President of the Australian Conservation Foundation Geoff Cousins has called for an urgent campaign to oppose a bill to be rushed through Parliament on Thursday that seeks to “rip out the laws” that allow Australians to challenge environmentally dangerous projects in court.
“This is extraordinary,” Mr Cousins said in a media statement this afternoon (Wednesday).
“Rattled by the Federal Court overturning approval of the Carmichael Coal Mine, the government plans to rush a bill through Parliament tomorrow to rip out the laws that allow Australians to challenge dangerous projects – like new coal mines – in court.
“Our national nature protection laws were introduced by the Howard government to provide sensible checks and balances.
“Yet our current prime minister calls the Mackay Conservation Group’s legitimate legal challenge to the Carmichael Coal Mine sabotage. And Attorney-General George Brandis calls environment groups vigilantes.”
On ABC’s Radio National this morning, Mr Cousins said the term coined by anti green campaigners, led by Senator Brandis, as “lawfare”, was in fact “fair law”.
“The Australian government wants to make it easier for big polluters to pollute and damage life, and harder for Australia to become powered by clean renewable energy,” he said.
“We want a society powered by clean energy that protects life and empowers communities.”
Mr Cousins asked supporters to email their local Members of Parliament to support the existing framework.
“Tell them you care about protecting our land, water and wildlife. Say you want them to protect the community’s legal right to challenge government decisions to approve massive coal projects that fuel global warming and damage life.”
Mr Cousins said the action was part of Abbott government’s campaign to revoke environment groups’ charity status.
“The Abbott government is using the language of terrorism to describe reasonable people working within the laws of our country.”
Listen to Mr Cousins’ ABC interview here.
Analysts said the anti-green legislation was likely to fail in the Senate with three cross benchers saying they will not support the government’s bid.
Senators Glenn Lazarus, “Dio” Wang and John Madigan ruled out support for the move on Wednesday, joining the Labor Party and the Greens.
Mr Madigan told The Age, “We know there are groups in the community that are seeking to delay projects they are ideologically opposed to. And while there are good reasons to demand the kind of checks and balances provided under the EPBC Act, when litigation is driven by ulterior motives it is an abuse of process.
“Our laws must strike a balance between maintaining the legitimate role of community groups, including environmental groups, in holding the government to account and the need to protect major projects from vigilante litigation.”
South Australian senator Nick Xenophon has also suggested he could vote against the proposal.