Scanlon said she wrote to her federal environmental counterpart, Sussan Ley, urging her to respond to Samuel’s 38 recommendations.
“Samuel Review says these recommendations are not to be handpicked, but that’s exactly what the Commonwealth has done,” Scanlon said. “There are a number of things that need to be ticked off before entering into meaningful negotiations on behalf of the state.”
Samuel’s report included draft environmental standards developed with a panel of experts and recommended that the government adopt them immediately. The Morrison government has been criticized by environmentalists for instead issuing “watered down” environmental standards that simply mimic failing existing laws.
Scanlon said Queensland’s concerns included ensuring that the cost of protecting the environment was not “unreasonably shifted” to states and territories.
His appeal follows Liberal New South Wales Environment Minister Matt Kean urging the Morrison government to support strict environmental standards and accept Samuel’s recommendation to create a national environmental regulator independent outside the federal ministry.
Ley refused Scanlon’s call. She said Premiers and Chief Ministers had supported “one-touch” environmental approvals as part of national cabinet discussions, and supported the development of national standards reflecting “the current requirements of the EPBC Act, while the subsequent phases of the reform progress ”.
She said the government would focus on bilateral deals with states that “really know how to facilitate sustainable investment and job creation.” She said she committed at a meeting of environment ministers on a reform agenda and that ministers agreed to continue to work constructively on bilateral agreements.
“Those who support the start of the process support the environment and our economic recovery. Those who want to hang on to the unnecessary complexities of the current system can do so, ”said Ley.
Guardian Australia reported last year that the government of Western Australia had pushed for changes in the law that would transfer responsibility for decisions under national laws to states.
Environmentalists applauded the Queensland government’s stance. David Copeman, the director of the State Conservation Council, said it was “a real victory for nature and endangered species.”
Suzanne Milthorpe, National Laws Campaign Director at the Wilderness Society, said the Morrison government needs to respond fully to the recommendations of the Samuel Review, not in a piecemeal fashion.
Milthorpe said the standards released by the government were based on flawed legislation and would further “lock in” environmental degradation and risks to endangered species. “I would hesitate to call them standards,” she said.
Basha Stasak, nature program manager at the Australian Conservation Foundation, said Samuels called for “results-based standards” after consulting with experts, non-government groups and the business community, and that the government had called for “results-based standards”. “completely ignored” his advice.
Tooni Mahto, campaign manager for the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said higher standards were essential to protect marine ecosystems.
The Morrison government’s bill to introduce the “one touch key” system has stalled in the Senate, where it has been challenged by the opposition and most MPs.
the law Project includes a clause that allows a project to proceed if the Minister is “satisfied” that a development is in the public interest. A similar exemption is included in the laws in force.