Thursday, November 02, 2006

Grave concerns over dangerous new environment and heritage law changes

by Elliot K - Perth Indymedia 2006-11-02 1:11 PM +0800


"Quite simply, it is legislation gone mad."

The chairman of the Australian Council of National Trusts, Patrick Comben, has condemned the EPBC Amendment Bill introduced into Parliament 2 weeks ago by the Federal Environment Minister, Senator Campbell.

The radical changes are designed, in part, to provide certainty for development regarding current environmental laws. They are also expected to restrict the ability of public groups to nominate areas for national heritage listing.

The amendment bill to the EPBC Act comes as the minister faces a decision over whether to protect thousands of ancient Aboriginal rock art works on the development-heavy Burrup Peninsula in north Western Australia....

Mr Comben expressed concern on behalf of the National Trust movement and its 80,000 members.

"Our concerns are many," said Mr Comben. "Firstly, we have had very little opportunity to read and absorb this complex Bill. Good legislation is simple. This bill is 409 pages long and will amend an Act which is over 600 pages in length. The system that it sets up is complex, convoluted and confusing."

"Quite simply, it is legislation gone mad. The Minister is fast tracking the Bill through the Parliament and has allowed the Senate only 2 days of Committee time to examine the Bill, before, with regrettable inevitability, the Bill becomes law in the next 2 or 3 weeks. The Bill does not represent best practice in the nationally important area of heritage protection," said Mr Comben. "This nation deserves the best law to protect our precious heritage. We should expect no less. But what are we getting with this new law?

The stated objectives are:

* To reduce processing time and costs for development interests
* To provide an enhanced ability to deal with large scale projects.

Mr Comben said the bill is "the final death sentence for the Register of the National Estate. The Register is an icon in its own right. It contains details of over 13 000 places of heritage significance, many of which are not protected by any other legislation. Although its powers are limited, it needs to be retained and sustained, rather than becoming an "archive" as the Minster states."

Shadow Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Anthony Albanese says the bill is being rushed through the Parliament without proper consideration or consultations. He said this is behaviour of an "arrogant, out-of-control government which does not want accountability for its performance in the area of environment and heritage." Mr Albanese said: "The parliamentary secretary has described climate change as a ‘very serious threat to Australia’, but in 409 pages of amendments—literally thousands of amendments to this act—there is not one single mention of climate change — not one."

"This bill has been three years in the making and there is not a single mention of the greatest threat facing not just Australia but the globe. There is not one single measure contained in this bill to cut Australia’s soaring greenhouse gas pollution, which... grew by 25.1 per cent between 1990 and 2004..."

"I would have thought that climate change would be on the government’s radar by now, but it seems that the climate sceptics are still running climate policy for the Howard government," said Mr Alabanese in parliament in October. "The Prime Minister, it would appear, is some 50 years behind when it comes to climate change..."

The Humane Society International (HSI) and WWF-Australia both say they are fearful for the future of threatened species protection in Australia if the Bill - which substantially modifies our national environment laws - passes the Senate unamended.

Federal Environment Minister, Ian Campbell, introduced an Amendment Bill to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, 1999 which will:

* Potentially wipe 500 threatened ecological communities from the current waiting list for protection under the EPBC Act (amounting to millions of hectares of endangered habitat across the country).

* Remove the mandatory requirement to develop a Recovery Plan once a threatened species or ecological community is listed under the law as threatened;

* Remove the mandatory requirement to identify "critical habitat" for threatened species in any Recovery Plans that are developed;

* Make it harder for the public to secure legal protection for threatened species and ecological communities with a new requirement for public nominations to comply with "themes" set by the Minister or risk having their nominations left off lists for consideration;

* Give the Minister arbitrary discretion to remove a publicly nominated species or ecological community from the annual list of species to be assessed for listing (currently the Minister gives his Scientific Committee repeated extensions to postpone consideration of politically controversial nominations such as commercial marine fish and ecological communities occurring on private farm land – a new amendment will allow him to remove controversial nominations from the Committee's consideration altogether).

* Allow the Minister to refuse to have assessed a threatened species previously rejected for protection even if its conservation status has worsened (also open to abuse for controversial species).

"HSI and WWF-Australia are alarmed by the proposed changes and the potential for the Minister to politicise what should be an objective scientific process", said Andreas Glanznig, Senior Policy Adviser, WWF-Australia. HSI Director Michael Kennedy said: "At a time when experts are warning of an impending extinction crisis, Australia needs to be fortifying its threatened species legislation not weakening it and introducing political opt out clauses".

Greens leader Bob Brown called the planned changes anti-environment. "This is a bill to put the industry fox in charge of the environment chook house," Senator Brown said in a statement. "It allows the minister, under the thumb of the resource extraction lobby in particular, to veto the input of Australian citizens in protecting the nation's heritage.

"It will excuse the inexcusable, for example, Campbell's impending decision to allow Woodside to destroy more of the world's greatest rock art site on Western Australia's Burrup peninsula in coming months."

Of further concern is the proposed stream-lining of the public listing of threatened species and ecosystems, which will now be assessed only once a year.

The Humane Society International says there is already a "massive backlog of nominations for listing, and this change is likely to further prolong the time it takes for a species to be recognised as threatened with extinction, leaving it to decline in the interim," Mr Glanznig said.

Mr Glanznig said the Amendment Bill had also missed a significant opportunity to include new greenhouse gas and water triggers that will ensure all projects that result in significant amounts of new greenhouse gas emissions or deplete environmental flows of water are properly assessed and controlled.


Changes to the EPBC Act

Amendments to Australia's environment laws weaken and politicise threatened species protection

Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2006 - Second Reading

Federal Government goes sneaky on environment

Environmental law amendment a set-back

Govt set to announce overhaul of environment act

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

outrageous... but the gov will do as they please, it's just like the wielangta hearing with bob brown in tassie this summer, they may know they'r wrong, but they'll push it thro quick as u like... Check out vids of tassie forest activism and the 'Howards broken promise' vid on our myspace.