Tasmania’s Franklin River

6 December 2012 — The scale of opposition mounting over plans by the Federal Government to hand over hand over environment protection to the states has been immense, with polls showing 85 per cent of Australians opposed to the idea.

The campaign, waged by nearly every green group in the country, might be working. There are now some Labor concerns the approval processes of some states would not stand up in court.

With the item high on the agenda of the Council of Australian Governments meeting on Friday, 6 December, Labor MP Andrew Leigh told Sky News: “We need to make sure that we have state governments which are able to put in place legally solid environmental approval processes.

“If we don’t have that then we shouldn’t be handing over these processes over to the states.”
GetUp! says the Business Council of Australia is pushing for the change because with the states’ “terrible record of protecting our most important national treasures” it will give them carte blanche to “mine, log, or develop wherever they like”.

“If it weren’t for the protection of the Federal Government, we would have lost places like the Great Barrier Reef, the Franklin River, the Daintree Rainforest and Fraser Island a long time ago,” GetUp! says.

“Most Australians have no idea this is even happening, much less what it could mean for the places we love.

“It beggars belief that the Prime Minister would want to hand over power to the States at a time like this: former NSW government ministers are being investigated for multi-million dollar corruption in relation to Hunter Valley mining licences; Queensland’s Campbell Newman is trying to allow giant coal ports inside the Great Barrier Reef and in Tasmania, miners want to dig up the ancient rainforests of the Tarkine,” GetUp says.

Many other organisations are also urging Australians to stand up and be counted.

The Wilderness Society national director Lyndon Schneiders said if big business and state governments succeeded in pushing the changes through, Australians would not stand by and let the places and wildlife they love be destroyed.

“Big businesses should be under no illusion – although the changes might make it easier for state governments to tick off on reckless development proposals, we will not allow them to ignore affected communities and passionate Australians who care about the environment.

“Weak environment laws will mean more protests and legal battles.”

Australian Conservation Foundation Strategic Ideas director Charles Berger said “you can bet big business will be pushing these changes, which would make it easier for developers and miners to irreparably damage reefs, wetlands and heritage areas by taking away the national layer of scrutiny and review”.

And Birdlife Australia chief executive officer James O’Connor said 35 environment groups had joined together to oppose the changes and more than 10,000 people had signed a petition.

“Polling shows 85 per cent of Australians believe the Federal Government should be able to block or make changes to major projects that could damage the environment,” he said.

Meanwhile, Greens Senator Larissa Water, in a background briefing paper, said since the April 2012  announcement of the hand-off of powers the party had launched a national campaign “to save Australia’s environment”.

“The Too Precious To Lose campaign brings together our efforts to save precious places and wildlife all over the country,” she said.

“Australians and communities are now making their voices heard, and speaking up to save the places and species that make us who we are.

Senator Waters also introduced a private members bill in November 2012 to make the hand-off of approval powers to the States unlawful. The bill will go to Inquiry with public hearings in February 2013.

She also produced a petition urging Minister Tony Burke to retain his federal approval powers.

  • See the petition  here.

Greens leader Senator Christine Milne said the party was calling on the Prime Minister “to abandon this ridiculous plan”.

“It comes straight from the Business Council of Australia, straight from the mining barons, it says get the environment out of the way, hand it over to the states and all will be well.”

Senator Milne said while the discussion at COAG had been about power bills it was “not the biggest story”.

“The bigger story at COAG is the sell-out of the environment by Labor. It’s Julia Gillard trashing Bob Hawke’s legacy on the environment, abandoning 30 years of work on environmental protection and handing it back over to the states. It can’t be allowed, she must change it.”