Council of Australian Governments agree on reduced environmental regulation

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Saturday, December 14, 2013

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At a meeting of the Council of Australian Governments yesterday leaders of the Australian states and territories agreed to a deal with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott which would delegate more environmental decision-making powers to the states and territories about projects that might affect the environment. The "one-stop shops" policy would mean that the states would do more of the assessments for projects with the intention that eventually some states would have the full authority to make the decisions.

File photo of Tony Abbott in 2010.
Image: MystifyMe Concert Photography (Troy).

Two states, Queensland and New South Wales, have agreed with Abbott a policy of "assessment bilaterals". Abbott described them as follows: "Under those assessment bilaterals the states will do all the assessment work and we hope that in the not-too-distant future we will have approvals bilaterals in place which will mean the states will not only do the assessment but will also do the approvals." All of the states and territories signed memoranda of understanding with the federal government on the issue of environmental regulation.

Tony Abbott argued it would not harm the environment and the "same high standards of environmental approval" would be used, but decisions would be quicker. The Australian government would still hold the power of veto over projects they deem environmentally problematic.

The Business Council of Australia welcomed the move, saying the regulation changes were a "long overdue breakthrough".

The Australian Green Party has condemned the policy. Senator Larissa Waters, environment spokeswoman for the Greens, told reporters: "These deals pave the way for Tony Abbott to abolish a 30-year-old federal safeguard for our most precious natural places and wildlife, established when Bob Hawke stepped in to save the Franklin from being dammed [...] Labor governments in South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT are trashing Bob Hawke's legacy and contradicting federal Labor's position".

She continued: "Tony Abbott wants to put states and territories in charge of approving environmentally destructive projects that impact our World Heritage Areas and nationally endangered species."

Jess Abrahams from the Australian Conservation Foundation also expressed opposition to the changes: "The memoranda of understanding signed today paves the way for the undoing of 30 years of national protection for places and species of national environmental importance".

The Council also discussed truancy by indigenous students and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.


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