December 6, 2012
Big Business wanted to roll back green tape (a single track approval process to avoid duplication) by getting the Federal Government to hand over its regulatory powers to the states for major projects. This would see a return to a highly decentralised system of environmental management in Australia.
What Big Business has in mind is the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, which provides the legal framework to protect and manage nationally and internationally important flora, fauna, ecological communities and heritage places.
Basically the states cannot be trusted because they have a history of putting development above environmental protection. You can see that in Queensland with the Traveston Crossing Dam in 2009 and Rinehart's $6.4 billion Alpha coalmine in the Galilee Basin; in Victoria with cattle grazing in the Alpine National Park; in Western Australia with James Price Point; in NSW the blanket approval for coal seam gas ; and in Tasmania with the Gunns pulp mill near the vineyards and wineries in the Tamar valley.
In these cases Commonwealth approval, has been and is, a necessary check and balance to avoid a conflict of interest. This has been very clear with the over allocation of water licenses by the states in the Murray-Darling Basin. It has required the Commonwealth to ensure that there is a reform movement through the process of co-operative federalism.
It is the case that the federal government has entered agreements which allowed states to undertake environmental impact assessment for the purposes of the EPBC Act. But to date the federal government has retained the power to make the final decision on whether or not to approve a development that could affect a matter of national environmental significance.
The EPBC Act is in need of some reform to better protect our national natural heritage--as argued by the Hawke Review and the federal government can do a much better good job of protecting our natural environment, But devolving Commonwealth approval responsibilities to the states is unlikely to ensure that protection as the conservative state governments dismantling environmental protections established over the past 30 years to facilitate development.