Relinquishing federal responsibility for environmental approvals and handing powers to the states and territories would substantially weaken nature protection in Australia, a new report shows.
The Morrison government is preparing to wash its hands of its duties to assess major projects on environmental grounds, claiming unpopular changes to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act are ‘minor technical amendments’.
But measured against 13 core elements of the EPBC Act, no state’s laws matched more than two existing federal requirements, the Places You Love Alliance audit found.
The report catalogues 30 case studies where state and territory laws have failed national benchmarks.
“While there are significant flaws in the Commonwealth EPBC Act, it still provides some safeguards that simply don’t exist in state or territory systems,” said Rachel Walmsley, Head of Law Reform at the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO).
“Any devolution of Commonwealth powers to the states would be lowering the bar of environmental protections.
“This report shows the implications of the Bill passing are far from minor or technical.
“No state or territory laws meet all the necessary existing benchmarks to protect matters of national environmental significance. And, in some jurisdictions, environmental protections have been weakened since our last audit,” she said.
The EDO audit of state and territory environment laws, commissioned by the Places You Love alliance, concluded no state or territory legislation met the full suite of existing EPBC Act requirements needed to protect matters of national environmental significance.
“The audit found no state system fully met more than two of the 13 elements,” said Nicola Beynon, Head of Campaigns at Humane Society International and Places You Love Alliance spokesperson.
“Two out of 13 is a fail in anyone’s book. It shows there is a gulf between current - already weak - protections and the paltry and haphazard standards set by states.
“The EDO easily found an alarming 30 substantive case studies that clearly highlight the shortcomings in state and territory systems.
“Many show that without federal government oversight core international obligations to protect threatened species or World Heritage values would have been simply ignored.
“This report shows how far states would need to come before they could credibly deal with these matters.”
The Places You Love alliance is calling on the Senate to reject the current bill and insist on a full package of reforms to the EPBC Act, including strong legally enforceable national environmental standards and a statutory independent regulator.
PYL has more than 60 members, including WWF-Australia, The Wilderness Society, the Australian Conservation Foundation, Birdlife Australia, Humane Society International, Environmental Justice Australia and many conservation councils and local groups around the country.