A Senate committee report that recommends changing the law to prevent environment groups from challenging big mining projects is at odds with public opinion and conflicts with democratic principles, the Australian Conservation Foundation said.
The committee backed the government’s proposal to repeal s 487 of the Environmental Protection & Biodiversity Conservation Act to restrict the parties that can challenge approvals. Labor and Green committee members did not support this view.
“The vast majority of the 292 submissions to this inquiry – submissions from lawyers, scientists, health professionals, unions, environment groups and plenty of individual Australians – opposed any change to the law,” said ACF CEO Kelly O’Shanassy.
“The few submissions that advocated changing the law to restrict environment groups’ rights were unsurprisingly from groups that have a vested interest in profit-making from new coal mines, like the Business Council and the Minerals Council.
“Once again our government is doing the bidding of the big polluters, serving their interests over the interests of Australians who depend on a healthy environment.”
ACF is currently challenging the Turnbull Government’s approval of the Carmichael coal mine. If it goes ahead the Carmichael mine will be the biggest ever dug in Australia.
“We believe the government made a mistake by approving the Carmichael mine and not properly considering the impact burning all that coal will have on the Great Barrier Reef.
“Legitimately applying the law in the public interest is central to keeping governments accountable in a democracy,” Ms O’Shanassy said.
“Our environment can’t speak for itself, so environment groups must be able to speak for it. Limiting standing rights would make it easier for governments to hide their mistakes.
“We urge the Turnbull Government to side with the public and experts by dropping this proposal to undemocratically change Australia’s environmental protection law.”
A poll of 1,014 people across all states and territories, conducted by Lonergan Research in August, found 77 per cent believe Australians should be able to use environment laws to protect the environment and 72 per cent said environment groups should be able to use the courts to ensure existing environment laws are upheld.