Queensland’s Palaszczuk Government will not support proposed changes to federal Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act unless the Morrison Government addresses several outstanding issues.
State and territory premiers agreed in the National Cabinet to enter negotiations with the Morrison Government over a ‘single-touch’ environmental approvals process.
However Queensland’s Minister for the Environment and the Great Barrier Reef and Minister for Science and Youth Affairs Meaghan Scanlon told a recent public meeting of the Queensland Conservation Council that the state remains concerned about several unanswered issues.
Central to the Palaszczuk Government’s concerns is the lack of “clarity and certainty” over the federal government’s response to the recent once-in-a-decade review of the EPBC Act by Graeme Samuel.
It has requested federal responses to all of Professor Samuel’s review recommendations.
“The Samuel Review very clearly says those recommendations shouldn’t be cherry picked and that seems like exactly what the commonwealth has done,” Minister Scanlon said.
“So we’d like to see some of those [Samuel Review] conditions answered by the commonwealth.”
Minister Scanlon confirmed Queensland had written to federal environment minister Sussan Ley requesting a “strengthened suite” of environmental standards in consultation with state and territory governments.
Research released in October 2020 by the Australian Conservation Foundation found no single state or territory environmental law meets more than 2 out of 13 standards under the federal act.
At the time, Environmental Defenders Office head of law reform Rachel Walmsley said despite weaknesses, the national EPBC Act still outstripped legal protections offered by states or territories.
“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,” Ms Walmsley said.
“Any devolution of Commonwealth powers to the states would be lowering the bar of environmental protections.
Meanwhile, the Samuel Review found that the EPBC Act carried little public, business and community confidence in its ability to protect the environment.
Queensland also wants clarity around the role of the federal government’s proposed ‘step-in’ provisions, as well as an agreement that no costs will be “unreasonably shifted” to states.
Observers are concerned handing decision-making powers to the states would expose the environment to unnecessary risks.
In February, Guardian Australia reported on freedom of information documents it obtained revealing federal environment department concerns about the Morrison Government pursuing EPBC Act reforms before the Samuel Review process was complete.
Those documents showed the department warned the government that pushing ahead with a federal-to-state responsibility transfer would undermine opportunities for substantial environmental law reform.
Australians can voice their concerns to the proposed EPBC Act reforms in a number of ways.
Header Image: Richard Fisher/Flickr Creative Commons