Brandis attacks environmental protections

August 21, 2015
The Coalition wants to prevent environmentalists from having a say in mega mines such as the proposed Adani-Carmichael coalmine

The federal Coalition’s plan to repeal a section of a 16-year-old environmental law can only be for one reason — to support mining companies at the expense of communities and the environment.

Attorney General George Brandis announced on August 19the government planned to repeal section 487 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act) which gives the community the right to enforce Australia’s environmental laws and hold decision makers and corporations to account.

Brandis’ announcement comes in the wake of the Federal Court’s August 5 ruling, to set aside federal approval for the $16 billion Adani-Carmichael coalmine in Queensland on the basis that the environment minister had not taken into account protection of two endangered species: the Yakka Skink and the Ornamental Snake.

Even federal environment minister Greg Hunt conceded this and wrote to the court asking it to set aside its decision — which it did. The court is scheduled to re-hear the submission in several weeks.

Meanwhile, the government is determined to stop other community groups from doing what the Mackay Conservation Group did in the Adani case. Through the Environmental Defenders Office, it pointed out Hunt’s approval was deficient.

The Mackay Conservation Group believes that Brandis and the Abbott government see mining companies as above the law. It and other conservation groups are being vilified for the community and legal work they have done. Hunt and Abbott have hysterically described their work as “legal sabotage”, “lawfare” and “vigilante litigation”.

But the divide-and-rule campaign, including a scare campaign that greenies do not care about local jobs, is coming unstuck.

Jerome Fahrer, an economist commissioned by Adani, told a court in April that only about 1500 jobs — not the 10,000 jobs being touted by Abbott — would be created over the 30-year life of the mine.

Fahrer also said that only $4.8 billion in royalties would go to Queensland, not the $22 billion Adani’s TV advertisements stated.

Farmers, including those who do not live close to the proposed Adani mine, have also expressed concerns about the repeal of section 487.

On August 19, executive director of the Environmental Defenders Office NSW, Jeff Smith, said that over the past 15 years, there have been only 30 judicial review challenges to ministers’ decisions out of more than 5000 actions referred. This means less than half of 1% of decisions have been challenged in the courts.

He warned that if section 487 is removed, environmental and conservation protections would be significantly reduced and Australia would go back to a time when the environment was not protected and communities were sidelined before the law.

“It would return Australia’s federal environmental laws to the common law test of standing. This test only allows people who are directly affected or aggrieved by a development — such as those with a proprietary interest — to take legal action”, Smith said.

By contrast, “The EPBC Act is currently based on the assumption that all Australians have an interest in the health of the environment and the protection of our iconic places — the Great Barrier Reef, the Kimberley, the Tarkine — and the proper enforcement of our national environmental laws.”

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