The Federal Government would be lining up Australian wildlife for extinction if it rushes to devolve environmental approval powers to states, the Australian Conservation Foundation said today.

Graeme Samuel’s interim review of environment law, which acknowledges that Australia’s environment is in serious decline, was released today and is due to be finalised in October.

Yet the government appears ready to pre-empt the process and move quickly to hand over responsibility to weaker state laws.

“ACF is deeply concerned by the Federal Government’s plans to rapidly devolve environmental approval powers to states, without articulating how it will actually safeguard precious species like the koala,” said ACF Chief Executive Officer, Kelly O’Shanassy.

“The Government should not rush ahead of its own review. Australia’s environment laws are reviewed once every ten years – Professor Samuel’s full report is due in October.

“Advancing bilateral approvals with states before the final review is putting the cart before the horse.  

“Right now state environmental protection standards are weaker than the national standards and improving them will take some time.

“Without strong standards that protect nature, fast tracking approvals will simply fast track extinction.

“Federal regulation is important because the federal government has responsibilities over nationally and internationally important species and ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef. 

“Without federal regulation, the Franklin River, a World Heritage Area, would be dammed. Moreton Bay will be destroyed for a marina and apartment complex. The Mary River Turtle would likely be added to the extinction list.

“At the moment, protecting nature is optional, with too much discretion left to individual ministers.”

The interim review calls for an ‘independent compliance and enforcement regulator that is not subject to actual or implied political direction from the Commonwealth Minister’.

“As Graeme Samuel’s review states, a strong, independent cop on the beat is needed.

“An independent regulator would be the voice our flora and fauna need to hold the government to account and make sure the law actually does the job of protecting nature.

“It is concerning that the Government, in spite the interim review making clear that there is no evidence of vexatious litigation, may pursue changes that limit the ability of the community to hold decision makers to account.

“There are some positive elements of this interim review, including a focus on how to leverage investment in restoration, but these mechanisms must be designed carefully to avoid unwanted outcomes.

“ACF cautiously welcomes the review’s continuation of long-standing protection against nuclear risks.

“ACF will continue to engage in the review process, but harbours significant concerns the Government’s response will do little to address our growing biodiversity crisis.

“Environmental standards must be clear and consistent prior to any moves to bilateral agreements with states.

“We need strong standards and independent enforcement. Not one or the other.

“Australia is a world leader in extinction and our governments must do everything in their power to change this – strong standards and an independent regulator to enforce them.”

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